Cultural Profile: Dennis Banks

            Dennis Banks was a Native American activist,
teacher and author. Banks was one of the three co-founders of The American
Indian Movement (AIM), with fellow Native Americans Russel Means and Clyde
Bellecourt. AIM was formed in 1968 with the commitment of supporting fellow Native
Americans and bringing to light unfair federal policies and practices against fellow
Native Americans. This was done by takeovers and occupations. Sadly, Banks
passed away on October 30, 2017.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

            Banks was born on April 12, 1937, on
an Indian Reservation located in Leech Lake, Minnesota. At the age of five,
Banks was uprooted and sent to a series of schools ran by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA). These schools, “…sought to Christianize or “civilize” their
pupils” (encyclopedia.com). To “civilize” the students, the schools downplayed
or made the students forget about their Native American culture. Due to this
Banks lost the ability to speak his ancestors’ language. After his graduation
from the BIA schools, Banks entered the US Air Force. Banks was released from
his service sometime in the late 1950s. Upon his release Banks returned home to
Minnesota, upon his return, Banks had a hard time adjusting and fell into bad
habits. In a quote from Banks on encyclopedia.com he states, ‘”I was heading
down a road that was filled with wine, whiskey, and booze” Banks later recalled.

“Then I ended up in prison”‘ (encyclopedia.com). In 1966, he was sent to jail,
while in jail he met the other two co-founders of AIM. Overtime the movement
began to spread and gain more members.

            The first protest that Banks and his
fellow members of the AIM conducted took place in 1972. The protest was known
as the “Trails of Broken Treaties.” During this protest, Banks and around 500
other members traveled cross-country to Washington in an attempt to bring to
light the poor living standards that many Native Americans had to deal with, as
well as the treaty rights that were never received. During this protest, the
AIM took control over the BIA building for around a week. While there the AIM
destroyed important documents as well as parts of the building. The protest
ended when the Government finally agreed to meet with the members of AIM and
discuss their complaints. This is showing us that Banks was looking out for
what is best for his fellow Native Americans.

            The second protest that Banks and
his fellow members of the AIM conducted took place in 1973 a few weeks after a
white man murdered a Native American and did not get charged in the way that
AIM thought he should have. During this protest, Banks and the other AIM
members occupied the Wounded Knee reservation and demanded that Richard Wilson
be removed from his position of leader of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. A
standoff ensued because the Government denied their request. Banks and Means
were charged with both conspiracy and assault when the standoff ended, however
the case was eventually dropped. Banks is quoted in an article from The New
York Times written by Robert D. McFadden justifying the reason behind the
protest, “We had reached a point in history where we could not tolerate the
abuse any longer, where mothers could not tolerate the mistreatment that goes
on on the reservations any longer, where they could not see another Indian
youngster die” (McFadden). This quote is showing us that Banks was willing to
stand up for his fellow Native Americans even if it meant dying for the cause.

            In the years following the standoff,
Banks spent time on the run because of another assault and rioting case from
1973. However, in 1980 he voluntarily decided to go to prison and served 18
months. After serving that time Banks went on and did many things such as,
teaching, appearing in several documentaries, speaking about Native Americans
and his experiences, and even founded a company in Leech Lake, Minnesota (growing
wild rice and making maple syrup).

            If there is one major thing that can
be learned from Banks, it is that he had an extremely deep love for his people
and their culture. We can also see that no matter what happened to Banks with
the protests, that he was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of
his people.