Dennis Banks, american indian activist
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Dennis Banks, american indian activist

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 Dennis Banks, american indian activist

Dennis J. Banks, an american indian leader, teacher, lecturer, activist and author, is an Anishinaabe born on Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota on April 12, 1932. Banks is also known as Nowa Cumig (Naawakamig in the Double Vowel System). His name in the Ojibwe language means "In the Center of the Ground."

CoFounder of the American Indian Movement

Dennis Banks is best known as a co-founder the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968. AIM was established to protect the traditional ways of Indian people and to engage in legal cases protecting treaty rights of Natives, such as hunting and fishing, trapping, and wild rice farming.

Banks participated in the 1969 – 1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island. In 1972 he assisted in the organization of AIM's Trail of Broken Treaties, a caravan across the United States to Washington, D.C. to call attention to the plight of Native Americans. The caravan members anticipated meeting with congressional leaders about related issues. When government officials refused to meet with delegates of the group, they seized and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs office.

Dennis Banks also spearheaded the movement on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1973 to oust the corrupt government-appointed chairman. These activities led to the occupation of Wounded Knee and a siege of 71 days, which received national attention. Banks was the principal negotiator and leader of the Wounded Knee forces.

Under his leadership, AIM led a protest in Custer, South Dakota in 1973 against judicial proceedings that found a White man innocent of murdering a Native American. As a result of his involvement in Wounded Knee and Custer, Banks and 300 others were arrested and faced trial. He was acquitted of the Wounded Knee charges, but was convicted of incitement to riot and assault stemming from the confrontation at Custer.

Dennis Banks went underground before he could be incarcerated. While on the run, he organized a small armed AIM group which included Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, who was suspected of being an FBI informant. She was later found murdered.

Banks later received amnesty in California from Governor Jerry Brown, who refused to extradite him to South Dakota. He also received financial support from actor and AIM sympathizer Marlon Brando.

After Governor Brown left office, Banks received sanctuary from the Onondaga Nation in upstate New York in 1984. While in New York, Banks organized the Great Jim Thorpe Longest Run from New York to Los Angeles, where the goal was to restore the gold medals Jim Thorpe had won at the 1912 Olympics to the Thorpe family.

In 1985 Banks left Onondaga to surrender to law enforcement officials in South Dakota and served 18 months in prison. When he was released, he worked as a drug and alcohol counselor on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

During his time in California from 1976 to 1983, Dennis Banks earned an associate's degree from the University of California, Davis and taught at Deganawida Quetzecoatl University (DQU), a Native American-controlled institute of alternative higher learning, where he became the first American Indian chancellor.

He also established the first spiritual run from Davis to Los Angeles in 1978, which is now an annual event. In the spring of 1979 he taught at Stanford University.

Dennis Banks, the entertainer

Dennis Banks has had roles in the movies War Party, The Last of the Mohicans, and Thunderheart.

The musical release Still Strong, featuring Banks' original work as well as traditional Native American songs, was completed in 1993. He can also be heard on Peter Gabriel's Les Musiques du Monde, and Peter Matthiessen's No Boundaries albumns.

Dennis Banks led Sacred Run 2006, a spiritual run from San Francisco's Alcatraz Island to Washington, D.C. The runners followed the ancient Native American tradition of bringing a message of "Land, Life and Peace" from village to village. They travelled about 100 miles every day, and entered Washington, D.C. on Earth Day, April 22, 2006.

Major events were held in Albuquerque, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Knoxville, and Washington, D.C. Over the past 28 years since "The Longest Walk" in 1978, Sacred Runs have become an international movement.

Visit his Nowacumig website.

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