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: 

  1. the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) uses excessive force, including unjustified deadly force and other types of force, and
  2. 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.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].