…embarked on to free
the underprivileged and outcast,
and the disenfranchised
Lee at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
|Born||Shelton Jackson Lee
March 20, 1957
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Residence||New York City|
|Alma mater||Morehouse College,
New York University (Tisch School of the Arts)
|Occupation||Actor, director, producer, screenwriter|
|Home town||Brooklyn, New York|
Board member of
|40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks|
|Spouse(s)||Tonya Lewis (1993–present)|
|Children||Satchel Lee (b. 1994), Jackson (b. 1997)|
|Awards||List of awards and nominations received by Spike Lee|
Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee (born March 20, 1957) is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983.
Lee’s movies have examined race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. Lee has won numerous awards, including an Emmy Award. He has also received two Academy Award nominations; as well as winning the 2013 Gish Prize “for his brilliance and unwavering courage in using film to challenge conventional thinking.”
Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Jacqueline Carroll (née Shelton), a teacher of arts and black literature, and William James Edward Lee III, a jazz musician and composer. Lee also had three younger siblings Joie, David, and Cinqué, who all worked in many different positions in Lee’s films. Director Malcolm D. Lee is his cousin. When he was a child, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. During his childhood, his mother nicknamed him “Spike”. In Brooklyn, he attended John Dewey High School.
Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, a historically black college, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. He took film courses at Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a BA in Mass Communication from Morehouse. He did graduate work at New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television.
In 1985, Lee began work on his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It. With a budget of $175,000, he shot the film in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7,000,000 at the U.S. box office.
Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. Many people, including Hollywood’s Kim Basinger believed that Do the Right Thing also deserved a Best Picture nomination. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture that year. Lee said in an April 7, 2006 interview with New York magazine that the other film’s success, which he thought was based on safe stereotypes, hurt him more than if his film had not been nominated for an award.
After the 1990 release of Mo’ Better Blues, Lee was accused of antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League and several film critics. They criticized the characters of the club owners Josh and Moe Flatbush, described as “Shylocks“. Lee denied the charge, explaining that he wrote those characters in order to depict how black artists struggled against exploitation. Lee said that Lew Wasserman, Sidney Sheinberg or Tom Pollock, the Jewish heads of MCA and Universal Studios, were unlikely to allow antisemitic content in a film they produced. He said he could not make an antisemitic film because Jews run Hollywood, and “that’s a fact.”
On May 2, 2007, the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival honored Spike Lee with the San Francisco Film Society‘s Directing Award. He received the 2008 Wexner Prize. In 2013, he won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the American arts worth $300,000.
Marketing executives from Nike[dead link] offered Lee a job directing commercials for the company. They wanted to pair Lee’s character, the Michael Jordan-loving Mars Blackmon, and Jordan in a marketing campaign for the Air Jordan line. Later, Lee was called on to comment on the controversy surrounding the inner-city rash of violence involving youths trying to steal Air Jordans from other kids. He said that, rather than blaming manufacturers of apparel that gained popularity, “deal with the conditions that make a kid put so much importance on a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold”.
Lee and his wife, attorney Tonya Lewis, had their first child, daughter Satchel, in December 1994. They also have a son, Jackson, born in 1997. Spike Lee is a fan of the American baseball team the New York Yankees, basketball team the New York Knicks, and the English football team Arsenal. One of the documentaries in ESPN‘s 30 for 30 series, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, focuses partly on Lee’s interaction with Miller at Knicks games in Madison Square Garden.
In June 2003 Lee sought an injunction against Spike TV to prevent them from using his nickname. Lee claimed that because of his fame, viewers would think he was associated with the new channel.
As Lee became more well known and his work and comments were followed more closely, he became embroiled in some controversies.
In May 1999, the New York Post reported that Lee made an inflammatory comment about Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, while speaking to reporters at the Cannes Film Festival. Lee was quoted as saying the National Rifle Association should be disbanded and, of Heston, someone should “Shoot him with a .44 Bull Dog.” Lee said he intended it as a joke. He was responding to coverage about whether Hollywood was responsible for school shootings. Lee said, “The problem is guns,” he said. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey condemned Lee as having “nothing to offer the debate on school violence except more violence and more hate.”
In October 2005, Lee responded to a CNN anchor’s question as to whether the government intentionally ignored the plight of black Americans during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe by saying, “It’s not too far-fetched. I don’t put anything past the United States government. I don’t find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.” In later comments, Lee cited the government’s past atrocities including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.
At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Lee, who was then making Miracle at St. Anna, about an all-black U.S. division fighting in Italy during World War II, criticized director Clint Eastwood for not depicting black Marines in his own WWII film, Flags of Our Fathers. Citing historical accuracy, Eastwood responded that his film was specifically about the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, pointing out that while black Marines did fight at Iwo Jima, the U.S. military was segregated during WWII, and none of the men who raised the flag were black. He angrily said that Lee should “shut his face”. Lee responded that Eastwood was acting like an “angry old man”, and argued that despite making two Iwo Jima films back to back, Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, “there was not one black soldier in both of those films”. He added that he and Eastwood were “not on a plantation.” Lee later claimed that the event was exaggerated by the media and that he and Eastwood had reconciled through mutual friend Steven Spielberg, culminating in his sending Eastwood a print of Miracle at St. Anna.
In March 2012, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Spike Lee was one of many people who used Twitter to circulate a message which claimed to give the home address of the shooter George Zimmerman. The address turned out to be incorrect, causing the real occupants, Elaine and David McClain, to leave home and stay at a hotel due to numerous death threats. Lee issued an apology and reached an agreement with the McClains which reportedly included “compensation”, with their attorney stating “The McClains’ claim is fully resolved”. Nevertheless, in November 2013, the McClains filed a negligence lawsuit which accused Lee of “encouraging a dangerous mob mentality among his Twitter followers, as well as the public-at-large”. The lawsuit, which a court filing reportedly valued at $1.2 million, alleged that the couple suffered “injuries and damages” that continued after the initial settlement up through Zimmerman’s trial in 2013.
“What is a man who does not make the World better?”
Submitted By Gregory V. Boulware
Thomas L. Jennings was the first Afro-American protest marcher on record.
He was born as a freeman in N.Y. State in 1791. Jennings paraded through the streets of N.Y. with a banner showing a Black slave and saying “Am I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER?”
Slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827.
David Walker was a Black militant who wrote the famous pamphlet “Walker’s Appeal” in 1829.
In 1830 the Georgia legislature passed a bill making it a capital offense to circulate literature inciting slaves to revolt. In 1830, the state of Georgia offered $10,000 for the capture of Walker. The appeal said:
“And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting… I declare to you, while you keep us and our children in bondage, and treat us like brutes, to make us support you and your families, we cannot be your friends.
Reverend Henry H. Garnet escaped from slavery when he was eleven years old. In 1843 his CALL TO SLAVES TO REVOLT made at the Negro convention in N.Y. lost by one vote.
…go to your lordly enslavers and tell them that they have no more right to oppress you than you have to enslave them…
“STRIKE FOR YOUR LIVES AND LIBERTIES…Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered… Rather die freemen than live to be slaves”
Because white shipyard workmen would not allow him to work alongside them, the man who defeated Garnet’s ‘Call To Revolt’ by a resolution calling for “Moral Suasion” was an escaped slave who taught himself to read and write. He went to work for the Anti-Slavery Society and became a famous speaker and writer. Though he opposed ‘The Call To Revolt’ in 1843. By 1849 he was writing: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. …this struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical’ but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
Over one hundred years ago, Dr. John S. Rock, a distinguished Boston physician, the first Black attorney admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, made a speech which might have been called Black Is Beautiful; said in 1858, ‘if any man does not fancy my color, that is his business, and I shall not
meddle with it. I shall give myself no trouble because he lacks good taste… when I contrast the fine tough muscular system, the beautiful, rich color, the full broad features, and the gracefully frizzled hair of the Negro, with the delicate physical organization, wan color, sharp features and lank hair of the caucasion, I am inclined to believe that when the white man was created, nature was pretty well exhausted – but determined to keep up appearances, she pinched up his features, and did the best she could under the circumstances.
Henry M. Turner, a Black legislator, was denied his seat upon election.
He made a six hour speech and said: “Whose Legislature is this? …thy question my right to a seat in this body, to represent the people whose legal votes elected me. .. This objection, sir, is an unheard of monopoly of power…the great question, sir, is this: Am I a man? If I am such, I claim the rights of man…!”
After massive protests in Washington D.C., he, and 26 other Black representatives and Senators were finally seated. However, democratic representation in the South, was only to last a few short years.
“WE BELIEVE THIS COUNTRY, SO POWERFUL ABROAD, IS UNABLE TO PROTECT ITS CITIZENS AT HOME!”
In 1898 Ida B. Wells led a delegation of women and Congressmen to President McKinley to protest the lynching of a Black Postmaster. Miss Wells was one of the founders of the NAACP. At 14 she raised four younger sisters and brothers. She put herself through college and led a campaign against lynching which resulted in mob attacks on her and her printing press. Miss Wells was forced to carry two pistols for self protection.
- William E. B. DuBois, who wrote “Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitudes of adjustment and submission; and Mr. Washington’s program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro race… On the contrary, Negroes must resist continually…that voting is necessary to modern mankind, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that Black Boys need education as well as white boys!
Mr. Washington’s doctrine has tended to make the whites, north and south, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negroe’s shoulders…when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.”
Many young Americans of all colors consider Malcolm X (El Haag Malik El Shabazz) a symbol of uncompromising resistance to oppression. Before his assassination, he modified his philosophy about hating all white men and came to believe that African Americans should take part in a world-wide struggle for human rights. He said:
“Brothers and Sisters always remember… if it doesn’t take senators and congressmen and presidential proclamations or a Supreme Court decisions to give freedom to the Black Man. You let that white man know, if this is a country of freedom, let it be a country of freedom; and if it’s not a country of freedom, change it!
We will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on, non-violently as long as the enemy is non-violent; but violent when the enemy gets violent with us!”
“Black Power” was an expression coined by Brother Stokely Carmicheal. He said: “Integration…speaks to the problem of Blackness in a despicable way…in order to have a decent house or education, Blacks must move into a white neighborhood or send their children to a white school. This reinforces, among both Black and White, the idea that ‘white’ is automatically better and ‘Black’ is by definition inferior…
Such situations will not change until Black people have power… Then Negroes become equal in a way that means something, and integration ceases to be a one-way street!”
- Reverend Martin Luther King, often a victim of white violence, believed that it was right to disobey some laws. Writing from the Birmingham
Alabama jail cell: “One may ask, how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? …I, advocate obeying just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
…I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
William Still (October 7, 1821 – July 14, 1902) was an African-American abolitionist, conductor on the Underground Railroad, writer, historian and civil rights activist.
The date of William Still’s birth is given as October 7, 1821, by most sources, but he gave the date of November 1819 in the 1900 Census. He was born in Burlington County, New Jersey, to Charity and Levin Still. His parents had come to New Jersey from the Eastern Shore of Maryland as ex-slaves. He was the youngest of eighteen siblings, who included James Still, known as “the Doctor of the Pines,” Peter Still, Mary Still, and Kitturah Still, who moved to Philadelphia.
William’s father was the first of the family to move to New Jersey. A free man, he had been manumitted in 1798 in Caroline County, Maryland. Levin eventually settled in Evesham near Medford and later Charity joined the family with their four children, when she escaped. Charity was recaptured and returned to slavery, but she escaped a second time and, with her two daughters, found her way to Burlington County, to join her husband. The two sons she left behind, Levin and Peter were sold to slave-owners in Lexington, Kentucky, and then later, sent to Alabama in the Deep South.
Abolitionist In 1844, William Still moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he began working as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. When Philadelphia abolitionists organized a committee to aid runaway slaves reaching Philadelphia, Still became its chairman. By the 1850s, Still was a leader of Philadelphia’s African-American community. In 1859 he attempted to desegregate the city’s public transit system. He opened a stove store during the American Civil War, and later started a coal delivery business.
In 1847 he married Letitia George and had four children who survived infancy. Their oldest was Caroline Matilda Still (1848–1919), a pioneer female medical doctor. Caroline attended Oberlin College and the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia (much later the Medical College of Pennsylvania); she was married, first to Edward J. Wyley, and after his death, to the Reverend Matthew Anderson, longtime pastor of the Berean Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia. She had an extensive private medical practice in Philadelphia and was also a community activist, teacher and leader. William Wilberforce Still (1864–1914) graduated from Lincoln University and subsequently practiced law in Philadelphia; Robert George Still (1861–1896), was a journalist who owned a print shop on Pine at 11th Street in central Philadelphia and Frances Ellen Still (1875–1930) became a kindergarten teacher (she was named after poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who lived with the Stills before her marriage). On the 1900 U.S. Census William Still said he had two children, William W and Ellen, still living in his household, as well as a daughter-in-law.
Underground Railroad Often called “The Father of the Underground Railroad,” Still helped as many as 800 slaves escape to freedom, interviewing each person and keeping careful records, including a brief biography and the destination of each person, along with any alias that they adopted, though he kept his records carefully hidden. Still worked with other Underground Railroad agents operating in the south and in many counties in southern Pennsylvania. His network to freedom also included agents in New Jersey, New York, New England and Canada. Harriet Tubman traveled through is office with fellow passengers on several occasions during the 1850s. After the Civil War, Still published the secret notes he’d kept in diaries during those years, and his book is a source of many historical details of the workings of the Underground Railroad. He is one of the many who helped slaves escape from the United States. The three prominent Still brothers—William, James, and Peter—settled in Lawnside, New Jersey. To this day, their descendants have an annual family reunion every August. Notable members of the Still family include the composer William Grant Still, professional basketball player Valerie Still and professional NFL defensive end Art Still.
~Foundation For Change, 1619 Broadway, New York, New York~
‘Eyewitness: The Negro in American History’
By William Loren Katz/Pitman
‘Chronicles of Black Protest’
By Bradford Chambers/Fawcett
‘Pioneers On Protest’
By Lerone Bennett, Jr./Johnson
‘The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival In America – The Extermination Of The Black Man In America…’
By Samuel F. Yette/Berkley
What exactly was the Asian-American Civil Rights Movement? In the 1960s and ’70s, Asian Americans mobilized for a slew of political causes, including the development of ethnic studies programs in universities, the end of the Vietnam War and reparations for Japanese Americans placed in internment camps during World War II.
Yellow Power’s Birth
How was yellow power, or the Asian-American Civil Rights Movement, born? In watching African Americans expose institutional racism and government hypocrisy, Asian Americans began to identify the ways in which they, too, had faced discrimination in the U.S.
“The ‘black power’ movement caused many Asian Americans to question themselves,” wrote Amy Uyematsu in “The Emergence of Yellow Power,” a 1969 editorial. “‘Yellow power’ is just now at the stage of an articulated mood rather than a program—disillusionment and alienation from white America and independence, race pride and self-respect.”
Black activism played a fundamental part in the launch of the Asian-American Civil Rights Movement, but Asians and Asian Americans played a key role in radical black circles as well. African American radicals often cited the writings of China’s communist leader Mao Tse-tung. Also, a founding member of the Black Panther Party—Richard Aoki—was Japanese American. A military veteran who spent his early years in an internment camp, Aoki donated weapons to the Black Panthers and trained them in their use.
Like Aoki, a number of Asian-American civil rights activists were Japanese American internees or the children of internees. The decision of President Franklin Roosevelt to place more than 110,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II had a detrimental impact on the community. Interned based on fears that they still maintained ties to the Japanese empire, Japanese Americans strove to prove that they were authentically American by assimilating. Yet, they continued to face discrimination. Speaking out about it, however, felt risky considering their past treatment.
“Unlike other groups, Japanese Americans were expected to be quiet and behave and thus did not have sanctioned outlets to express the anger and indignation that accompanied their racially subordinated status,” writes Laura Pulido in Black, Brown, Yellow and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles.
When not only blacks but Latinos and Asian Americans from various ethnic groups began to share their experiences of oppression, indignation replaced fear about the ramifications of speaking out. Asian Americans on college campuses demanded a curriculum representative of their histories. Activists also sought to prevent gentrification from destroying Asian American neighborhoods.
“The more we examined our collective histories, the more we began to find a rich and complex past. And we became outraged at the depths of the economic, racial and gender exploitation that had forced our families into roles as subservient cooks, servants or coolies, garment workers and prostitutes, and which also improperly labeled us as the ‘model minority’ comprised of ‘successful’ businessmen, merchants or professionals,” explained activist Gordon Lee in a 2003 Hyphen magazine piece called “The Forgotten Revolution.”
Bay Area Students Strike for Ethnic Studies
College campuses provided fertile ground for the movement. Asian Americans at University of California, Los Angeles launched groups such as Asian American Political Alliance and Orientals Concerned. A group of Japanese American UCLA students also formed the leftist publication Gidra in 1969. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, branches of AAPA formed at Yale and Columbia, and Midwestern Asian student groups formed at the University of Illinois, Oberlin College and University of Michigan.
“By 1970, there were more than 70 campus and…community groups with ‘Asian American’ in their name,” Lee recalled. “The term symbolized the new social and political attitudes that were sweeping through communities of color in the United States. It was also a clear break with the name ‘Oriental.’”
Off college campuses, organizations such as I Wor Kuen and Asian Americans for Action formed on the East Coast.
One of the movement’s greatest triumphs was when Asian American students and other students of color participated in strikes in 1968 and ’69 at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley for the development of ethnic studies programs. Students demanded to design the programs and select the faculty who would teach the courses.
Today, San Francisco State offers more than 175 courses in its College of Ethnic Studies. And, at Berkeley, Professor Ronald Takaki helped develop the nation’s first Ph.D. program in Comparative Ethnic Studies.
Vietnam and the Formation of a Pan-Asian Identity
A challenge of the Asian-American Civil Rights Movement from the outset was that Asian Americans identified by ethnic group rather than as a racial group. The Vietnam War changed that. During the war, Asian Americans—be they Vietnamese or not—faced hostility.
“The injustices and racism exposed by the Vietnam War also helped cement a bond between different Asian groups living in America,” Lee said. “In the eyes of the United States military, it didn’t matter if you were Vietnamese or Chinese, Cambodian or Laotian, you were a ‘gook,’ and therefore, sub-human.”
The Movement Ends
After the Vietnam War, many radical Asian American groups dissolved. There was no unifying cause to rally around. For Japanese Americans, though, the experience of being interned had left festering wounds. Activists organized to have the federal government apologize for its actions during World War II.
In 1976, President Ford signed Proclamation 4417 in which internment was declared a “national mistake.” A dozen years later, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of1988, which distributed $20,000 in reparations for internees and contained an apology from the federal government.
Means in 1987
|Born||Russell Charles Means
November 10, 1939
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota U.S.
|Died||October 22, 2012 (aged 72)
Porcupine, South Dakota, U.S.
Cause of death
|Cremated. Ashes scattered throughout the Black Hills|
|Occupation||Activist, politician, actor, writer, musician|
|Spouse(s)||Pearl Means (four previous marriages)
A total of 7 children and (3 adopted in the Lakota way) children
Russell Charles Means (November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012) was an American Oglala Lakota activist for the rights of Native American people and libertarian political activist. He became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) after joining the organization in 1968, and helped organize notable events that attracted national and international media coverage.
Means was active in international issues of indigenous peoples, including working with groups in Central and South America, and with the United Nations for recognition of their rights. He was active in politics at his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and at the state and national level.
Beginning an acting career in 1992, he appeared in numerous films, including The Last of the Mohicans, and released his own music CD. He published his autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread in 1995. Means died in 2012, less than a month before his 73rd birthday.
Means was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, to Theodora Louise Feather and Walter “Hank” Means. His mother was a Yankton Dakota from Greenwood, South Dakota and his father, an Oglala Lakota. He was given the name Wanbli Ohitika by his mother, which means “Brave Eagle” in the Lakota language.
In 1942, when Russell was three, the Means family resettled in the San Francisco Bay Area, seeking to escape the poverty and problems of the reservation. His father worked at the shipyard. Means grew up in the Bay area, graduating in 1958 from San Leandro High School in San Leandro, California. He attended four colleges but did not graduate from any of them. In his 1995 autobiography, Means recounted a harsh childhood; his father was alcoholic and he himself fell into years of “truancy, crime and drugs” before finding purpose in the American Indian Movement in Minneapolis.
His father died in 1967 and, in his 20s, Means lived in several Indian reservations throughout the United States while searching for work. While at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota, he developed severe vertigo. Physicians at the reservation clinic believed that he had been brought in inebriated. After they refused to examine him for several days, Means was finally diagnosed with a concussion due to a presumed fist fight in a saloon. A visiting specialist later discovered that the reservation doctors had overlooked a common ear infection, which cost Means the hearing in one ear.
After recovering from the infection, Means worked for a year in the Office of Economic Opportunity, where he came to know several legal activists who were managing legal action on behalf of the Lakota people. After a dispute with his supervisor, Means left Rosebud for Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland, he worked with Native American community leaders against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Involvement with the American Indian Movement
In 1968, Means joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), where he rose to become a prominent leader. In 1970, Means was appointed AIM’s first national director, and the organization began a period of increasing protests and activism.
Means participated in the 1969 Alcatraz occupation. He had been there once before, to occupy it for 24 hours under the lead of his father, Walter “Hank” Means, and a few other Lakota men in March 1964 (Means’ father died in January 1967).
On Thanksgiving Day 1970, Means and other AIM activists staged their first protest in Boston: they seized the Mayflower II, a replica ship of the Mayflower, to protest the Puritans’ and United States’ mistreatment of Native Americans. In 1971 Means was one of the leaders of AIM’s takeover of Mount Rushmore, a federal monument. Rushmore is within the Black Hills, an area sacred to the Lakota tribe.
In November 1972, he participated in AIM’s occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, D.C. to protest abuses. Many records were taken or destroyed, and more than $2 million in damages was done to the building.
In 1973, Dennis Banks and Carter Camp led AIM’s occupation of Wounded Knee, which became the group’s most well-known action. Means appeared as a spokesman and prominent leader as well. The armed standoff of more than 300 Lakota and AIM activists with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state law enforcement lasted for 71 days. A visiting Cherokee from North Carolina and an Oglala Lakota activist from Pine Ridge Reservation were killed in April 1973.
Native American politics
In 1974, Means resigned from AIM to run for the presidency of his native Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) against the incumbent Richard Wilson. The official vote count showed Wilson winning by more than 200 votes. Residents complained of intimidation by Wilson’s private militia. The report of a government investigation confirmed problems in the election, but in a related court challenge to the results of the election, a federal court upheld the results.
In the late 1970s, Means turned to an international forum on issues of rights for indigenous peoples. He worked with the United Nations to establish the offices of the International Indian Treaty Council in 1977. At the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he assisted in the organization of community institutions, such as the KILI radio station and the Porcupine Health Clinic in Porcupine, South Dakota.
Splits in AIM
In the 1980s, AIM divided into several competing factions. The division was in part over differences among members regarding support for the indigenous peoples in Nicaragua. Means announced his support for the Miskito group MISURASATA (later known as YATAMA), which was allied with the Contras. He traveled to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua in 1985 and 1986 on fact-finding tours. Means came to believe that the Miskito as a people were being targeted for elimination. Some members of AIM supported the Sandinistas of the national government, although they had forced removal of thousands of Miskito from their traditional territory. At that time, the “Grand Governing Council” of AIM, based in Minnesota, asked Means to cease representing himself as a leader of AIM. Other chapters of AIM continued to support Means.
On January 8, 1988, Means held a press conference to announce his retirement from AIM, saying it had achieved its goals. That January, the “AIM Grand Governing Council”, headed by the Bellecourt brothers, released a press release noting this was the sixth resignation by Means since 1974, and asking the press to “never again report either that he is a founder of the American Indian Movement, or [that] he is a leader of the American Indian Movement”. The “AIM General Governing Council” noted there were many open issues and legislation regarding Native Americans for which they were continuing to work.
In 1993, the organization divided officially into two main factions: “AIM Grand Governing Council”, based in Minnesota, which copyrighted the name; and American Indian Movement of Colorado, based in Colorado and allied with Means.
Anna Mae Aquash
On November 3, 1999, Means and Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a maternal cousin of Aquash from Canada, held a press conference in Denver at the Federal Building to discuss the slow progress of the government’s investigation into Aquash’s murder. It had been under investigation both by the Denver police, as Aquash had been kidnapped from there, and by the FBI, as she had been taken across state lines and killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Both Branscombe and Means accused Vernon Bellecourt, a high-ranking leader of AIM, of having ordered the execution of Aquash. Means said that Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of AIM, had ensured that it was carried out at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Means said that an AIM tribunal had banned the Bellecourt brothers but tried to keep the reason for the dissension internal to protect AIM.
The Associated Press (AP) reporter Robert Weller noted that this was the first time that an AIM leader active at the time of Aquash’s death had publicly implicated AIM in her murder. There had long been rumors. Means and Branscombe accused three indigenous people: Arlo Looking Cloud, Theda Nelson Clark and John Graham, of having been directly involved in the kidnapping and murder of Aquash. The two men were indicted in 2003 and convicted in separate trials in 2004 and 2010, respectively. By then in a nursing home, Clark was not indicted.
As of 2004, Means’ website states that he was a board member of the Colorado AIM chapter, which is affiliated with AIM-Autonomous Chapters.
Other political involvement
Since the late 1970s, Means often supported libertarian political causes, in contrast with several of the other leaders of AIM. In 1983 he agreed to become running mate to Larry Flynt in his unsuccessful run for U.S. President. In 1987, Means ran for nomination of President of the United States under the Libertarian Party, and attracted considerable support within the party, finishing 2nd (31.41%) at the 1987 Libertarian National Convention. He lost the nomination to Congressman Ron Paul.
In 2001, Means began an independent candidacy for Governor of New Mexico. His campaign failed to satisfy procedural requirements and he was not selected for the ballot. In the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Means supported independent Ralph Nader.
Nearly thirty years after his first candidacy, Means ran for president of the Oglala Sioux in 2004 with the help of Twila Lebeaux, losing to Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman elected president of the tribe. She also defeated the incumbent John Yellow Bird Steele.
Since the late 20th century, there has been a debate in the United States over the appropriate term for the indigenous peoples of North America. Some want to be called Native American; others prefer American Indian. Means said that he preferred “American Indian”, arguing that it derives not from explorers’ confusion of the people with those of India, but from the Italian expression in Dio, meaning “in God”. In addition, Means noted that since treaties and other legal documents in relation to the United States government use “Indian”, continuing use of the term could help today’s American Indian people forestall any attempts by others to use legal loopholes in the struggle over land and treaty rights.
Following the non-binding United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, a group of American Indian activists presented a letter to the U.S. State Department, indicating they were withdrawing from all treaties with the US Government on December 20. Means announced the withdrawal by a small group of Lakota people. That same month, they began contacting foreign governments to solicit support for energy projects on the territory. Means and a delegation of activists declared the Republic of Lakotah a sovereign nation, with property rights over thousands of square miles in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. Means said that his group does not “represent collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those tribal governments set up by the United States of America”.
On January 8, 2008 tribal leaders in the northern Great Plains, Rodney Bordeaux of the 25,000-member Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Joseph Brings Plenty of the 8,500-member Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said that Means and the group of his fellow activists would not speak for their members or for any elected Lakota tribal government. While acknowledging that Means has accurately portrayed the federal government’s broken promises to and treaties with America’s indigenous peoples, they opposed his plan to renounce treaties with the United States and proclaim independence. They said the issue instead was to enforce existing treaties.
In January 2012, he announced his endorsement of Ron Paul in his bid for President.
Since 1992, Means appeared as an actor in numerous films and television movies, first as the chief Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans. He appeared as Arrowhead in the made-for-TV movie The Pathfinder (1996), his second appearance in a movie adapted from a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. He appeared in Natural Born Killers (1994), as Jim Thorpe in Windrunner: A Spirited Journey, as Sitting Bull in Buffalo Girls (1995), and had a cameo in the miniseries Into the West (2005).
He was a voice actor in Disney’s third highest-selling feature film Pocahontas (1995) and its sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998), playing the title character’s father, Chief Powhatan. Means was a guest actor in the 1997 Duckman episode “Role With It,” in which Duckman takes his family on an educational trip to a “genuine Indian reservation” — which turns out to be a casino. Means appeared as Billy Twofeathers in Thomas & the Magic Railroad (2000).
Means starred in Pathfinder, a 2007 movie about Vikings‘ battling Native Americans in the New World. Means co-starred in Rez Bomb from director Steven Lewis Simpson, the first feature filmed on his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He stars with Tamara Feldman and Trent Ford and Chris Robinson.
In 1995, Means published an autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, written with Marvin J. Wolf. He recounted his own family’s problems: his alcoholic father, and his own “fall into truancy, crime and drugs” before he discovered the American Indian Movement. The book drew criticism from a number of reviewers. While Patricia Holt, book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book, “It’s American history – warts, wounds and all.” In speaking about Means in a review of his autobiography, writer Mari Wadsworth of the Tucson Weekly wrote: “Critical readers do well to remain skeptical of any individual, however charismatic, who claims to be the voice of authority and authenticity for any population, let alone one as diverse as the native tribes of the Americas. But whatever conclusions one makes of Means’ actions and intentions, his unremitting presence and undaunted outspokeness opened a dialogue that changed the course of American history.”
Music, art, and media
Russell Means recorded a CD entitled Electric Warrior with Sound of America Records, in 1993. Songs include “Une Gente Indio”, “Hey You, Hey Indian”, “Wounded Knee Set Us Free”, and “Indian Cars Go Far”. This was followed a few years later with his The Radical album. In 2013, he was recognized by the Native American Music Awards with a Hall of Fame award.
Means was an avid painter, with showings at various galleries around the country and the world.
The American pop artist Andy Warhol painted 18 individual portraits of Russell Means in his 1976 American Indian Series. The Dayton Art Institute holds one of the Warhol portraits of Means in its collection.
Means was married five times; the first four marriages ended in divorce. He was married to his fifth wife, Pearl Means until his death. He had a total of 7 children and 3 adopted children, adopted in the Lakota way (Sherry Means, March 4, 2014, based on probate papers of October 19, 2014).
On December 29, 1997, Means was arrested for assault and battery of his 56-year-old (then) father-in-law Leon Grant, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation. AIM Governing General Council issued a press release to reiterate its separation from Means.
Final years and death
In August 2011, Means was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His doctors told him his condition was inoperable. He told the Associated Press that he was rejecting “mainstream medical treatments in favor of traditional American Indian remedies and alternative treatments away from his home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation”. In late September, Means reported that through tomotherapy, the tumor had diminished greatly. Later he said that his tumor was “95% gone.” On December 5 of that year, Means stated that he “beat cancer,” that he had beat “the death penalty.”
The following year, however, his health continued to decline and he died on October 22, 2012, less than a month before his 73rd birthday. A family statement said, “Our dad and husband now walks among our ancestors.”
ABC News said Means “spent a lifetime as a modern American Indian warrior […] railed against broken treaties, fought for the return of stolen land and even took up arms against the federal government […] called national attention to the plight of impoverished tribes and often lamented the waning of Indian culture.” Among the tributes were calls for “his face [to] have been on Mt. Rushmore.” The New York Times said Means “became as well-known a Native American as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”
- The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- Natural Born Killers (1994)
- Wagons East (1994)
- Windrunner: A Spirited Journey (1994)
- Pocahontas (1995)
- Pocahontas II (1998)
- Wind River (1998)
- Black Cat Run (1998)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)
- Cowboy Up (2001)
- 29 Palms (2002)
- Black Cloud (2004)
- The Last Shot (2004)
- Unearthed (2006)
- Pathfinder (2007)
- Rez Bomb (2008)
- Tiger Eyes (2012)
- Days and Nights (2013) (released posthumously)
The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a Native American advocacy group in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with an agenda that focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty. The founders included Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Harold Goodsky, Eddie Benton-Banai, and a number of others in the Minneapolis Native American community. Russell Means, born Oglala Lakota, was an early leader in 1970s protests.
The organization was formed to address various issues concerning the Native American urban community in Minneapolis, including poverty, housing, treaty issues, and police harassment. From its beginnings in Minnesota, AIM soon attracted members from across the United States and Canada. It participated in the Rainbow Coalition organized by the civil rights activist Fred Hampton. Charles Deegan Sr. was involved with the AIM Patrol.
In October 1972, AIM gathered members from across the country to a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the “Trail of Broken Treaties“. AIM gained national attention when it seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs national headquarters and presented a 20-point list of demands to the federal government. In 1973, it led a 71-day armed standoff with federal forces at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
In the decades since AIM’s founding, the group has led protests advocating indigenous American interests, inspired cultural renewal, monitored police activities, and coordinated employment programs in cities and in rural reservation communities across the United States. AIM has often supported indigenous interests outside the United States as well. By 1993, AIM had split into two main factions, with the AIM-Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis and affirming its right to use the name and trademarks for affiliated chapters. The other faction is AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, based in Denver
- 1 Background
- 2 Events
- 3 History
- 4 Work at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
- 5 International Indian Treaty Council
- 6 Ideological differences within AIM
- 7 Notes, references
- 8 External links
Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson both made efforts to reform the damage done to Indian nations. On March 6, 1968, Johnson signed Executive Order 11399, establishing the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO). President Johnson said “the time has come to focus our efforts on the plight of the American Indian,” and NCIO’s formation would “launch an undivided, Government-wide effort in this area.” While knowing little of the American Indian issues, Johnson tried to connect the nation’s trust responsibility to the tribes and nations to civil rights, an area with which he was much more familiar.
In Congress, the Democratic chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, James Haley from Florida, supported Indian rights; for example, he thought Indians should participate more in “policy matters,” but “the right of self-determination is in the Congress as a representative of all the people.” In the 1960s Haley met with president Kennedy and then-vice-president Johnson, and pressed for Indian self-determination and control in transactions over land. One struggle was over the long-term leasing of American Indian land. Non-Indian businesses and banks said they could not invest in leases of 25 years, even with generous options, as the time was too short for land-based transactions. Relieving the long-term poverty on most reservations through business partnerships by leasing land was seen as infeasible. A return to the 19th century 99-year leases was seen as a possible solution. But, an Interior Department memo said, “a 99-year lease is in the nature of a conveyance of the land.” These battles over land had their beginnings in the 1870s when federal policy often related to wholesale taking, not leases. In the 1950s, many Native Americans believed that leases were too frequently a way for outsiders to control Indian land.
Wallace “Mad Bear” Anderson was a Tuscarora leader in New York in the 1950s. He struggled to resist the New York City planner Robert Moses‘ plan to take tribal land in upstate New York for use in a state hydropower project to supply New York City. The struggle ended in a bitter compromise.
The initial AIM movement
As had civil rights and antiwar activists, AIM used the American press and media to present its message to the United States public. It created events to attract the press. If successful, news outlets would seek out AIM spokespersons for interviews. Rather than relying on traditional lobbying efforts, AIM took its message directly to the American public. Its leaders looked for opportunities to gain publicity. Sound bites such as the “AIM Song” became associated with the movement.
During ceremonies on Thanksgiving Day 1970 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, AIM seized the replica of the Mayflower in Boston. In 1971, members occupied Mount Rushmore for a few days, as it was created in the Black Hills of South Dakota, long sacred to the Lakota. This area was within the Great Sioux Reservation as created by the US Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. After the discovery of gold, the federal government took the land in 1877 and sold it for mining and settlement to European Americans.
Also in 1971, AIM began to highlight and protest problems with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which administered programs and land trusts for Native Americans. The group briefly occupied BIA headquarters in Washington, DC. A brief arrest, reversal of charges for “unlawful entry” and a meeting with Louis Bruce, the Mohawk/Lakota BIA Commissioner, ended AIM’s first event in the capital. In 1972, activists marched across country on the “Trail of Broken Treaties” and took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), occupying it for several days and doing millions of dollars in damage.
AIM developed a 20-point list to summarize its issues with federal treaties and promises, which they publicized during their occupation in 1972. Twelve points addressed treaty responsibilities which the protesters believed the U.S. government had failed to fulfill:
- Restore treaty-making (ended by Congress in 1871);
- Establish a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native Nations);
- Provide opportunities for Indian leaders to address Congress directly;
- Review treaty commitments and violations;
- Have unratified treaties reviewed by the Senate;
- Ensure that all American Indians are governed by treaty relations;
- Provide relief to Native Nations as compensation for treaty rights violations;
- Recognize the right of Indians to interpret treaties;
- Create a Joint Congressional Committee to reconstruct relations with Indians;
- Restore 110 million acres (450,000 km2) of land taken away from Native Nations by the United States;
- Restore terminated rights of Native Nations;
- Repeal state jurisdiction on Native Nations (Public Law 280);
- Provide Federal protection for offenses against Indians;
- Abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
- Create a new office of Federal Indian Relations;
- Remedy breakdown in the constitutionally prescribed relationships between the United States and Native Nations;
- Ensure immunity of Native Nations from state commerce regulation, taxes, and trade restrictions;
- Protect Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity;
- Establish national Indian voting with local options; free national Indian organizations from governmental controls; and
- Reclaim and affirm health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indian people.
In 1973 AIM was invited to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to help gain justice from border counties’ law enforcement and to moderate political factions on the reservation. They became deeply involved and led an armed occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1973. Other events during the 1970s were designed to achieve the goal of gaining public attention. They ensured AIM would be noticed to highlight what they saw as the erosion of Indian rights and sovereignty.
The Longest Walk and The Longest Walk 2
“the longest walk” (1978) was an AIM-led spiritual walk across the country to support tribal sovereignty and bring attention to 11 pieces of anti-Indian legislation; AIM believed that the proposed legislation would have abrogated Indian Treaties, quantified and limited water rights, etc. The first walk began on February 11, 1978, with a ceremony on Alcatraz Island, where a Sacred Pipe was loaded with tobacco. The Pipe was carried the entire distance. This 3,200-mile (5,100 km)-Walk’s purpose was to educate people about the US government’s continuing threat to Tribal Sovereignty; it rallied thousands representing many Indian Nations throughout the United States and Canada. Traditional spiritual leaders from many tribes participated, leading traditional ceremonies. International spiritual leaders, primarily from Japan, also supported the Walk.
On July 15, 1978, “The Longest Walk” entered Washington, D.C., with several thousand Indians and a number of non-Indian supporters. The traditional elders led them to the Washington Monument, where the Pipe carried across the country was smoked. Over the following week, they held rallies at various sites to address issues: the 11 pieces of legislation, American Indian political prisoners, forced relocation at Big Mountain, the Navajo Nation, etc. Non-Indian supporters included the American boxer Muhammad Ali, US Senator Ted Kennedy and the actor Marlon Brando. The US Congress voted against a proposed bill to abrogate treaties with Indian Nations. During the week after the activists arrived, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which allowed them the use of peyote in worship. President Jimmy Carter refused to meet with representatives of The Longest Walk.
Thirty years later, AIM led the Longest Walk 2, which arrived in Washington in July 2008. This 8,200-mile (13,200 km)-walk had started from the San Francisco Bay area. The Longest Walk 2 had representatives from more than 100 American Indian nations, and other indigenous participants, such as Maori. It also had non-indigenous supporters. The walk highlighted the need for protection of American Indian sacred sites, tribal sovereignty, environmental protection and action to stop global warming. Participants traveled on either the Northern Route (basically that of 1978) or the Southern Route. Participants crossed a total of 26 states on the two different routes.
The Northern Route was led by veterans of that action. The walkers used Sacred staffs to represent their issues; the group supported the protection of sacred sites of indigenous peoples, traditional tribal sovereignty, issues related to native prisoners, and the protection of children. They also commemorated the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk.
Walkers along the Southern Route picked up more than 8,000 bags of garbage on their way to Washington. In Washington, the Southern Route delivered a 30-page manifesto, “The Manifesto of Change”, and a list of demands, including mitigation for climate change, a call for environmental sustainability plans, protection of sacred sites, and renewal of improvement to Native American sovereignty and health.
Connection to other people of color
AIM’s leaders spoke out against injustices against their peoples, as had the African-American leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. AIM leaders talked about high unemployment, slum housing, and racist treatment, fought for treaty rights and the reclamation of tribal land, and advocated on behalf of urban Indians.
With its provocative events and advocacy for Indian rights, AIM attracted scrutiny from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used paid informants to report on AIM’s activities and its members.
In February 1973, AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks worked with Oglala Lakota people and AIM activists to occupy the small Indian community of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. They were protesting its corrupt government, federal issues, and the lack of justice from border counties. The FBI dispatched agents and US Marshals to cordon off the site. Later a higher-ranking DOJ representative took control of the US government’s response. Through the resulting siege that lasted for 71 days, twelve people were wounded, including an FBI agent left paralyzed; in April a Cherokee and a Lakota activist died of gunfire (at this point, the Oglala Lakota called an end to the occupation.) Afterward, 1200 American Indians were arrested. Wounded Knee drew international attention to the plight of American Indians. AIM leaders were tried in a Minnesota federal court. The court dismissed their case on the basis of governmental prosecutorial misconduct.
AIM opposes national and collegiate sports teams using figures of indigenous people as mascots and team names, such as the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins, and has organized protests at World Series and Super Bowl games against these teams. Protesters held signs with slogans such as “Indians are people not mascots,” or “Being Indian is not a character you can play.”
Although sports teams had ignored such requests by individual tribes for years, AIM received attention in the mascot debate. NCAA schools such as Florida State University, University of Utah, University of Illinois and Central Michigan University have negotiated with the tribes whose names or images they had used for permission for continued use and to collaborate on portraying the mascot in a way that supposedly honors Native Americans.
Goals and commitments
AIM has been committed to improving conditions faced by native peoples. It founded institutions to address needs, including the Heart of The Earth School, Little Earth Housing, International Indian Treaty Council, AIM StreetMedics, American Indian Opportunities and Industrialization Center (one of the largest Indian job training programs), KILI radio, and Indian Legal Rights Centers.
In 1970, several members of AIM, including Dennis Banks and Russell Means, traveled to Mt. Rushmore. They converged at the mountain in order to protest the illegal seizure of the Sioux Nation’s sacred Black Hills in 1877 by the United States federal government, in violation of its earlier 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The protest began to publicize the issues of the American Indian Movement. In 1980, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had illegally taken the Black Hills. The government offered financial compensation, but the Oglala Sioux have refused it, insisting on return of the land to their people. The settlement money is earning interest.
Work at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Border town cases
In 1972, Raymond Yellow Thunder, a 51-year-old Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge Reservation, was murdered in Gordon, Nebraska, by two brothers, Leslie and Melvin Hare, younger white men. After their trial and conviction, the Hares received the minimal sentence for manslaughter. Members of AIM went to Gordon to protest the sentencing, as it was part of a pattern of law enforcement in border counties that did not provide justice to Native Americans. In the winter of 1973, Wesley Bad Heart Bull, a Lakota, was stabbed to death at a bar in South Dakota by Darrell Schmitz, a white male. The offender was jailed, but released on a $5000 bond and charged with second degree manslaughter. In protest of the charges, a group of AIM members and leaders from Pine Ridge Reservation and leaders went to the county seat of Custer, South Dakota, to meet with the prosecutor. Police in riot gear allowed only four people to enter the county courthouse. The talks were not successful, and tempers rose over the police treatment; AIM activists caused $2 million in damages by attacking and burning the Custer Chamber of Commerce building, the courthouse, and two patrol cars. Many of the AIM demonstrators were arrested and charged; numerous people served sentences, including the mother of Wesley Bad Heart Bull.
1973 Wounded Knee Incident
In addition to the problems of violence in the border towns, many traditional people at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were unhappy with the government of Richard Wilson, elected in 1972. When their effort to impeach him in February 1973 failed, they met to plan protests and action. Many people on the reservation were unhappy about its longstanding poverty and failures of the federal government to live up to its treaties with Indian nations. The women elders encouraged the men to act. On February 27, 1973, about 300 Oglala Lakota and AIM activists went to the hamlet of Wounded Knee for their protest. It developed into a 71-day siege, with the FBI cordoning off the area by using US Marshals and later National Guard units. The occupation was symbolically held at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. The Oglala Lakota demanded a revival of treaty negotiations to begin to correct relations with the federal government, the respect of their sovereignty, and the removal of Wilson from office. The American Indians occupied the Sacred Heart Church, the Gildersleeve Trading Post and numerous homes of the village. Although periodic negotiations were held between AIM spokesman and U.S. government negotiators, gunfire occurred on both sides. A US Marshal, Lloyd Grimm, was wounded severely and paralyzed. In April, a Cherokee from North Carolina and a Lakota AIM member were shot and killed. The elders ended the occupation then.
After about a month, the Department of Justice excluded the press from access to Wounded Knee. (Before that, they were frequently interviewing Indian spokesmen and the event was receiving international coverage.) The Academy Awards ceremony was held in Hollywood, where the actor Marlon Brando, a supporter of AIM, asked an Apache actress, Sacheen Littlefeather, to speak at the Oscars on his behalf. He had been nominated for his performance in The Godfather and won. Littlefeather arrived in full Apache regalia and read his statement that, owing to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry,” Brando would not accept the award. In interviews, she also talked about the Wounded Knee occupation. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. The movement considered the Awards ceremony publicity, together with Wounded Knee, as a major event and public relations victory, as polls showed that Americans were sympathetic to the Indian cause.
Pine Ridge Reservation violence
AIM members continued to be active at Pine Ridge, although Wilson stayed in office and was re-elected in 1974 in a contested election. Violent deaths rose, and more than 60 political opponents of his died violently during the next three years. In June 1975 in what has been called the “Pine Ridge shootout”, two FBI agents were killed near Jumping Bull Ranch, and found to have been shot execution style. Three AIM members were eventually indicted for the murders: Darryl Butler, Robert Robideau and Leonard Peltier, who had escaped to Canada. Darryl and Robideau were tried in 1975 and acquitted. After extradition, Peltier was tried separately and convicted in 1976. He is serving two consecutive life sentences.
Informants true and false
In late 1974, AIM leaders discovered that Douglas Durham, a prominent member who was by then head of security, was an FBI informant. They confronted him and expelled him from AIM at a press conference in March 1975. With some members in fugitive status after the Pine Ridge shootout, suspicions about FBI infiltration remained high. For various reasons, Anna Mae Aquash, the “highest-ranking” woman in AIM, was mistakenly suspected of being an informant. According to testimony at trials in 2004 and 2010 of men convicted of her murder, she was interrogated in the fall of 1975. In mid-December she was taken from Denver, Colorado, to Rapid City, South Dakota, and interrogated again, then taken to Rosebud Reservation and finally to a far corner of Pine Ridge Reservation, where she was killed by a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Her body was not found until February 1976. Low-level AIM members Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were convicted of her murder, but many people believed that “higher-ranking” leaders had ordered it. Dissension over this issue contributed to the 1993 split in the AIM organization.
1980s support of Nicaraguan Miskito Indians
During the Sandinista/Indian conflict in Nicaragua of the mid-1980s, Russell Means sided with Miskito Indians opposing the Sandinista government. The Miskito charged the government with forcing relocations of as many as 8,500 Miskito. This position lost AIM some support from certain US Marxist organizations in the U.S. who opposed Contra activities and supported the Sandinista movement. The complex situation included Contra insurgents’ recruiting among Nicaraguan Indian groups, including some Miskitos. Means recognized the difference between opposition to the Sandinista government by the Miskito, Sumo, and Rama on one hand, and the Reagan administration’s support of the Contras, dedicated to the overthrow of the Sandinista regime.
AIM protests and contentions
Many AIM chapters remain committed to confronting government and corporate forces that they allege seek to marginalize Indigenous peoples. They have challenged the ideological foundations of US national holidays, such as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. AIM argues that Thanksgiving should be a National Day of Mourning, and protests what it perceives to be the continuing theft of indigenous peoples’ territories and natural resources. AIM has helped educate people about the full history of the US, and advocates for the inclusion of Indigenous American perspectives in U.S. history. Its efforts are recognized and supported by many institutional leaders in politics, education, arts, religion, and media.
Professor Ronald L. Grimes wrote that “In 1984 the Southwest chapter of the American Indian Movement held a leadership conference that passed a resolution labeling the expropriation of Indian ceremonies (for instance, the use of sweat lodges, vision quests, and sacred pipes) a “direct attack and theft.” It also condemned certain named individuals (such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Wallace Black Elk, and Sun Bear and his “tribe”) and criticized specific organizations such as Vision Quest, Inc. The declaration threatened to “take care of” those abusing sacred ceremonies.
In June 2003, United States and Canadian tribes joined together internationally to pass the “Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality.” They felt they were being exploited by those marketing the sales of replicated Native American spiritual objects and impersonating sacred religious ceremonies as a tourist attraction. AIM delegates are working on a policy to require tribal identification for anyone claiming to represent Native Americans in any public forum or venue.
In February 2004, AIM gained more media attention by marching from Washington, D.C., to Alcatraz Island. This was one of many occasions when Indian activists used the island as the location of an event since the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, led by the United Indians of All Tribes, a student group from San Francisco. The 2004 march was in support of Leonard Peltier, whom many believed had not had a fair trial; he has become a symbol of spiritual and political resistance for Native Americans.
In December 2008, a delegation of Lakota Sioux, including Talon Becenti, delivered to the U.S. State Department a declaration of separation from the United States citing many broken treaties by the U.S. government in the past, and the loss of vast amounts of territory originally awarded in those treaties, the group announced its intentions to form a separate nation within the U.S. known as the Republic of Lakotah.
- 1968- MINNEAPOLIS AIM PATROL: created to monitor police treatment of urban American Indians and their treatment in the justice system.
- 1969- INDIAN HEALTH BOARD of Minneapolis founded. This was the first American Indian, urban-based health care provider in the nation. The San Francisco-based United Indians of All Tribes and the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupied ALCATRAZ ISLAND, a former federal prison site, for 19 months. They reclaimed federal land in the name of Native Nations. The first American Indian radio broadcasts — Radio Free Alcatraz — were heard in the Bay Area. |Some AIM activists joined them.
- 1970- LEGAL RIGHTS CENTER: created in Minneapolis to assist American Indians. (As of 1994, over 19,000 clients have had legal representation, thanks to AIM’s work.) AIM takeover of abandoned property at the naval air station near Minneapolis focuses attention on Indian education and leads to early grants for Indian education.
- 1971- CITIZEN’S ARREST OF JOHN OLD CROW: Takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs‘ headquarters in Washington, D.C., to publicize improper BIA policies. Twenty-four protesters arrested for “trespassing” and released. BIA Commissioner Louis Bruce shows his AIM membership card at the meeting held after the release of protesters. FIRST NATIONAL AIM CONFERENCE: 18 chapters of AIM convened to develop long-range strategy for the movement. TAKEOVER OF WINTER DAM: AIM assists the Lac Court Oreilles (LCO) Ojibwe in Wisconsin in taking over a dam controlled by Northern States Power, which had flooded much of their reservation land. This action gained support by government officials and an eventual settlement with the LCO. The federal government returned more than 25,000 acres (100 km2) of land to the LCO tribe for their reservation, and the Power company provided significant monies and business opportunities to the tribe.
- 1972- RED SCHOOL HOUSE: the second survival school to open, offering culturally based education services to K-12 students in St. Paul, Minnesota. HEART OF THE EARTH SURVIVAL SCHOOL (HOTESS): a K-12 school established to address the extremely high drop-out rate among American Indian students and lack of curricula that reflected American Indian culture. HOTESS serves as the first model of community-based, student-centered education with culturally correct curriculum operating under parental control. TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES: a pan-Indian march across country to Washington, DC, to dramatize failures in federal policy. Protesters occupied the BIA national headquarters and did millions of dollars in damages, as well as irrevocable losses of Indian land deeds. The protesters presented a 20-point demand paper to the administration, many associated with treaty rights and renewed negotiations of treaties.
- 1973- LEGAL ACTION FOR SCHOOL FUNDS: In reaction to the Trail of Broken Treaties, the government canceled education grants to three AIM-sponsored schools in St. Paul and Milwaukee. AIM files legal challenges, and the US District Court orders the grants restored and government payment of costs and attorney fees. WOUNDED KNEE ’73: AIM was contacted by Oglala Lakota elders of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for assistance in dealing with failures in justice in border towns, the authoritarian tribal president, and financial corruption within the BIA and executive committee. Together with Oglala Lakota, armed activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee for 71-days against US armed forces.
- 1974- INTERNATIONAL INDIAN TREATY COUNCIL (IITC): an organization representing Indian peoples throughout the western hemisphere was recognized at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. WOUNDED KNEE TRIALS: Eight months of federal trials of participants in Wounded Knee took place in Minneapolis. It was the longest Federal trial in the history of the United States. As many instances of government misconduct were revealed, the US District judge Fred Nichol dismissed all charges due to government “misconduct” which “formed a pattern throughout the course of the trial” so that “the waters of justice have been polluted.”
- 1975- FEDERATION OF SURVIVAL SCHOOLS: created to provide advocacy and networking skills to 16 survival schools throughout the US and Canada. HUD chose AIM to be the primary sponsor of the first American Indian-run housing project, LITTLE EARTH OF UNITED TRIBES.
- 1977- MIGIZI Communications founded in Minneapolis. The organization is dedicated to producing Indian news and information, and educating students of all ages as tomorrow’s technical work force. INTERNATIONAL INDIAN TREATY COUNCIL: establishes Non-government organization status at United Nations offices in Geneva; attends the International NGO conference and presents testimony to the United Nations. AMERICAN INDIAN LANGUAGE AND CULTURE LEGISLATION: AIM proposes legislative language which is passed in Minnesota, recognizing State responsibility for Indian education and culture. This legislation was recognized as a model throughout the country.
- 1978- FIRST EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR AMERICAN INDIAN OFFENDERS: AIM establishes the first adult education program for American Indian offenders at Stillwater Prison in Minnesota. Programs later established at other state correctional facilities modeled after the Minnesota program. CIRCLE OF LIFE SURVIVAL SCHOOL established on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. The school receives funding for three years of operation from the U.S. Department of Education. RUN FOR SURVIVAL: AIM youth organize and conduct 500-mile (800 km) run from Minneapolis to Lawrence, Kansas, to support “The Longest Walk.” THE LONGEST WALK: Indian Nations walk across the US from California to DC to protest proposed legislation calling for the abrogation of treaties with Indian nations. They set up and maintain a tipi near the White House. The proposed legislation is defeated.
- 1979- LITTLE EARTH HOUSING PROTECTED: an attempt by the US HUD to foreclose on the Little Earth of United Tribes housing project is halted by legal action; the US District Court issues an injunction against HUD. AMERICAN INDIAN OPPORTUNITIES INDUSTRIALIZATION CENTER (AIOIC): creates job-training schools to alleviate the unemployment issues of Indian people. More than 17,000 Native Americans have been trained for jobs since AIM created the AIOIC in 1979. ANISHINABE AKEENG Organization is created to regain stolen and tax-forfeited land on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
- 1984- FEDERATION of NATIVE CONTROLLED SURVIVAL SCHOOLS: presents legal education seminars at colleges and law schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma for educators of Indian students. National conference held in San Jose, California, concurrent with the National Indian Education Association Convention.
- 1986- SCHOOLS LAWSUIT: Heart of the Earth and Red School House successfully sue the U.S. Department of Education, Indian Education Programs for ranking the schools’ programs below funding recommendation levels. The suit proved discriminatory bias in the system of ranking by the Department staff.
- 1987- AIM PATROL: Minneapolis AIM Patrol restarts to protect American Indian women in Minneapolis after serial killings committed against them.
- 1988- ELAINE STATELY INDIAN YOUTH SERVICES (ESIYS): developed to create alternatives for youth in Minneapolis as a direct diversion to gang-involvement of Indian youth. FORT SNELLING AIM ANNUAL POW WOW: AIM establishes an annual pow-wow to recognize its 20th Anniversary, at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. The event becomes the largest Labor Day Weekend event in any Minnesota state park.
- 1989- SPEARFISHING: AIM is requested to provide expertise in dealing with protesters at boat landings. American Indian spearfishing continues despite violence, arrests, and threats from whites. Senator Daniel Inouye calls for a study on the effects of Indian spearfishing. The study shows only 6% of fish taken are by Indians. Sports fishing accounts for the rest.
- 1991 PEACEMAKER CENTER: AIM houses its AIM Patrol and ESIYS in a center in the heart of the Indian community, based on Indian spirituality. SUNDANCE RETURNED TO MINNESOTA. With the support of the Dakota communities, AIM revives the Sundance at Pipestone, Minnesota. Ojibwe nations have helped make the Minnesota Sundance possible. The Pipestone Sundance becomes an annual event. In 1991, some self-appointed leaders of the Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne and other nations declare independence from the United States. The group establishes a provisional government to develop a separate national government. Elected leaders and council members of the nations do not support this action. NATIONAL COALITION ON RACISM IN SPORTS AND MEDIA: AIM organizes this group to address the issue of using Indian figures and names as sports team mascots. AIM leads a walk in Minneapolis to the 1992 Super Bowl. In 1994, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune agrees to stop using professional sports team names that refer to Indian people unless these have been approved by the tribes.
- 1992- THE FOOD CONNECTION: organizes summer youth jobs program with an organic garden and spiritual camp (Common Ground) at Tonkawood Farm in Orono, Minnesota.
- 1993- EXPANSION OF AMERICAN INDIAN OIC JOB TRAINING PROGRAM: the Grand Metropolitan, Inc. of Great Britain, a parent of the Pillsbury Corporation, merges its job training program with that of AIOIC and pledges future monies and support in Minnesota. LITTLE EARTH: after AIM’s 18-year struggle, the HUD secretary Henry Cisneros rules that Little Earth of United Tribes housing project shall retain the right to preference for American Indian residents when considering applicants for the project. WOUNDED KNEE ANNIVERSARY: At the 20th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Incident at Pine Ridge Reservation, the elected Oglala Sioux Tribe president, John Yellow Bird Steele, thanked AIM for its 1973 actions.
Due to continuing dissension, AIM splits: AIM Grand Governing Council (AIMGGC) is based in Minneapolis and still led by founders. AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters is based in Denver, Colorado.
- 1996- April 3–8, 1996 – As a representative of the AIM Grand Governing Council and special representative of the International Indian Treaty Council, Vernon Bellecourt, along with William A. Means, President of IITC, attends the preparatory meeting for the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism (IEHN), hosted by the Emiliano Zapata Liberation Movement (EZLN), held in LaRealidad, Eastern Chiapas, Mexico, July 27 – August 3, 1996. The second meeting for the IEHN in 1997 is hosted by the EZLN and attended by delegates of the IITC and AIM.
- 1998- February 12, 1998 – AIM is charged with Security at the Ward Valley Occupation in Southern California. The occupation lasts for 113 days and results in a victory for the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) against the plan to use the area for the disposal of nuclear wastes. February 27, 1998 – 25th Anniversary of Wounded Knee, an Oglala Lakota Nation resolution establishes February 27 as a National Day of Liberation. July 16–19, 1998 – 25th Annual Lac Courte Oreilles “Honor the Earth” Homecoming Celebration to honor the people who participated in the July 31, 1971, takeover of the Winter Dam and the beginning of the “Honor the Earth” observance. August 2–11, 1998 – 30th Anniversary of the AIM Grand Governing Council; Sacred Pipestone Quarries in Pipestone, Minnesota. Conference commemorating AIM’s 30th Anniversary.
- 1999- February 1999 – Three United States activists working with a group of UÕwa Indians in Colombia are kidnapped by rebels. Ingrid Washinawatok, 41 (Menominee), a humanitarian; Terence Freitas, 24, an environmental scientist from Santa Cruz, California; and LaheÕenaÕe Gay, 39 of Hawaii, are seized near the village of Royota, in Arauca province in northeastern Colombia on February 25 while preparing to leave after a two-week on-site visit. On March 5, their bullet-riddled bodies are discovered across the border in Venezuela.
- 2000 – July 2000 – AIM 32nd Anniversary Conference on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Nation Reservation in northern Wisconsin. October 2000 – AIM founded commission to seek justice for Ingrid Washinawatok and companions.
- 2001 – March 2001 – Reps of the AIM GGC attend the Zapatista Army of National Liberation March for Peace, Justice and Dignity, Zocolo Plaza, Mexico City. July 2001 – 11th Annual Youth & Elders International Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota. August 2001 – Five “anti-wahoo” demonstrators with AIM bring civil lawsuit for false arrest against the city of Cleveland, Ohio. November 2001 – The American Indian Forum on Racism in Sports and Media is held at Black Bear Crossing, St. Paul, Minnesota.
- 2002 – August 2002, 12th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2003 – May 2003- Quarterly Meeting of the AIM National Board of Directors, Thunderbird House, Winnipeg, Manitoba. August 2003 – 13th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2004 – August 2004 – 14th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2005 – May 2005 – First Annual Clyde H. Bellecourt Endowment Scholarship Fund and Awards Banquet, Minneapolis, Minnesota. July 2005 – 15th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2006 -May 2006 – Second Annual Clyde H. Bellecourt Endowment Scholarship Fund and Awards Banquet, Minneapolis. July 2006 – 16th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota
Other Native American organizations
Other Native American rights activists have created groups such as Women of All Red Nations (WARN), NATIVE (Native American Traditions, Ideals, Values Educational Society), LISN (League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations), EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), and the IPC (Indigenous Peoples Caucus). Although each group may have its own specific goals or focus, they are all fighting for the same principles of respect and equality for Native Americans. The Northwest Territories Indian Brotherhood, the Committee of Original People’s Entitlement were two organization that spearheaded the native rights movement in northern Canada during the 1960s.
International Indian Treaty Council
AIM established the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) in June 1974. It invited representatives from numerous indigenous nations, and delegates from 98 international groups attended the meeting. The sacred pipe serves as a symbol of the Nations “common bonds of spirituality, ties to the land and respect for traditional cultures”. The IITC focuses on issues such as treaty and land rights, rights and protection of indigenous children, protection of sacred sites, and religious freedom.
The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) uses networking, technical assistance, and coalition building. In 1977, the IITC became a Non-Governmental Organization with Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The organization concentrates on involving Indigenous Peoples in U.N. forums. In addition, the IITC strives to bring awareness about the issues concerning Indigenous Peoples to non-Indigenous organizations.
The United Nations Adoption of Indigenous Peoples Rights
On September 13, 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” A total of 144 states or countries voted in favor. Four voted against it while 11 abstained. The four voting against it were the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, whose representatives said they believed the declaration “goes too far.”
The Declaration announces rights of Indigenous Peoples, such as rights to self-determination, traditional lands and territories, traditional languages and customs, natural resources and sacred sites.
Ideological differences within AIM
In 1993, AIM split into two factions, each claiming to be the authentic inheritor of the AIM tradition. The AIM-Grand Governing Council is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and associated with leadership by Clyde Bellecourt and his brother Vernon Bellecourt (who died in 2007). The GGC tends toward a more centralized, controlled political philosophy.
The AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, based in Denver, Colorado, was founded by thirteen AIM chapters in 1993 at a meeting in Denver, Colorado. The group issued its “Edgewood Declaration“, citing organizational grievances and complaining of authoritarian leadership by the Bellecourts. Ideological differences were growing, with the AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters taking a spiritual, perhaps more mainstream, approach to activism. The autonomous chapters group argues that AIM has always been organized as a series of decentralized, autonomous chapters, with local leadership accountable to local constituencies. The autonomous chapters reject the assertions of central control by the Minneapolis group as contrary both to indigenous political traditions and to the original philosophy of AIM.
Accusations of murder
At a press conference in Denver, Colorado on 3 November 1999, Russell Means accused Vernon Bellecourt of having ordered the execution of Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. The “highest-ranking” woman in AIM at the time, she had been shot execution style in mid-December 1975 and left in a far corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after having been kidnapped from Denver, Colorado and interrogated in Rapid City, South Dakota as a possible FBI informant. Means implicated Clyde Bellecourt in her murder as well, and other AIM activists, including Theresa Rios. Means said that part of the dissension within AIM in the early 1990s had related to actions to expel the Bellecourt brothers for their part in the Aquash execution; the organization split apart.
Earlier that day in a telephone interview with the journalists Paul DeMain and Harlan McKosato about the upcoming press conference, Minnie Two Shoes had said, speaking of the importance of Aquash,
“Part of why she was so important is because she was very symbolic, she was a hard working woman, she dedicated her life to the movement, to righting all the injustices that she could, and to pick somebody out and launch their little cointelpro program on her to bad jacket her to the point where she ends up dead, whoever did it, let’s look at what the reasons are, you know, she was killed and lets look at the real reasons why it could have been any of us, it could have been me, it could have been, ya gotta look at the basically thousands of women, you gotta remember that it was mostly women in AIM, it could have been any one of us and I think that’s why it’s been so important and she was just such a good person.”
McKosato said, “…her [Aquash’s] death has divided the American Indian Movement…” On 4 November 1999, in a follow-up show on Native American Calling the next day, Vernon Bellecourt denied any involvement by him and his brother in the death of Aquash.
At Federal grand jury hearings in 2003, the Indian men Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted for shooting Aquash in December 1975. In February ’04, Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted of murder in Rapid City. He named as the gunman John Graham, who was in the Yukon. After extradition, John Graham was convicted, in 2010 in Rapid City, of the murder. In both trials, hearsay testimony about the motive for the murder included statements that Aquash heard Leonard Peltier say he killed the FBI agents at Oglala in June 1975, and fear that Aquash could be working with the FBI. Peltier was convicted in 1976 of murder for the Oglala killings, on other evidence.
Moore in New York to promote his memoir Here Comes Trouble, September 2011
|Born||Michael Francis Moore
April 23, 1954
Flint, Michigan, US
|Alma mater||University of Michigan–Flint|
|Occupation||Actor, director, screenwriter, producer, documentarian|
|Spouse(s)||Kathleen Glynn (1991–2014)|
Michael Francis Moore (born April 23, 1954) is an American filmmaker, author, social critic, and political activist. He is the director and producer of Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), which is the highest-grossing documentary of all time and winner of the Palme d’Or. His films Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Sicko (2007) also placed in the top ten highest-grossing documentaries, and the former won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. In September 2008, he released his first free movie on the Internet, Slacker Uprising, which documented his personal quest to encourage more Americans to vote in presidential elections. He has also written and starred in the TV shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth.
Moore’s written and cinematic works criticize globalization, large corporations, assault weapon ownership, U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the Iraq War, the American health care system, and capitalism.
Moore was born in Flint, Michigan and raised in Davison, a suburb of Flint, by parents Helen Veronica (née Wall), a secretary, and Francis Richard “Frank” Moore, an automotive assembly-line worker. At that time, the city of Flint was home to many General Motors factories, where his parents and grandfather worked. His uncle LaVerne was one of the founders of the United Automobile Workers labor union and participated in the Flint Sit-Down Strike.
Moore was brought up Catholic, and has Irish and English ancestry. He attended parochial St. John’s Elementary School for primary school and later attended St. Paul’s Seminary in Saginaw, Michigan, for a year. He then attended Davison High School, where he was active in both drama and debate, graduating in 1972. As a member of the Boy Scouts of America, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. At the age of 18, he was elected to the Davison school board. At the time he was the youngest person elected to office in the U.S.
Moore dropped out of the University of Michigan–Flint following his first year (where he wrote for the student newspaper The Michigan Times). At 22 he founded the alternative weekly magazine The Flint Voice, which soon changed its name to The Michigan Voice as it expanded to cover the entire state. In 1986, when Moore became the editor of Mother Jones, a liberal political magazine, he moved to California and The Michigan Voice was shut down.
After four months at Mother Jones, Moore was fired. Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard reported this was for refusing to print an article by Paul Berman that was critical of the Sandinista human rights record in Nicaragua. Moore refused to run the article, believing it to be inaccurate. “The article was flatly wrong and the worst kind of patronizing bullshit. You would scarcely know from it that the United States had been at war with Nicaragua for the last five years.” Moore believes that Mother Jones fired him because of the publisher’s refusal to allow him to cover a story on the GM plant closings in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. He responded by putting laid-off GM worker Ben Hamper (who was also writing for the same magazine at the time) on the magazine’s cover, leading to his termination. Moore sued for wrongful dismissal, and settled out of court for $58,000, providing him with seed money for his first film, Roger & Me.
- Roger & Me
- Moore first became famous for his Emmy Award winning 1989 film, Roger & Me, a documentary about what happened to Flint, Michigan, after General Motors closed its factories and opened new ones in Mexico, where the workers were paid much less. Since then Moore has become known as a critic of the neoliberal view of globalization. “Roger” is Roger B. Smith, former CEO and president of General Motors. Harlan Jacobson, editor of Film Comment magazine, said that Moore muddled the chronology in Roger & Me to make it seem that events that took place before G.M.’s layoffs were a consequence of them. Critic Roger Ebert defended Moore’s handling of the timeline as an artistic and stylistic choice that had less to do with his credibility as a filmmaker and more to do with the flexibility of film as a medium to express a satiric viewpoint.
- Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint
- (1992) is a short (23-minute) documentary film that was aired on PBS. It is based on Roger & Me. The film’s title refers to Rhonda Britton, a Flint, Michigan, resident featured in both the 1989 and 1992 films who sells rabbits as either pets or meat.
- Canadian Bacon
- In 1995, Moore released a satirical film, Canadian Bacon, which features a fictional US president (played by Alan Alda) engineering a fake war with Canada in order to boost his popularity. It is noted for containing a number of Canadian and American stereotypes, and for being Moore’s only non-documentary film. The film is also one of the last featuring Canadian-born actor John Candy, and also features a number of cameos by other Canadian actors. In the film, several potential enemies for America’s next great campaign are discussed by the president and his cabinet. (The scene was strongly influenced by the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove.) The President comments that declaring war on Canada was as ridiculous as declaring war on international terrorism. His military adviser, played by Rip Torn, quickly rebuffs this idea, saying that no one would care about “a bunch of guys driving around blowing up rent-a-cars.”
- The Big One
- In 1997, Moore directed The Big One, which documents the tour publicizing his book Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American, in which he criticizes mass layoffs despite record corporate profits. Among others, he targets Nike for outsourcing shoe production to Indonesia.
- Bowling for Columbine
- This 2002 film probes the culture of guns and violence in the United States, taking as a starting point the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Bowling for Columbine won the Anniversary Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and France’s César Award as the Best Foreign Film. In the United States, it won the 2002 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. It also enjoyed great commercial and critical success for a film of its type and became, at the time, the highest-grossing mainstream-released documentary (a record now held by Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11). It was praised by some for illuminating a subject avoided by the mainstream media.
- Fahrenheit 9/11
- Examines America in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, particularly the record of the Bush administration and alleged links between the families of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. Fahrenheit was awarded the Palme d’Or, the top honor at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival; it was the first documentary film to win the prize since 1956. Moore later announced that Fahrenheit 9/11 would not be in consideration for the 2005 Academy Award for Documentary Feature, but instead for the Academy Award for Best Picture. He stated he wanted the movie to be seen by a few million more people via a television broadcast prior to election day. According to Moore, “Academy rules forbid the airing of a documentary on television within nine months of its theatrical release”, and since the November 2 election was fewer than nine months after the film’s release, it would have been disqualified for the Documentary Oscar. However, Fahrenheit received no Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The title of the film alludes to the classic book Fahrenheit 451 about a future totalitarian state in which books are banned; according to the book, paper begins to burn at 451 °F (233 °C). The pre-release subtitle of the film confirms the allusion: “The temperature at which freedom burns.”
- As of August 2012, Fahrenheit 9/11 is the highest-grossing documentary of all time, taking in over US$200 million worldwide, including United States box office revenue of almost US$120 million. In February 2011, Moore sued producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein for US$2.7 million in unpaid profits from the film, claiming they used “Hollywood accounting tricks” to avoid paying him the money. In February 2012, Moore and the Weinsteins informed the court that they had settled their dispute.
- Moore directed this film about the American health care system, focusing particularly on the managed-care and pharmaceutical industries. At least four major pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, and GlaxoSmithKline—ordered their employees not to grant any interviews or assist Moore. According to Moore on a letter at his website, “roads that often surprise us and lead us to new ideas—and challenge us to reconsider the ones we began with have caused some minor delays.” The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2007, receiving a lengthy standing ovation, and was released in the U.S. and Canada on June 29, 2007. The film was the subject of some controversy when it became known that Moore went to Cuba with chronically ill September 11 rescue workers to shoot parts of the film. The United States is looking into whether this violates the trade embargo. The film is currently ranked the fourth highest grossing documentary of all time and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
- Captain Mike Across America
- Moore takes a look at the politics of college students in what he calls “Bush Administration America” with this film shot during Moore’s 60-city college campus tour in the months leading up to George Bush’s 2004 presidential election. The film was later re-edited by Moore into Slacker Uprising.
- Capitalism: A Love Story
- On September 23, 2009, Moore released a new movie titled Capitalism: A Love Story, which looks at the late-2000s financial crisis and the U.S. economy during the transition between the incoming Obama Administration and the outgoing Bush Administration. Addressing a press conference at its release, Moore said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy. So Obama will rise or fall based not so much on what he does but on what we do to support him.”
Moore has written and co-written eight non-fiction books, mostly on similar subject matter to his documentaries. Stupid White Men (2001) is ostensibly a critique of American domestic and foreign policy but, by Moore’s own admission, is also “a book of political humor.” Dude, Where’s My Country? (2003), is an examination of the Bush family‘s relationships with Saudi royalty, the Bin Laden family, and the energy industry, and a call-to-action for liberals in the 2004 election. Several of his works have made bestseller lists.
Moore has dabbled in acting, following a supporting role in Lucky Numbers (2000) playing the cousin of Lisa Kudrow‘s character, who agrees to be part of the scheme concocted by John Travolta‘s character. He also had a cameo in his Canadian Bacon as an anti-Canada activist. In 2004, he did a cameo, as a news journalist, in The Fever, starring Vanessa Redgrave in the lead.
Between 1994 and 1995, he directed and hosted the BBC television series TV Nation, which followed the format of news magazine shows but covered topics they avoid. The series aired on BBC2 in the UK. The series was also aired in the US on NBC in 1994 for 9 episodes and again for 8 episodes on Fox in 1995.
His other major series was The Awful Truth, which satirized actions by big corporations and politicians. It aired on Channel 4 in the UK, and the Bravo network in the US, in 1999 and 2000. Moore won the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Arts and Entertainment for being the executive producer and host of The Awful Truth, where he was also described as “muckraker, author and documentary filmmaker”.
Another 1999 series, Michael Moore Live, was aired in the UK only on Channel 4, though it was broadcast from New York. This show had a similar format to The Awful Truth, but also incorporated phone-ins and a live stunt each week.
Moore has directed several music videos, including two for Rage Against the Machine for songs from The Battle of Los Angeles: “Sleep Now in the Fire” and “Testify“. He was threatened with arrest during the shooting of “Sleep Now in the Fire”, which was filmed on Wall Street; and subsequently the city of New York City had denied the band permission to play there, even though the band and Moore had secured a federal permit to perform.
Although Moore has been noted for his political activism, he rejects being labeled as a “political activist” saying such a description is redundant as a citizen of a democracy: “I and you and everyone else has to be a political activist. If we’re not politically active, it ceases to be a democracy.” According to John Flesher of the Associated Press, Moore is known for his “fiery left-wing populism,” and publications such as the Socialist Worker Online have hailed him as the “new Tom Paine.”
Moore was a high-profile guest at both the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the 2004 Republican National Convention, chronicling his impressions in USA Today. He was criticized in a speech by Republican Senator John McCain as “a disingenuous film-maker.” Moore laughed and waved as Republican attendees jeered, later chanting “four more years.” Moore gestured his thumb and finger at the crowd, which translates into “loser.”
During September and October 2004, Moore spoke at universities and colleges in swing states during his “Slacker Uprising Tour”. The tour gave away ramen and underwear to students who promised to vote. One stop during the tour was Utah Valley State College. A fight for his right to speak resulted in massive public debates and a media blitz. The Utah event was chronicled in the documentary film This Divided State.
Despite having supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, Moore urged Nader not to run in 2004 so as not to split the left vote. On Real Time with Bill Maher, Moore and Maher knelt before Nader to plead with him to stay out of the race.
Moore drew attention in 2004 when he used the term “deserter” when he introduced Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark at a Democratic Presidential debate in New Hampshire. Noting that Clark had been a champion debater at West Point, Moore told a laughing crowd, “I know what you’re thinking. I want to see that debate” between Clark and [George W.] Bush – “the general versus the deserter.” Moore said he was referring to published reports in several media outlets including The Boston Globe which had reported that “there is strong evidence that Bush performed no military service as required when he moved from Houston to Alabama to work on a U.S. Senate campaign from May to November 1972.” 
In 2007 Moore became a contributing journalist at OpEdNews, and by May 2014 had authored over 70 articles published on their website. On April 21, 2008, Moore endorsed Barack Obama for President, stating that Hillary Clinton‘s recent actions had been “disgusting.” Moore was an active supporter of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City and spoke with the OWS protesters on September 26, 2011. On October 29, 2011, he spoke at the Occupy Oakland protest site to express his support.
Moore’s 2011 claims that “Four hundred obscenely wealthy individuals, 400 little Mubaraks – most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of 2008 – now have more cash, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined” and that these 400 Americans “have more wealth than half of all Americans combined” was found to be true by PolitiFact and others.
In an op-ed piece for The New York Times published on December 31, 2013, Moore assessed the Affordable Care Act, calling it “awful” and adding that, “Obamacare’s rocky start … is a result of one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go.” Despite his strong critique, however, Moore wrote that he still considers the plan a “godsend” because it provides a start “to get what we deserve: universal quality health care.”
Moore married movie producer Kathleen Glynn on October 19, 1991. He filed for divorce on June 17, 2013. At the time of his divorce, he was estimated to have a net worth of $50 million. On July 22, 2014, the divorce was finalized.
Following the Columbine High School massacre, Moore acquired a lifetime membership to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Moore said that he initially intended to become the NRA’s president to dismantle the organization, but he soon dismissed the plan as too difficult. Gun rights supporters such as Dave Kopel claimed that there was no chance of that happening; David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke wrote that Moore failed to discover that the NRA selects a president not by membership vote but by a vote of the board of directors.
In 2005 Time magazine named Moore one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Later in 2005, Moore founded the Traverse City Film Festival held annually in Traverse City, Michigan. In 2009, he co-founded the Traverse City Comedy Festival, also held annually in Traverse City, where Moore helped spearhead the renovation of the historic downtown State Theater.
- Moore, Michael (1996). Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American. New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 0-06-097733-7.
- Moore, Michael; Glynn, Kathleen (1998). Adventures in a TV Nation. New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 0-06-098809-6.
- Moore, Michael (2002). Stupid White Men …and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!. New York: Regan Books. ISBN 0-06-039245-2.
- Moore, Michael (2003). Dude, Where’s My Country?. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-53223-1.
- Moore, Michael (2004). Will They Ever Trust Us Again?. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-7152-1.
- Moore, Michael (2004). The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-7292-7.
- Moore, Michael (2008). Mike’s Election Guide 2008. New York: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-54627-5.
- Moore, Michael (2011). Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life. New York: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-53224-X.
- Roger & Me (1989)
- Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (1992)
- Canadian Bacon (1995)
- The Big One (1997)
- EDtv (1999) (cameo as himself)
- Lucky Numbers (2000) (as actor)
- The Party’s Over (2001)
- Bowling for Columbine (2002)
- Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
- Sicko (2007)
- Captain Mike Across America (2007)
- Slacker Uprising (2008)
- Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)