Dennis Banks, American Indian Civil Rights Chief, Dies at 80


He as soon as led a six-day takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and mounted an armed 71-day occupation of the city of Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wounded Knee was the scene of the final main battle of the American Indian Wars, through which 350 Lakota males, girls and youngsters have been mbadacred by United States troops in 1890.


The American Indian Motion leaders Dennis Banks, seated at proper, and Russell Means at a information convention in July 1973.

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Whereas his protests gained some authorities concessions and drew nationwide consideration and huge sympathy for the deplorable social and financial situations of American Indians, Mr. Banks achieved few actual enhancements within the each day lives of tens of millions of Native Individuals, who reside on reservations and in main cities and lag behind most fellow residents in jobs, housing and training.

To admirers, Mr. Banks was a broad-chested champion of native delight. With darkish, piercing eyes, excessive cheekbones, a jutting chin and lengthy raven hair, he was a paladin who defied authority and, in an period crowded with civil rights protests, spoke for the nation’s oldest minority.

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To his critics, together with many American Indians, Mr. Banks was a self-promoter, grabbing headlines and changing into a darling of politically liberal Hollywood stars like Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando. His severest detractors, together with law-enforcement officers, mentioned he let followers danger harm and arrest whereas he jumped bail to keep away from a protracted jail sentence and didn’t give up for almost a decade.

Mr. Banks and Mr. Means first gained nationwide consideration for declaring a “Day of Mourning” for Native Individuals on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Their band seized the ship Mayflower II, a duplicate of the unique in Plymouth, Mbad., and a televised confrontation between actual Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” made the American Indian Motion leaders in a single day heroes.

In 1972, the 2 organized cross-country automobile caravans on “Trails of Damaged Treaties.” They converged on Washington with 500 followers to protest Indian residing requirements and misplaced treaty rights, occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs and held out for almost every week, destroying paperwork and the premises, till the federal government agreed to debate Indian grievances and badessment treaty commitments.

In 1973, after a white man killed an Indian in a saloon brawl and was charged not with homicide however with involuntary manslaughter, Mr. Banks led 200 A.I.M. protesters in a face-off with the police in Custer, S.D. It grew to become a riot when the slain man’s mom was overwhelmed by officers. After he left city, Mr. Banks, who mentioned he had merely tried to ease tensions, was charged with badault and rioting.

It was the final straw. “We had reached a degree in historical past the place we couldn’t tolerate the abuse any longer, the place moms couldn’t tolerate the mistreatment that goes on on the reservations any longer, the place they may not see one other Indian teen die,” he advised the creator Peter Matthiessen.


Mr. Banks with former Lawyer Common Ramsey Clark, left, and the novelist Alice Walker, proper, arriving in Havana in Could 1993 to ship medical badist to Cubans. The three demanded an finish to the USA embargo towards Cuba.

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Weeks later, the siege that made Mr. Banks and Mr. Means well-known throughout America started when 200 Oglala Lakota and A.I.M. followers with rifles and shotguns occupied Wounded Knee. About 300 United States marshals, F.B.I. brokers and different law-enforcement officers cordoned off the realm with armored vehicles and heavy weapons, touching off a 10-week battle of nerves and gunfire.

Amid huge information media protection, the importance of the battlefield was not misplaced on many Individuals. Dee Brown’s best-selling guide “Bury My Coronary heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian Historical past of the American West” (1970) had not too long ago explored the document of mbadacres and atrocities towards Native Individuals on the increasing frontier, undermining one of many nation’s fondest myths.

Proclaiming a willingness to die for his or her trigger, Mr. Banks and Mr. Means demanded the ouster of Richard Wilson, the elected chief of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, whom they referred to as a corrupt white man’s stooge. The federal government refused. Shootings punctuated the times of stalemate, leaving wounded on each side. Two Indians have been killed, and a federal agent was shot and paralyzed.

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When it was over, Mr. Banks and Mr. Means have been charged with badault and conspiracy. After a federal trial, with the protection elevating historic and present Indian grievances, a decide dismissed the case for prosecutorial misconduct, together with unlawful wiretaps and proof that had been tampered with.

By then, Mr. Banks was a pre-eminent spokesman for Native Individuals. He mediated armed conflicts between Indians and the authorities in varied states. However his personal authorized troubles weren’t over.

Charged with riot and badault with a lethal weapon for his position within the 1973 melee in Custer, he was discovered responsible in 1975. Going through as much as 15 years in jail, he jumped bail and fled to California.

With 1.four million signatures on a petition supporting Mr. Banks, Gov. Jerry Brown granted him asylum in 1976, rejecting extradition to South Dakota by saying his life is perhaps at risk if he have been despatched again. Mr. Banks earned an affiliate diploma on the College of California at Davis, and have become chancellor of Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl College, a small two-year school for Indians in Davis.


Dennis Banks, in headband at rear, watched as his fellow American Indian Motion chief Russell Means, entrance left, signed a settlement with badistant Lawyer Common Kent Frizzell in Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973.

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Disadvantaged of California sanctuary when Governor Brown was succeeded by a Republican, George Deukmejian, in early 1983, Mr. Banks discovered a brand new refuge on an Onondaga reservation close to Syracuse. Federal officers mentioned he could be arrested provided that he left the reservation. However in 1984, weary of his confined life, he returned to South Dakota voluntarily and was sentenced to a few years in jail.

Paroled in 1985 after serving solely 14 months, he moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation to work as a drug habit and alcoholism counselor. He additionally turned his life round, embracing sobriety, giving talks on public service and organizing cross-country occasions that he referred to as “Sacred Runs,” which grew to become standard amongst supporters of Native Individuals in later years.

“We have been the prophets, the messengers, the fireplace starters,” Mr. Banks mentioned in an autobiography, “Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Motion” (2005, with Richard Erdoes). “Wounded Knee woke up not solely the conscience of all Native Individuals, but in addition of white Individuals nationwide.”

Dennis James Banks was born on the Leech Lake Reservation on April 12, 1937. He by no means knew his father. His mom deserted him to his grandparents.

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When he was 5, he was taken from his household and despatched to a sequence of presidency colleges for Indians that systematically denigrated his Ojibwa (Chippewa) tradition, language and id. He ran away typically, till, at 17, he returned to Leech Lake.

Unable to search out work, he joined the Air Drive and was stationed in Japan, the place he married a Japanese lady, had a toddler together with her and went absent with out depart. Arrested and returned to the USA, he by no means noticed his spouse or little one once more. After being discharged, he moved to Minneapolis, drifted into crime, was arrested in a housebreaking and went to jail for 2 and a half years.

Launched in 1968, he based the American Indian Motion with an Ojibwa he had met in jail, Clyde Bellecourt, and others to battle the oppression and endemic poverty of Native Individuals. He grew to become chairman and nationwide director because the group, primarily based in Minneapolis, solid alliances and grew quickly. After two years it mentioned it had 25,000 members.


Dennis Banks spoke in 2003 at Wounded Knee, S.D., throughout a 30th-anniversary commemoration of the American Indian Motion’s standoff there.

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Inside a yr A.I.M., with its aptitude for guerrilla techniques, joined a prolonged occupation of Alcatraz Island, the previous federal jail website in San Francisco Bay.

After his fugitive years, Mr. Banks had a modest film profession. He had roles in Franc Roddam’s “Conflict Occasion” (1988), Michael Apted’s “Thunderheart” (1992), Michael Mann’s “The Final of the Mohicans” (1992, with Russell Means), and Georgina Lightning’s “Older Than America” (2008), which explored the devastating results of Indian boarding colleges like these Mr. Banks had been compelled to attend.

Mr. Banks additionally appeared in documentaries: “We Shall Stay, Half V: Wounded Knee” (2009), a Ric Burns “American Expertise” tv movie directed by Stanley Nelson; “A Good Day to Die” (2010), directed by David Mueller and Lynn Salt; and “Nowa Cumig: The Drum Will By no means Cease” (2011), directed by Marie-Michele Jasmin-Belisle.

In addition to his spouse and little one in Japan, Mr. Banks had many youngsters with different girls. Along with Ms. Banks Rama, he’s survived by 19 youngsters, 11 with the surname Banks: Janice, Darla, Deanna, Dennis, Purple Elk, Tatanka, Minoh, Tokala, Tiopa, Tacanunpa and Arrow. The others are Glenda Roberts, Pearl Blanchard, Denise Blanchard, Kawlija Blanchard, Beverly Baribeau, Kevin Sturdy, D.J. Nelson-Banks and Bryan Graves. Mr. Banks can also be survived by greater than 100 grandchildren, Ms. Banks Rama mentioned.

Mr. Banks was the 2016 vice-presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Occasion, which recognized itself as socialist and feminist. (The half’s presidential candidate was Gloria La Riva.) As a single-state ticket they gained 66,000 votes.

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Lately, Mr. Banks lived with a few of his youngsters in Kentucky and Minnesota. He was an honorary trustee of the Leech Lake Tribal School, a two-year public establishment in Cbad Lake, Minn. Mr. Means, who additionally appeared in films and wrote a memoir, died on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2012 at age 72.

In 1990, each males joined a ceremony on the Pine Ridge Reservation marking the centenary of the Wounded Knee bloodbath.

“Perhaps we opened up some eyes, opened some doorways,” Mr. Banks advised The Los Angeles Occasions. “And it was a minimum of an academic course of right here. Fifteen years in the past, there was no newspaper right here, no radio station. Now there’s extra group management over training.”

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