Reprinted from Consortium News
Native American activist Dennis Banks being honored at a ceremony in 2013.
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A new front in the historic struggle of Native Americans to force the U.S. government to respect their rights is the protest against a pipeline that would go through the territory of a small tribe in North Dakota.
This protest has drawn the support of Dennis J. Banks, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who sat down for an interview in San Francisco after helping out with the growing resistance to the pipeline in North Dakota.
Banks was born in 1932 on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. In 1968, he co-founded A.I.M., "which was established to protect the traditional ways of Indian people and to engage in legal cases protecting treaty rights of Native Americans, such as treaty and aboriginal rights to hunting and fishing, trapping, and gathering wild rice."
In 1972, AIM organized and led the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan across the United States to Washington, D.C., calling attention to the plight of Native Americans. Banks led a protest in Custer, South Dakota, in 1973 against a judicial process found a non-Indian innocent of murdering an Indian. Banks also participated the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973.
His activities led to his arrest, along with 300 others. Banks was acquitted of charges stemming from his participation in the Wounded Knee takeover, but was convicted of riot and assault stemming from the confrontation at Custer. Refusing to serve time in prison, Banks went underground but later received amnesty from Gov. Jerry Brown of California.
Banks's autobiography, Sacred Soul, was published in Japan, and won the 1988 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award. He had significant roles in the films "War Party" (1988), "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), and "Thunderheart" (1992). Banks was in San Francisco, as a part of a multi-state tour as a 2016 Vice Presidential Candidate on the Peace and Freedom Party when I interviewed him on KPFA.
Dennis Banks: First of all I want to say thank you to KPFA for allowing for us to come on. We have, when I say we, Native People, we needed Standing Rock, and we needed the people to support us there. As you know, they're trying to run the pipeline roughshod through a lot of our territories, and we're scrambling; we thought they were going to win totally, but now, it's been about ["] nine weeks ago that I first was made aware that there was going to be an encampment going on.
And I kind of followed it at first to see what was going on. It developed, there was 200 people that showed up and made the encampment, and then I was telling my children, I said "Hey, we gotta get involved in this. I don't know what's going to happen but we've got to get up there."
Well, my daughters went first, and then they reported back to me, and I realized that something big is going to happen. But I thought at first that the big thing would be that the confrontation would begin quickly, coming to push and shove. But I noticed that the tribal council of Standing Rock had taken a firm, legal action against Dakota Access right away, and that's when I felt that we could win.
Looking at the brief, looking at the strategy that was going to develop, I thought, "Oh man, this is going to get big." And I want to say from now, there were 400 people when I first came there, to now seeing on Labor Day weekend, it rose to about 10,000 people. Some say it was 9,500 but we are now listed as the 13th largest village in North Dakota.
And the camp has become a community. And I've never seen this kind of support. You know, the struggle with Wounded Knee ended up being a confrontation with the FBI and the U.S. marshals, and weapons and guns. But this one is, oh my God, I've never seen and I probably will never see this kind of support again for a really small tribe.
DB: Well, tell us what you saw and more about what moved you?
Banks: Well, first of all, when we reached over, almost close to 1,000 people, the people started to create some learning sessions for a lot of the children that were there. And there was about 15 horses that came there, young boys and girls were riding them. There was a lot of happiness, there was a lot of good feeling. The cooking started to grow, from one big major station, cooking station, where we now have 10 major stations, where they feed the 6,000-7,000 people, we'll feed them within an hour and a half. And that's how we're getting it down.
And, also, the children, the learning situation became really vital. And it began to show and become clear that we're not there just for a couple of days. We're going to be in it for the long run. Knowing that the teachers -- some are retired, some are active teachers in other colleges, universities -- they came there to teach for a week. Now some of them have been there for four or five weeks. It's growing. It's growing with a sense of huge love. I've seen tractor trailers coming in there with logs, with food and warm clothing, and recently, just a lot of warm clothing, and a lot of big tents.