Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivist dead at 80

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Front Page - By Steve Karnowski The As­so­ci­ated Press

Den­nis Banks, who helped found the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment and en­gaged in up­ris­ings, has died.

Den­nis Banks, who helped found the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment and en­gaged in some­times-vi­o­lent up­ris­ings against the U.S. gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the armed oc­cu­pa­tion of Wounded Knee in 1973, died at age 80, his fam­ily an­nounced Mon­day.

Banks, whose Ojibwe name was Nowacumig, was one of sev­eral ac­tivists who founded AIM in Min­neapo­lis in 1968, and he was a leader of the group’s takeover of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reser­va­tion in South Dakota in 1973, in a protest against both the U.S. and tribal gov­ern­ments. The vil­lage had been the site of a mas­sacre by U.S. sol­diers in 1890 that left an es­ti­mated 300 In­di­ans dead. The oc­cu­piers held fed­eral agents at bay for 71 days; two Na­tive Amer­i­cans died and sev­eral agents were in­jured amid the fre­quent gun­fire.

Banks died Sun­day night at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Min­nesota, sur­rounded by about 30 peo­ple, in­clud­ing sib­lings, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, said daugh­ter Tashina Banks Rama. He had heart surgery ear­lier this month and was in high spir­its un­til pneu­mo­nia he had con­tracted af­ter the surgery took a turn for the worse on Fri­day, she said.

“Den­nis Banks is some­body who had an in­deli­ble im­pact on his­tory, not just in our na­tive com­mu­nity but through­out our coun­try,” said An­ton Treuer, a pro­fes­sor of the Ojibwe lan­guage at Bemidji State Univer­sity, cit­ing how he de­manded that the pow­er­ful take no­tice of Amer­i­can In­dian con­cerns. “He was some­one who was both loved and hated — de­pend­ing on what cir­cle you’re look­ing at.”

Banks and fel­low AIM leader Rus­sell Means faced charges stem­ming from the Wounded Knee oc­cu­pa­tion, but a judge threw out the case. How­ever, Banks spent 18 months in prison in the 1980s af­ter be­ing con­victed for ri­ot­ing and as­sault for a protest in Custer, South Dakota, ear­lier in 1973. He avoided pros­e­cu­tion on those charges for sev­eral years be­cause Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown re­fused to extradite him, and the Onondaga Na­tion in New York gave him sanc­tu­ary.

Banks also helped lead a takeover of the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs of­fices in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 1972 as part of a protest dubbed “The Trail of Bro­ken Treaties.” And he was a par­tic­i­pant in the 1969-71 oc­cu­pa­tion by Na­tive Amer­i­cans of Al­ca­traz Is­land, the site of the for­mer prison in San Fran­cisco Bay.

Banks’ fam­ily wrote on his Face­book page that as he took his last breaths, son Mi­noh Banks sang him four songs for his jour­ney.

“All the fam­ily who were present prayed over him and said our in­di­vid­ual good­byes,” the fam­ily said. “Then we proudly sang him the AIM song as

Banks, whose Ojibwe name was Nowacumig, was one of sev­eral ac­tivists who founded AIM in Min­neapo­lis in 1968, and he was a leader of the group’s takeover of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reser­va­tion in South Dakota in 1973, in a protest against both the U.S. and tribal gov­ern­ments.

his fi­nal send off.”

Banks lived near the town of Fed­eral Dam on the Leech Lake Reser­va­tion in north­ern Min­nesota and was a mem­ber of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, one of the many bands of Ojibwe, also known as the Chippewa or Anishi­naabe, liv­ing in North Amer­ica. In the late 1990s, Banks founded a com­pany that sold wild rice and maple syrup, trad­ing on his fa­mous name.

He was part of a group of AIM sup­port­ers who re­turned to Wounded Knee in 2003 to mark the 30th an­niver­sary of the stand­off. Banks paid trib­ute to the dead as “war­riors” and de­clared it “a na­tional hol­i­day.” He was also there in 1998 for the 25th an­niver­sary.

In 2010, Banks joined sev­eral other Ojibwe from the Leech Lake and White Earth bands who tested their rights un­der an 1855 treaty by set­ting out nets il­le­gally on Lake Bemidji a day be­fore Min­nesota’s fish­ing sea­son opener. He also went to the Stand­ing Rock Reser­va­tion in North Dakota to join last year’s protests of the Dakota Ac­cess oil pipe­line.

Treuer said Banks is re­mem­bered in the Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­nity not just for his work in the rise of AIM, but for his ef­forts on the lo­cal level, such as fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on racial dis­par­i­ties in the jus­tice sys­tem, hous­ing for Na­tive Amer­i­cans, treaty rights and teach­ing tra­di­tional ways to young peo­ple.

Rama said the fam­ily plans to hold wakes Wed­nes­day evening at the Min­neapo­lis Amer­i­can In­dian Cen­ter, and Thurs­day and Fri­day on Leech Lake Reser­va­tion. Banks will be buried on the reser­va­tion in a tra­di­tional cer­e­mony Satur­day.

Banks is sur­vived by 20 chil­dren and more than 100 grand­chil­dren, she said.

JEFF BAENEN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Amer­i­can In­dian ac­tivist Den­nis Banks, left, speaks to re­porters on Lake Bemidji, dur­ing an Amer­i­can In­dian treaty rights protest in Bemidji, Minn. The fam­ily of Banks says he died Sun­day at the age of 80. Banks was a co-founder of the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment and a leader of the Wounded Knee oc­cu­pa­tion in 1973.

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