Old Acquaintance: The poetry and power of Janet McCloud
volume 6
issue 2
Spring 1980
Before the organization of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, Indian reservations and urban Indian communities were pockets of poverty.

In some areas there was no employment for any Indians; average unemployment was 80%.

The infant mortality rate was one of the highest in the world, and diseases attributable to starvation and severe malnutrition were epidemic.

The average life span for all Indians was 42 years.

Large extended families lived in one room shacks and in abandoned, wrecked cars. Most Native Americans depended upon their two feet for transportation.

Health care for Indians would more properly be called health brutality. Indians were often used as human guinea pigs for abominable experiments.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had total control over all Indians, their land, rights and resources, and it was open season for all exploiters. For a minimum fee the BIA had a green light to do any type of damage to Indians or take everything that Indians owned.

No rights were respected or defended — not human, treaty, civil, constitutional or an Indian's right arm.

AIM sacrifices The struggle of the American Indian Movement to create positive social changes for their people is well known, but not the sacrifices they made.

Some of these unsung warriors made the supreme sacrifice; they lie in unmarked, untended graves across the land. Many others sit forgotten in dingy prison cells. Yet all Indians benefit from these sacrifices.

There were and are other organized resistance groups of Indian people, like the Red Power movement of young college educated Indians who created a movement philosophy, and the fishing rights activists of the Northwest who organized an effective resistance to protect the aboriginal rights of Indian people. But the American Indian Movement was unique, for it was nationally organized and internationally known.

AIM's brave and daring efforts to uplift the lives of their people, to challenge a powerfully hostile enemy, and to promote a better social order for all Indian people, inspired not only their own people but the oppressed and downtrodden of the world. AIM became heroes for the North Vietnamese, the IRA of Ireland, the peasants of southern France, the aboriginal peoples of Australia and Africa. The entire world knew and admired AIM.

The greatest beneficiaries of the American Indian Movement are the tribal council leaders, who are quick to seize the opportunities created by the movement, and to claim unwarranted credit for the positive social changes won for Indian people. Tribal officials often hate and renounce AIM, and the BIA and FBI can always call on the worst of these tribal leaders to slander the AIM leadership.

Today, the beneficiaries of the movement live in new homes, drive cars, live longer, have better health, are better educated, have good-paying jobs, and much more. But AIM leaders are recipients of vicious, slanderous poison from the ungrateful and jealous-hearted.

Few will acknowledge that real change only began to take place across this land after the tremendous sacrifices of the young warriors of the American Indian people.

Where are the tribal leaders who take the credit for all the positive changes in Indian country? Back in Washington, D.C. fighting for more program monies, smoke shops and gambling or liquor licenses.

The American Indian Movement supports the efforts of all the tribal leaders and programs that genuinely promote the health, education and welfare of Indian people. Neither AIM nor any other organized resistance movement of Indian people begrudges one benefit their people receive; they rejoice at all improvements, for this was what they fought for. But the warriors never grabbed the benefits for themselves, and the few who did were never true movement people.

That is how you tell the difference between leaders and opportunists.

Bureaucrats and sorcerers. The tribal leaders and others who denounce AIM justify their base actions by pointing out the human weaknesses of individual AIM leaders or warriors, with never a glance at their own. Individuals, unfortunately, do have weaknesses. But the survival of Indian Nations and sovereignty does not rest upon the shoulders of anyone man or woman, no matter how strong.

Indian people are in real need of effective social service programs. Four hundred years of abuse at the hands of European immigrants have left deep scars on Indians. It will take many years and many more dollars to improve the lifestyle of Indian people. Yet racists expect change overnight and clamor for an end to tax dollars spent to rectify the atrocities committed against Indian people.

Indian people with dedication and expertise are generally considered a threat by despotic tribal leaders. If they do not silently walk the sacred "program guidelines," they soon find themselves standing in long unemployment lines. The potentially good social service programs are constipated with bureaucratic red tape from D.C., which protects tribal leaders in all their outrageous acts against their people; the FBI and BIA are quick to come to the defense of the tribal bureaucrats.

And who protects the Indian people now that the FBI has almost destroyed the American Indian Movement? Nobody. Do tribal leaders who claim the credit for AIM's labors and sacrifices rush to protect and defend Indian people against the onslaughts they face today? If you call them for assistance or help, do they answer your calls? Do you get past their secretaries? Only rarely.

Our future as a distinct people in control of our destiny rests upon the strength of our collective unity and common purpose.

Indian people can disagree till doomsday about which defensive strategy is best, or whether we should even resist. If we continue to disagree on politics, policy and philosophy, and enter into destructive personality clashes, we will lose all. Our enemies never rest. They are ever unified around the purpose of achieving our total destruction.

A backlash is striking with deadly force, and without much opposition, at the most defenseless segments of Indian people. Our children in public schools are ganged up upon and beaten. Thousands are political prisoners in non-Indian foster homes. Indian women are being sterilized at an unprecedented rate. Racist courts overpopulate the prisons with Indian youth, where they are psychologically and physically brutalized and beaten, with no one to protect or defend them.

The American people themselves do not call the shots in this land. Policy and politicians are set and run by an international cartel of financiers, who constantly intrigue and plot for greater profit and control over the world's resources and human labor. Even the educational systems are set up to meet their needs for a never-ending supply of cheap, easy to control industrial slaves, cannon fodder and consumers. This master cult of financial sorcerers uses people as playthings and pits us one against another. We all end up the losers.

Remember our warriors. The war against Indian people and Nations is far from over. Indian people from Akwesasmi sit starving and freezing in ditches trying to protect their traditional chiefs and leaders from U.S.-puppet Indian leaders and the New York SWAT teams. The sacred Black Hills of the Sioux Nations are set to be exploited by uranium interests in 1980. Indian people from the Southwest are dying from low-level radiation poisoning. Indian children were still placed in foster homes in the International Year of the Child, and Indian clan-families are disappearing.

We need our warriors, and where are they? Dead in unmarked graves; in prisons; in hiding, pursued relentlessly by the FBI; or paroled to one county in one state, unable to travel or forbidden to talk for or about their people lest they be imprisoned again.

How many Indian people whose lives have improved remember our dead or imprisoned warriors?

Dead warriors
Tina Trudell and family
Anna Mae Aquash
Dallas Thundershield
Buddy Lamont
Pedro Bissonette
Hilda Red Bear
Richard Oakes
Raymond Yellow Thunder
Wesley Bad Heart Bull
Philip Celeay
Frank Clearwater
Clarence Cross
Maurice LeDeaux
Angelo Martinez
Joe Stuntz
Jimmy Little
Frank Condon
Byron DeSersa
George Gap
Hobart Horse
Sandra Wounded Foot, Jr.
Calvin George
Nelson Small Legs, Jr.
John Waubanascum
Arlin Pamanet
Baby Girl Yellow Bird
Jancita Eagle Deer
Robert Rosares
Tom Bad Cob, Sr.
Jeanette Bissonette
Richard Lee Lamont
Charley Killsree
Terry Williams
Filmore Stands
David Dobbs
Leon Gaze
Lloyd Broncheau

Political prisoners, Dec. 1979
Leonard Peltier
Rocque Duenas
Ted Means
Russell Means
Dennis Banks
Vance Yellowhand
Mary Settler

It is time Indian people, the beneficiaries of the American Indian Movement, took some time to count their blessings, to give credit where credit is due, to send a card and a few dollars for legal defense to the imprisoned warriors. An investment in them is an investment in the future.

Don't forget them. We may never see their like again.