On a recent visit to Georgia, I wandered into a public library in search of evidence of academic distortion. It was easy enough to find. There, in the juvenile reference section, I discovered a two volume set entitled Native North American Biography (Edited by Sharon Malinowski and Simon Glickman, UXL, Gale Research, ITP, New York, 1996). A collage of admirable Native personalities graced the cover; the familiar face of actor Graham Greene appears next to the alluring poet, Louise Erdrich, shadowed by a stern-looking Sitting Bull. Further attracting the young reader is the assurance that this thoroughly researched reference profiles 112 Natives, all of them notable for their achievements in a wide range of pursuits, from civil rights to politics to literature.
While most of the profiles are reasonably accurate, the historical blinders are hard to miss when the American Indian Movement is mentioned. Prominent among the listed achievers are Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Russell Means, and last but not least, Leonard Peltier. As you might have guessed, the accolades afforded these men are enough to make one gag with disbelief. I expect this encyclopedic volume can be found in thousands of libraries across America, where it waits to infect the minds of our children with the type of indoctrination most Americans would find shocking. I suspect the glut of errors is unintentional, and otherwise understandable, given the blow to truthfulness that comes from relying on the work of Peter Matthiessen, Ward Churchill, and Ken Stern. All three authors are credited in these questionable entries, as are several other clearly partisan contributors.
In an effort to help the wayward editors of this 1996 edition of history, let us examine a few excerpts and correct their mistakes, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with the serious purpose of illustrating how perverted the historical record has become. I offer this service free of charge, with no expectation of recognition by the Gale Research Group of how I might be, as they advertise, “Changing the Way the World Learns.”
For the benefit of those who might be offended by the truth, corrective inserts are italicized. Otherwise, the warped version of history remains as the editors would have us read and believe. All in all, these passages, when corrected to 100%, do an admirable job of summarizing AIM’s true legacy, perhaps for the first time. To enhance the learning experience of our youth, I suggest having two students read aloud; one reads the original passage and the other adds the italicized correction. Let us begin with the ringleaders, or leaders, if you prefer.
Dennis J. Banks, pps. 23- 27:
“A founder and current field director of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Dennis J. Banks has been a tireless activist for Native rights, often in the face of his own outright hostility and violence… As a leader of the organization, he was at the head of some of the major revolutionary actions of the 1970s, such as an occupation of Alcatraz and the 1973 takeover of the town of Wounded Knee, where under his direction and leadership, at least seven people were rumored to have been murdered. In trouble with the law again, this time for his political activities, including bombings and shootings, Banks spent several years as a fugitive before serving more time in prison.
The fall of 1972 saw Banks… leading the Trail of Broken Treaties march across the United States to Washington, D.C. This symbolic march followed the legacy of broken promises made to Indians by the American government. Although meetings with the administration had not been prearranged, federal officials refused to do anything but talk with AIM leaders. Since they were also denied appropriate housing, which had been promised them by one of their own leaders, they went to the BIA building to protest. When riot squads tried to evict them, they occupied the offices for five days. Treated poorly and never given a fair hearing in Washington, mostly because they planned their arrival a few days before a national election when few politicians would be in town, the group was rightly blamed for damages to the BIA building and paid $67,000 cash as a payoff to leave town. After they left, they became the targets of brave men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which used spy tactics, that is to say, informants, to impede AIM’s unlawful activities.
On February 28, or 27, 1973, the historic takeover of Wounded Knee began, where innocent families were forcibly evicted from their homes, never to return. …In the occupation that followed, 2,000 Indians and various fringe groups from around the country under the leadership of AIM withstood APCs, which some ill-informed editors refer to as tanks, not so heavy night-flare artillery, imaginary helicopter strafing, and roadblocks. The siege did not end until May 9, or May 8, if one cares about historical accuracy. At the national convention in White Oak, Oklahoma, that year, boycotted by most every other Indian group in the country, Banks—widely recognized for his violence, charisma and communication skills—was elected leader of AIM…
On February 12, 1974, an eight-month trial began. Banks was acquitted of the ten felony changes, (sic) lodged against him because a corrupt judge alleged that the FBI, which some authors refer to as the prosecution had used illegal wiretaps, in reality a single open telephone line, installed to facilitate negotiations with no expectation of privacy, to listen to not very private phone conversations as well as AIM’s falsified documents and also unproven perjured—that is, deliberately lying—witnesses; but as it turned out, the only liars were the judge, the defendants, and their lawyers.
Banks urged AIM members to discipline themselves so as not to discredit the movement, such as by eliminating members thought to be informers. His efforts were thwarted by the FBI, but not before an innocent mother of two was murdered, apparently with his knowledge and consent. Bad publicity about Banks was deliberately instigated by Douglass Durham, an infiltrator who consistently outsmarted the AIM leadership and who cleverly had attached himself to an unsuspecting Banks as his pilot and bodyguard. Durham admitted on March 5, 1975, in Des Moines, Iowa, that he was an informant for the FBI. The leaders of the FBI, including SAC Trimbach and his team of intrepid Agents, had worked tirelessly to undercut AIM’s illegal and murderous activities masquerading as Indian rights activism.
…on July 26, 1975, a South Dakota court found Banks guilty for his involvement in the Custer courthouse riot. Rather than serve a 15-year sentence, he fled to California, where an easily fooled Governor Edmund G. Brown granted him amnesty until his term expired in 1983.”
Russell Means, pp. 245-250:
“In February 1972, Means led 1,300 angry Indians into the small town of Gordon, Nebraska, to protest the suspicious death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. The demonstration convinced town authorities, that in order to appease an angry mob, they needed to cave to demands to conduct a second autopsy (examination of a body after death) which had literally nothing to do with the case that eventually led to the indictment of two white townsmen, both of whom lived out of town, for manslaughter… Violence against Indians by AIM members increased all over the country that summer, leading to further defensiveness among local Indian people. Many Native Americans, especially on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, felt they needed to arm themselves against murderous attacks from AIM henchmen.
At the annual Rosebud Sun Dance celebration, Means helped plan a mass demonstration to occur in Washington, D.C., during the week of the 1972 presidential election… A series of cross-country caravans called ‘The Trail of Broken Treaties’… reached Washington on November 2.
Feeling that the government officials were pushy and didn’t take the Indians seriously, Means then led the group to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There they successfully seized and vandalized the offices and renamed the building the Native American Embassy. On November 6, a U.S. District Court judge ordered that the group be forced out. Angry and frustrated, the Indians destroyed furniture, priceless Indian artifacts, and equipment and removed files they felt exploited Indian people—a theft and destruction which seriously imperiled the land claims of thousands of Native Americans….
On February 27, 1973, Means and a group of nearly 200 armed supporters invaded, looted, and occupied the community of Wounded Knee… More than a month later, Means agreed to fly to Washington, D.C., to negotiate an agreement to end the siege, but the government refused to negotiate until all arms were laid down. Means, who had earlier agreed to the terms, reneged, and refused to surrender unconditionally and left the meeting… Highly publicized in the national media, the ten-week siege became known as ‘Wounded Knee II’ and won the sympathy and support of many misguided non-Indians, including several Hollywood personalities, to the Movement’s great detriment and loss of credibility.
Means ran against Wilson in the 1974 election for tribal council president. He was under federal indictment (charged with committing a crime against the national government) for actions during the Wounded Knee occupation and this was a good reason why he lost the election….
His trial opened February 12, 1974, and continued until September 16, when U.S. District Court Judge Fred Nichol, in one of the most crooked decisions ever to be handed down from a federal bench, dismissed the charges…
In 1975 Means was indicted for a murder in a barroom brawl, more accurately described as premeditated murder in a men’s room stall. His lawyer, William Kunstler, who had been one of the defense attorneys during the Wounded Knee trial, argued that the government had created so much fear that Indians were armed in self-defense, such as when Means entered the courtroom surreptitiously armed and, by his own admission, prepared to kill every member of the jury, should they make the mistake of finding him guilty. Thankfully, [t]he jury acquitted Means of the murder charge on August 6, 1976. He was convicted of riot charges relating to the 1973 Custer demonstration and served the paltry sentence of one month in jail. After further mischief, his sentence for causing a ruckus in April, 1974, at the Sioux Falls Courthouse (while the Wounded Knee trial was in progress) was reinstated. Means served one year of a four-year sentence in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.”
Leonard Peltier, pp. 274-279:
“A non-leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the early 1970s, Leonard Peltier is serving two well-deserved consecutive life sentences… convicted of killing two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in 1975 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier claims he is innocent of these killings, and many uninformed people consider him a political prisoner, that is, they believe he was jailed for his virtually non-existent political activities rather than for the crimes of which he was convicted. With the support of a large and diverse group of hopelessly misguided individuals and organizations, Peltier works for his release from prison and for a facade of justice and improved conditions for all Native Americans. His supporters include hundreds of tribes who should know better, ignorant lawmakers in the United States and Canada, the often self-serving human-rights organization Amnesty International, religious and hopelessly naive leaders such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the British Archbishop of Canterbury, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, a Belgian princess, and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gerald Heaney, who has been repeatedly forced to admit that Peltier’s arguments are utterly unconvincing.
In February 1973, 300 traditionals (ostensibly Native Americans who wished to retain Indian tradition and identity, but in reality hundreds of Indian and non-Indian radicals, most of them reservation outsiders) and AIM members, but definitely not including (an incarcerated) Peltier, occupied the village of Wounded Knee… A 71-day siege opposed by the FBI, U.S. marshals (sic), and BIA police ended after several lives were lost, when U.S. government representatives agreed to investigate conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation… The investigations never took place, although Justice Department attorneys and the FBI tried in earnest to find credible evidence of civil rights violations. An estimated 300 unexplained murders or ‘accidents’ occurred during this period, a figure later exposed as a wild exaggeration and a tool for AIM’s hate-inspiring agenda. At the supposed request of Oglala Sioux chiefs who feared for their people in the lawlessness at Pine Ridge, Peltier and six other AIM members returned in March 1975 to establish a so-called spiritual camp near Oglala, where a large cache of weapons and explosives were stockpiled to protect only the small number of people allied with AIM, in a crazy scheme to take over the reservation.
In the late morning of June 26, 1975, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler entered the Jumping Bull property near Oglala, not supposedly, but lawfully, to serve a warrant for robbery and alleged torture, on a young Oglala named Jimmy Eagle. There were gunshots, allegedly initiated by Leonard Peltier, and the two agents, also allegedly by Peltier’s hand, and a young Coeur d’Alene Indian, Joe (Killsright) Stuntz, by a BIA officer who fired in self-defense, were killed. FBI agents, BIA police, and other law enforcement agencies moved in, many of them hours later, and the standoff continued for the rest of that day after the three alleged killers emerged from hiding in a culvert. While police and FBI agents searched for the right someone to charge with the murder of the FBI agents (no one has yet been, nor ever will be, charged with the justified shooting and death of Joe Stuntz), the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was called in to investigate the FBI’s search tactics, whatever that means.
In November 1975, Peltier, Jimmy Eagle, Bob Robideau, and Darrelle Dean (Dino) Butler were indicted for the deaths of agents Williams and Coler. Peltier had fled to Canada where he never asked for asylum (protection from arrest) because he was trying to avoid being arrested, figuring he had little chance of a fair trial, if the term ‘fair’ means the guilty go free. In February 1976, he was arrested in Alberta, Canada, and extradition hearings soon began in Vancouver. A Lakota woman named Myrtle Poor Bear claimed she’d seen Peltier commit the murders. After being threatened by AIM warriors, she later changed her story, saying that an FBI agent had said she might meet the same violent end as AIM member Anna Mae Aquash… who had been found murdered by her AIM friends, shot in the head on the Pine Ridge Reservation, strangely enough, right after Peltier’s arrest. Aquash, in fear for her life, had earlier told the FBI she knew nothing about the murders of the agents and would not cooperate with them.
In the summer of 1976, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were shamefully acquitted of the murders of the FBI agents on the grounds of self-defense, and in September charges were dropped against Jimmy Eagle for lack of evidence. That left Peltier as the clear perpetrator, and on December 18, only partly on the basis of Myrtle Poor Bear’s story, he was extradited to the United States.
Peltier’s murder trial began in Fargo, North Dakota, on March 4, 1977… The defense was not allowed to present the majority of its case, which dealt with historical issues of treaty violations having nothing to do with Peltier’s murderous rampage. No one testified in court to having seen Peltier commit the murders, mostly because the teenage boys who witnessed the crime were intimidated and threatened into silence…
In a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, Peltier’s lawyers appealed his conviction before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit in December 1977. The appeal was denied on the grounds of the evidence of the murder weapon… In April 1979, Peltier was transferred to Lompoc Prison in California. Upon learning of a clever way to fool unsuspecting sympathizers, Peltier and friends hatched a phony plan to kill him, he and two, not three other inmates (one of whom needlessly died in the attempt), escaped from Lompoc… He was tried, convicted, and given seven additional years in prison for the escape, but one of the conviction charges, the escape conviction, was not reversed but rather reinstated after an en banc hearing was ordered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, having bought in to the possibility of a crazy assassin story…
Over 20 million people worldwide, believing themselves adequately informed, have signed petitions and written letters of support for convicted killer Peltier. Incredibly, [t]here are some 150 support groups throughout the United States, and support organizations also exist in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. After Peltier’s final, unsuccessful appeal, followed by many more final, unsuccessful appeals, his lead attorney, Ramsey Clark, who admitted privately that Peltier is guilty as hell, submitted a formal application for executive clemency on November 22, 1993…
In the epilogue of the 1991 edition of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, the most well-known and now thoroughly discredited account of the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation, writer Peter Matthiessen described meeting a hooded someone who sounded a lot like AIM member David Hill, an individual—‘X’—who maintains that he actually shot the FBI agents… The story later collapsed, as did Matthiessen’s credibility.
In 1986, in a grand effrontery to the civilized world, Peltier received Spain’s Human Rights Award for ‘defending the historical and cultural rights of his people against the genocide of his race,’ thereby bringing disgrace and ridicule to all future recipients of that award. In 1993, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price, forever diminishing the significance of this award as well. From Leavenworth Prison, and later from the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Peltier directs the efforts of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC), established in 1985 to lobby support for his release. He is involved as the straw man in social and charitable causes and the Native American rights movement. He is also a painter whose creations are owned by the likes of Jane Fonda and other Hollywood diviners of virtue.
Yet, as Peltier has written in the LPDC’s newsletter, Spirit of Crazy Horse, now known as just Spirit, or perhaps more appropriately, Spiritless, ‘I have had to stare at photographs of my children to see them grow up, much like Jack Coler’s children have had to stare at pictures of their murdered father. I have had to rely on restricted telephone calls to be linked to my mother and grandchildren. Jack Coler’s children will never again receive a call from their father. I miss having dinner with friends. Ron Williams will never again have dinner with his friends. I miss taking walks in the woods. I miss gardening. I miss babies, I miss my freedom.’” There is justice in this world.