The American Indian Movement (AIM)
While participating in and establishing the Cleveland American Indian Center, Russell Means would start to work with the American Indian Movement founded by Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt. The American Indian Movement had been established in order to provide support for American Indians and fight back against unjust behavior by politicians and the government. Alongside Russell Means, AIM would fight back against the lack of respect for American Indians by the government in a physical way which was reflected off of the black panther party.
(watch 7:15 - 8:20)
The group Indians of all Tribes would claim the land known previously as the Alcatraz U.S. Penitentiary, which has shut down in 1963 since by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) all unreserved federal land is American Indian Land. The statement given by Indians of all Tribes to the press included a statement discusses payment for the land “We, the native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.... We will purchase said Alcatraz for twenty-four dollars in glass beads and red cloth.... Our offer of 1.24 per acre is greater than the 47 cents per acre the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land.”
Though this act was not directly instated by AIM or Russell Means, it was a key aspect of how Means would come to be involved in American Indian activism. Means attended the occupation when he was growing up and it would then lead him to be courageous and stand up for rights of American Indians across the U.S..
The Trail of Broken Treaties
In order to get government officials to notice AIM they would need to force confrontation in order to expose the government's wrong doing. This was done by AIM in 1972, they gathered in caravans with more than 100 Indians to travel to Washington DC to demand that the US government honor its Indian treaties. They then waited for hours with no bureaucrats agreeing to work with them. This would lead to the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building.
Russell Means encouraged the ban of caravans to travel to Washington DC in hopes of proving not only a point to the U.S. government but also to the American Indians with AIM. This alone proved Means' level of commitment and determination for his fellow people.
(watch from 4:12-4.32)
Bureau of Indian Affairs Building Occupation
After no negotiation took place with the Trail of Broken Treaties The BIA building was taken over by AIM and other activities. The building was then destroyed partially and historical artifacts were repossessed by activists, since they were originally taken from Indian land over centuries. The BIA building held a surplus a important documents Indian related and non-Indian related, they decided to fake out the police by burning random documents and taking documents involving the BIA and Indians, which they could use later on to prove the governments wrong doing.
All of the AIM leaders were very proud of being able to accomplish the occupation of the BIA building, but when the looting and destruction began to occur, they tried to calm it down and establish sense in people. Through this compromise was able to be made through Means who encouraged people to put there destruction elsewhere, thus burning random BIA papers to fool to bureaucrats.
Wounded Knee 1973
In 1973 Wounded Knee in South Dakota took place once again on the same land that the fist Wounded Knee took place. The goal of this occupation is based around protesting Richard Wilson as the president of the Oglala Sioux tribal council. American Indians were constantly being harassed by Wilson and the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON squad). With Wilson's GOON squad hunting people down, fear of law enforcement became a huge threat. After the reign of terror The Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization made an official request to bring AIM in to fight against Wilson; this resulted in a 71 day siege on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Means directly showed his level of leadership through this siege considering that he was one of the main leaders of the movement. While this was happening Means worked with the people around him to keep people safe as well as ways to prove that they were willing and able to communicate with the government.
Yellow Thunder Camp
Near Victoria Creek Canyon, South Dakota, in 1972, Russell Means and other AIM activists established a camp on federal land in efforts to reclaim the Black Hills for the Lakota American Indians. In the beginning stages they did not have a permit to stay on the land but Means had urged the Forest Service to let them remain since the Forest Service was violating the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act of 1978. At this camp many American Indians were able to see the role of their people on a society but unfortunately they also experienced racism and judgement. This camp holds only proud people who can overcome anything. In 2017 this camp is still active and inspiring American Indians everywhere to overcome judgment and the government funded genocide of American Indians.