Dennis Banks, the famous Ojibway co-founder of the American Indian Movement, teacher, lecturer, author and activist, is still going strong. A few days after he turned 80 on April 12, 2012, Banks received a Living Legends Award in Washington D.C. for his contributions as a co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and his ongoing commitment to the well being of the American Indian community, according to the Native News Network. Banks co-founded AIM in 1968 in Minnesota, and 43 years later, in February 2011 he initiate Longest Walk 3, a 5,400-mile walk/run/relay across America to raise awareness of the prevalence of diabetes among American Indians and how it can be overcome. Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with Banks at the National Indian Gaming Association’s annual Tradeshow & Convention in Phoenix at the end of March, where he participated in a sacred lands rally between manning a booth in the tradeshow that featured exquisite hand-picked wild rice and other products from his company Dennis Banks Natural Foods. (Related story: Video: Footage From Sacred Sites Rally in Arizona)
Could you tell me about the videos that you’re featured in?
A Good Day to Die covers my political life with AIM and The Drum covers my personal life and I think both of them are needed because I’ve traveled across this continent over the last 20 years – actually I’ve been travelling all my life – but in the last 20 years a lot of young people in high schools and colleges are asking, ‘What is AIM?’ A lot of them don’t know – and that’s not to say anything against them because if you don’t know something, you don’t know it. But they want to know and I think we have to let them know what happened in the ’60s and ’70s so they might get a better idea of what the current scene is today and why. I think that’s very important.
What do you think AIM’s place in history will be?
There’s always going to be a need for change whether it’s the American Indian Movement or Idle No More. Whether it’s now or 10 years from now, we’re always going to need those people to go out and confront the issues and take a stand even if we all become doctors and lawyers and senators and congressmen, even if we all become millionaires. There will still be a need to tell America that there are some very important contracts that were made in the 1700s and 1800s that deal with our land.
Are you referring to treaties?
Yes, and I think if we don’t remind America, if we don’t remind students in high schools and colleges of those obligations then pretty soon there will be no talk about them, no knowledge of them. People will say, ‘Treaties? What are they?’
You’ve been through so many experiences, co-founding AIM, participating in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, you went to jail …
Prison. I went to prison. Jail is where you go over the weekend. I was only in there for three years. Other people like Leonard Peltier have been in there for 38 years. [Leonard Peltier was convicted for the deaths of two FBI agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He maintains he is innocent of the crime.] They’re not letting him out because he won’t say he feels remorse. Remorse for what? For something he didn’t do? Even the prosecutor admitted 16 years after Leonard was in prison that they don’t really know who killed those FBI agents. (Related story: Marching on Whiteclay: Oglala Lakota Activists, President Brewer and Supporters Continue Alcohol Protest)
Last time he was up for parole the FBI issued a really mean and vindictive statement that he would never be released …
It’s not up to the FBI whether he gets out or not. The FBI set up all the fabrications and lies that put him in prison. But I think in the end he’ll get out by presidential pardon whether it’s this president or the next.
How do you look back on all your experiences now?
I’m 80 years old and I feel good. I think the U.S. government is going to die in its own quagmire of brutality, its own quagmire of hatred and discrimination and the brutality that it has committed over the years and the honors given to people for committing those acts. For instance, for the massacre at Wounded Knee the U.S. government gave out Medals of Honor for killing women and children and that’s a disgraceful, disgraceful chapter and those are the kinds of thing that America is going to die from. Native people will still be here and the good people of America will be here too, but the federal system that has sponsored all these things, that’s endorsed them and still endorses them will die of all that stuff. (Related story: Wounded Knee: Still Wounded After All These Years)
When you talk about people going out and confronting issues, are you talking about direct action?
Oh, absolutely! I believe in negotiations and so on but sometimes people are not going to talk, they aren’t interested in diplomacy, they want a fight. Native people will succeed in their struggle – which has now been going on for almost 540 years. Someday the American people will come to their senses and boot out their government and start over again. And the Creator will cleanse this earth. That’s just the way it’s going to be.
Do you have any regrets about AIM and that whole AIM era?
I regret that it ended too soon.