Last night marked the passing of renowned Native/Indigenous rights activist, Naawakamig, also known as Dennis Banks in the settler language forced on our peoples.
This morning, a post on his official Facebook page reads: “Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world at 10:10 p.m. on October 29, 2017,” and is signed by his family.
In 1968, Naawakamig became one of the co-founders of the American Indian Movement. One of his first actions was taking part in the Occupation of Alcatraz, which was organized by Native students who were relocated from their reservations to San Francisco under the settler government’s Indian Termination Policy. The students formed a Red Power group calling themselves Indians of All Tribes, and intended to highlight Native American issues and promote tribal sovereignty through the occupation, which was largely successful despite lies and misinformation spread by the government to the international press. Even though Banks and AIM were not part of the planning and execution of the occupation, what was learned from Alcatraz would come to serve as a template for what was to come.
In 1972, Dennis was instrumental in the “Trail of Broken Treaties” caravan to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the flagrant Treaty violations by the American government. Settler leaders refused to meet with AIM representatives, culminating in the occupation the headquarters of the BIA.
The following year, along with Russel Means and John Trudell, Dennis helped lead the occupation of Wounded Knee, which resulted in the 71 day standoff with U.S. Federal authorities. Dennis and Russell were charged in 1974 for their roles in the occupation, with the charges ultimately being dropped.
Since then, Dennis has remained an outspoken advocate on Native issues, even attending Standing Rock, where he spoke to the more than 90 Nations gathered there.
While there has been much good done by Banks, there are also many well-publicized controversies and allegations surrounding him, which may or may not be true. It would be disingenuous to write on his life without mentioning the mystery surrounding the death of Anna Mae Aquash.
Please join us in prayer for Naawakamig’s journey, and for his family.