'72 AIM Takover Of BIA In Washington - 2nd of 4 Articles
Submitted by Kathy Helms
By Kathy Helms – email@example.com
Dine Bureau – March 3rd, ‘07
Gallup Independent – firstname.lastname@example.org
WINDOW ROCK -- American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks and the Sacred Run caravan are on the road, maping the route for next year's 30th anniversary of the Longest Walk.
The 2008 Longest Walk II goal is to walk across the United States from Alcatraz in San Francisco, to Washington D.C., arriving there on April 22, Earth Day, still in an attempt to call attention to the abuses of Native Americans and failure of the federal government to live up to its trust responsibility. It's one of many campaigns initiated by Banks. 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.
He and other members of AIM anticipated meeting with congressional leaders about Native American issues; however, government officials refused to meet with them, resulting in the seizure and occupation of the Bureau ofIndian Affairs Office.
Former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald recalls those times, which were at the height of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. "During those years, Navajo was considered to lead the entire Native American initiatives to implement self-determination. In any of these efforts, whether it was organized by AIM or Wounded Knee folks, we would be there to give support.
"I think that went a long way toward bringing forth to the nation the needs and the problems of Native Americans, all with the idea of recognizing the treaty that tribes have and also to be self-determining rather than continuing to be a ward of the federal government, particularly the BIA,"MacDonald said.
In addition, Navajo had its own problems with the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. "There were a lot of actions during those years," he said."Obviously, it makes matters most difficult when you have your own state congressional representatives being against you.
"Congressman Sam Steiger, Goldwater and Sen. Fannon-- those were the people in the beginning who were very much opposed to having the land dispute settled between the Navajos and Hopis on our own," MacDonald said. "Everyone was lined up against Navajo in favor of Hopi," he said. The Republicans had the White House and Congress, which made matters difficult for Navajo.
"We didn't have too much maneuvering, although I had direct access to the Nixon White House, and that helped quite a bit. But the rest of the time it was really an uphill battle," he said. Despite the odds, they got a couple"bad legislations" changed.
"All this time, there was a great deal of public relations efforts on the part of the Hopis from Salt Lake City to make it appear that Navajos were oppressing the Hopis," MacDonald said. We were the big bullies and they were a poor religious group trying to save their culture and save their people, and they wanted a little more room to breathe instead of being choked by Navajo being all around them. This was the kind of publicity that was being generated and a lot of the uninformed environmental-type groups were taking up for Hopis because they were the underdogs," MacDonald said.
"The Navajos were, at that time, considered like the way people look on big corporations these days, so we had to fight that as well. There was a concerted effort to make us look bad so they could get additional land from the nation," he said.
In the meantime, Navajo was trying to hold them back and get some sense of how the dispute could be settled. "One of the big things we were shooting for was we didn't want Congress or anyone to help us settle our land issues with the Hopis. We wanted the Navajos and Hopis to sit down, without any backup anywhere," he said. Alot of time was devoted to trying to resolve the dispute in a sensible way, rather than dividing up the land and relocating 10,000 Navajos.
"Of course, the Hopis said, 'We're being relocated too,' but they were only talking about, at the most, 100 of their people to be moved. We were looking at the relocation of over 10,000 Navajo people just because over 100 years ago the land settlement wasn't put together correctly by Congress,"MacDonald said.
My position was that, 'OK, if it is determined that somebody else then had a claim on the land and it was settled by somebody else more recently, the land should be given back to the person that originally had it.
"I said why don't we do the same thing with the white settlers. We were in the Gallup, Farmington, Cortez, Flagstaff, Page areas long before you folks came, and now you don't want to give it back to us. "I said, 'Let's look at the Hopis the same way. Let's just say the Hopis were there before Navajos and we settle on that by whatever way, whether it's by war, or using the land, or whatever it is
"I said, 'If that's the way you operate, why don't we do the same thing for Navajos. The Navajos were within the Four Sacred Mountains" in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. MacDonald told them Navajo didn't mind giving some land to the Hopis providing the feds gave back the original Navajo territory. "Well, they didn't want to listen to that. It's a double standard. It's one standard for them, one standard for us and the Hopis," he said.
Eventually, in 1972, all of the anger culminated in the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan and the BIA building takeover in Washington, D.C.
Lenny Foster, now program supervisor with the Corrections Project at Navajo Department of Behavioral Health Services in Window Rock, along with Dennis Banks and other AIM participants took part in the BIA takeover.
"We uncovered a lot of documentation that showed the corruption and the graft and the misuse of tribal resources, the exploitation of Indian resources, deals that were being made to strip mine, bring uranium mining onto the Indian reservations, and utilize the resources," Foster said.
"They thought of our homelands as waste, yet it held some of the richest resources in the world. And once the government realized that, they made deals that paid but pennies and exploited our leaders. We uncovered all of that in those documentations that were stored in those files," he said.
The only leader who really stuck up for what happened there was PeterMacDonald. The question was posed to him, "Why are these Indians so angry?" He answered, "Look at what you've done. Look what you're doing. These people have a reason to be angry. They're upset and frustrated at the racisim, the discrimination, the humiliations, the oppression, the suppression. You're exploiting their resources, you're not paying the right prices for what you're taking." Foster said MacDonald told them.
That was that anger that resulted in the destruction of the BIA building, he said. "But MacDonald was the only tribal leader in this country that sided with the American Indian Movement on that."Perhaps that's one reason he was hit -- for taking that stand," Foster said. He believes MacDonald was set up for standing strong.
"History shows what we did and how we stood up to that oppression and what we did with our lives and our bodies," Foster said. Over the course of the Indian rights campaigns, Native Americans "gave their lives so we could have a better tomorrow," he said. "But that tomorrow's still coming because we still are not receiving the full benefits of the rights and agreements that were made in the treaties."
While AIM was occupying the BIA building, Chairman MacDonald received a call from John Erlichmann at the Nixon White House."He called me and asked me what they should do, because in those years, the White House, particularly, was looking to Navajo for leadership in Native American affairs.
My suggestion was, go talk to them. He asked me if I supported what they were doing and I said 'yes'. There were other tribal leaders who were quoted in the press that they did not support what AIM was doing, that it was not the legitimate voice for Native Americans. These were recognized leaders of Native American nations", MacDonald said. "So when I got a call from John Erlichmann, he asked me what Navajo's position was and what my position was, do I support it or don't I support it.
"I told him, I support it. He asked me why and I told him, 'I don't agree with some of the methods that they're using to get attention. Nevertheless, attention to the Native American problem is needed.' "That's why I support their effort to uncover the needs of the Native Americans and also the neglect of the federal government through BIA of performing what they said they would perform under the treaties. I said, that's plain and simple. That's why I'm in favor of it."
MacDonald was asked to appear on "Face the Nation" regarding the BIA building occupation by AIM. He flew to D.C. and appeared on the CBS program. "They asked me a lot of questions and I said I support what they're doing and I explained what was needed, that what they needed to do was listen to these people." MacDonald said they may have used force to occupy the building, but that the nation shouldn't look at that. It should look at what the issues are.
Send In The Guard?
"After their program, Erlichmann and I had coffee together over at the old Jefferson Hotel. They were suggesting sending National Guard over there. I said, 'You can't do that. There are women and children over there. These people, some of them are willing to die for what they're doing. You don'twant that'
"I said, what you want to do is go over there. My understanding is they have a list of all the grievances, all the wrongs that they've observed that the government is involved in and things that the government has neglected. Take a look at that and be serious about it. Don't send a BIA person over there. Send either yourself or someone out of the White House representing the president," MacDonald told Erlichmann.
AIM had been there about a week and it was getting very volatile, according to MacDonald. He also recommended the feds take over some money for the protesters to go home on. "So a day or two later, the news came out that the White House had sent a delegation over there to meet with the AIM group.
"The end result was that they went over the grievances and 50 percent or more of the grievances were immediately correctable, and the rest could be dealt with as time moved along," MacDonald said. They also took along some cash, to entice protesters to vacate the building and go home.
"And they did," MacDonald added. "There was no violence, no one got hurt, and the issues they brought before the administration regarding neglect andwhat have you, they responded.
"The only thing left was an old BIA building that was mostly ruffled up and destroyed. I think they said some files were missing and some files were scattered all over. BIA never moved back in there. If I know that the government is wrong, I'm not afraid to get out in front and demand justice," MacDonald said.
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