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Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of African Americans in 1968, Native Americans groups such as American Indian Movement (AIM) was created to point out the serious issues faced by the indigenous population of the USA. AIM carried out a number of actions to raise awareness for both Native Americans and the rest of the US society. The most prominent ones included the Trail of Broken Treaties March in 1972, Wounded Knee incident in 1973. Although AIM managed to bring attention to the Native American’s problems and get the Congress to restore some of their rights, the long-term achievements were lacking.
One way the AIM attempted to receive compensation for US treaty violations was through the Trail of Broken Treaties in October 1972. Before more than 600 AIM activists marched from San Francisco to Washington DC, the AIM had come up with 20 Point Proposal that highlighted possible solutions to the serious Native American’s problems. For example, one of the points was “Health, Housing, Employment, Economic Development, and Education” which included that the proposed $15,000,000,000 budget for the remainder of 1970s should be used to provide 100,000 housing units, and more than 100,000 new permanent, tribal jobs. It could be argued that the Trail of Broken Treaties was quite effective because it forced the federal government to immediately react. Since the AIM protesters caused over $2 million in damages to the BIA building, President Nixon was forced to provide $66,000 in transportation monies in return for the peaceful end of the march. Therefore, even though the AIM didn’t get the exact amount it asked for, it still got a reasonable amount of compensation and more importantly, it was the first time for AIM to make the government follow their rules. This proves the effectiveness of the Trail because now the AIM was seen as potential threat to the government, hence made it more sensitive to Native American concerns. However, it could be argued that the Trail wasn’t that effective because although it attracted national publicity, most of the TV and newspapers overlooked the historical context of the Trail. Historian Jason A. Heppler says, “Television coverage largely focused on the extent of the damage done to the building rather than the underlying causes of the protest.” This means that the TV wanted to portray the Native Americans in the bad light so that the public will overlook the fact that its government broke more than 500 treaties with Native Americans to make more US citizens won’t join in the march and cause more damages than there already were. This proves the Trail ineffective as the people didn’t realize the purpose of the Trail and continued to think of Native Americans as aggressive and uneducated population, which increased the discrimination the Native Americans faced. As a result, the Trail was mostly ineffective in long-term because it failed to bring national publicity in the beneficial way and it didn’t achieve the full compensation for violating the treaties, which was the main aim of the Trail.
Another way the Aim achieved their aim of publicizing the problems faced by the Native Americans is through the Wounded Knee Incident in 1973. In 1890, Sioux people were massacred in the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 1973, the village was occupied by 300 Sioux to bring attention to serious problems Native Americans had such as life expectancy of 46 years, 50% unemployment, and very high rate of suicide and alcoholism. Moreover, they wanted to demonstrate the judicial injustice that occurred in Wesley Bad Heart Bull case. The occupation of Wounded Knee was effective because after 71 days of the occupation they achieved one of their aims, which is to do an investigation of the BIA. This way it allowed the Native Americans to get rid of the corrupted members of the BIA who undermined the rights of the Native Americans in favor to the government. Therefore, they could potentially put new members that are more cooperative with the AIM to improve the life conditions of the Native Americans. Although, this could be seen as a long-term effect, there is still little possibility that the new members of the BIA wouldn’t become corrupted as well. It could be argued that the occupation of the Wounded Knee was ineffective because it failed to raise awareness for both Native Americans and the US society, which was their main aim. For example, historian Miranda Jean Brady states, “Native press also differed little from mainstream coverage, framing the American Indian Movement as militant, urban, and unrepresentative of the majority of Native Americans.” This means that the Native Americans thought of the AIM as a violent organization, thus prohibiting it to get supporters and participate in Native and non-Native politics. This proves the occupation to be ineffective because it created an aggressive image of the AIM movement, hence causing the Native to think of it as dangerous and unworthy (2 natives were killed but the aims weren’t achieved). Therefore, it caused the number of Native American activists to fight for their civil rights to decrease. It failed to build an appropriate image of the Natives in the eyes of the government too as South Dakota Senator George McGovern bemoaned, “We cannot have one law for a handful of publicity-seeking militants and another law for ordinary citizens.” This means that even the government didn’t associate AIM with the ordinary citizens and was unwilling to cooperate with it as it seemed noting but a militant nuisance. This proves the occupation ineffective because the AIM made the government to resent the militant Native American movement. Overall, the despite some short-term achievements, the occupation of the Wounded Knee were ineffective in the long-term.
As a conclusion, AIM was mostly ineffective as a Native American organization fighting for the civil rights of the indigenous population. It got some short-term achievements such as inspection of the BIA and got some money as a compensation for the broken treaties, but it long-term achievements are lacking. Since AIM was a militant movement, its occupation of the Wounded Knee and Trail of the Broken Treaties were seen, as aggressive measures that made the Native Americans seem violent and uneducated in the eyes of the US population and the government, hence increasing the resentment the citizens felt towards the Native Americans. Even Native Americans, they resented AIM because they thought that it doesn’t represent their cultural identity and is dangerous and worthless (2 Natives were killed at Wounded Knee but the aims weren’t achieved). Therefore, AIM failed to raise awareness of the problems faced by the Native Americans.
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