- By Levi Rickert
Opinion. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was established in 1968 in Minneapolis because of police brutality and abuse against Native Americans.
Clyde Bellecourt (White Earth Ojibwe), one of the co-founders of AIM, recounted in his autobiography The Thunder Before Storm that arresting Indian people was almost a seasonal sport for the Minneapolis Police Department back in those days.
“If the City of Minneapolis needed extra help cleaning up the parks in the spring, they arrested a lot of Indian people, because they knew we could be trusted to care for the land. And when they needed people to work in their gardens in the fall, they rounded us up and sentenced us to community service,” Bellecourt wrote.
Bellecourt also told how AIM decided to take evidence of the police brutality to the public through the media.
“We presented photographs, evidence of Indian people who had been beaten by the police. We had some horrible cases over the years: Indians stuffed into the trunk of a squad car; Indians thrown into snowbanks and pissed on by the police; an Indian woman taken by the river and raped by police officers,” Bellecourt wrote.
In November 2009, I interviewed another co-founder of AIM, Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Ojibwe) at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. The conversation covered a broad range of topics and, at one point, I asked Banks about the origins of AIM.
“In the beginning, one of the reasons we formed was to try and stop the hostility that was going on between the Minneapolis Police Department and Native people,” he told me. “Every Friday night, the police would come down to Franklin Avenue with their paddy wagons. The police would bring five or six paddy wagons, and it opened up their doors and they back right up, flush to the back doors of bars where Native Americans would go to drink.
“Then they'd come around the front and then take Native Americans to the back and run them right into the paddy wagons. They would be sentenced to three days in jail. The three days were spent cleaning up downtown Minneapolis, or else cleaning up the stadium after these football games, or else going over to give to the University of Minnesota stadium. That was cheap labor–free labor. By Wednesday, we'd be all through. The process would start all over again on Friday,” Banks told me.
That process and the history of Native treatment in Minneapolis came back to me as I read the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Investigation of the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department report that was released last month. The first two findings in the 92-page document reported that:
- the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) uses excessive force, including unjustified deadly force and other types of force, and
- MPD unlawfully discriminates against Black and Native Americans.
The investigation began almost a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, in May 2020 by Derek Chauvin, a white MPD officer, that caused several weeks of unrest in the streets of Minneapolis and in other cities in the United States.
Minneapolis is a city of some 425,000 people whose population is 63% White, 18% Black, 10% Hispanic, 6% Asian, and 1.3% Native American. Minneapolis’ Native American population consists of tribal citizens from the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state of Minnesota and other tribes from throughout Indian Country. Native people historically moved to the Minneapolis metropolitan area for educational and employment opportunities.
The report indicates many of the problems that existed at the dawn of the AIM movement in the ‘60s remain today. The report reveals that driving while Native American on the streets of Minneapolis—and even walking—means you are 10 times more likely to be stopped by the MPD than if you are White.
Once stopped in a vehicle, the MPD conducts vehicle searches during stops involving Native American people at 14.4 times the per capita rate.
The report says during stops involving Native American individuals, MPD used force 20% more often than the per capita rate.
Shortly after the murder of of George Floyd, Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flannagan (White Earth Ojibwe) talked with Native News Online about systemic racism that allowed Floyd’s death to happen. She also shared a dream for a transformation that didn’t involve returning to the status quo.
“Someday when it is safe, we will all have the option to go back to normal, though we cannot let that happen. Normal—quote, unquote—means that black and brown bodies are not safe. Normal was not working for us,” she said. “We must not get back to normal, we must get back to better.”
With the long history of mistreatment and abuse by the MPD towards Native Americans, it is time to move to BETTER.
Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.
More Stories Like ThisFederal Government Shutdowns are Bad for Indian Country and Entire Country
The Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper and Transparency in Government
Experiences of an At-large Cherokee Nation Citizen
CALL TO ACTION: Call Members of Congress to Support Special Diabetes Program for Indians Expires Sept. 30
Engaging the Federal Government to Meet Its Promises
Native News is free to read.
We hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. For the past dozen years, we’ve covered the most important news stories that are usually overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous People (MMIP) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools.
Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps. Most readers donate between $10 and $25 to help us cover the costs of salaries, travel and maintaining our digital platforms. If you’re in a position to do so, we ask you to consider making a recurring donation of $12 per month to join the Founder's Circle. All donations help us remain a force for change in Indian Country and tell the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.