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Red Power movement

File:Flag of the American Indian Movement.svg
A Flag of the American Indian Movement

The phrase "Red Power", attributed to the author Vine Deloria, Jr., commonly expressed a growing sense of pan-Indian identity in the late 1960s among American Indians in the United States.

The Red Power movement was one of the many Civil Rights Movements which occurred in the United States from 1950s-1970s (also known as the Civil Rights Era). The Red Power Movement, also known as the American Indian Movement (AIM), was dedicated to getting the Federal Government of the United States to return land that was previously owned by the Native Americans. In 1969 Native Americans tried to regain Alcatraz Island which was once a part of their native territory.[1]

The major catalyst of Red Power was the occupation of the deserted federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on November 20, 1969. A group of 89 Indians, mostly college students who identified themselves as "Indians of All Tribes", claimed the island according to the terms of an 1868 US treaty with the Sioux, which gave Indians rights to unused federal property on Indian land. The group demanded federal funds for a multifaceted cultural and educational center. They were visited by many activists and inspired other events. For instance, the following year on Thanksgiving 1970, the American Indian Movement (AIM) led their first protest: painting Plymouth Rock red and occupying the Mayflower II in Boston. For the next year and a half at Alcatraz, a force averaging around 100, and a stream of visitors from numerous tribes, celebrated the occupation of the island. Although the protesters ultimately failed to achieve their specific goals, they helped catalyze the Indian community. With the occupation of Alcatraz, a participant said, "we got back our worth, our pride, our dignity, our humanity."[2]

At the forefront of the Red Power Movement was AIM, which was founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Its members belonged to and represented mainly urban Indian communities, and its leaders were young and militant. Like the Black Panthers and Brown Berets, AIM was initially organized to work for Indian civil rights in cities. Its members monitored law enforcement practices, and worked to highlight and prevent police harassment and brutality. AIM soon played a major role in building a network of urban Indian centers, churches and philanthropic organizations. It helped establish the "powwow circuit," which publicized news of protest activities across the country. Skillful in attracting attention from the news media, AIM inspired local chapters and writing about American Indian political issues.

At the same time, many young Indians began to turn to their elders to learn tribal ways, including traditional dress and spiritual practices. The activism led to decades of changes among American Indian communities, and increasing self-government at the tribal level.

The 1960s also marked the beginning of an "Indian Renaissance" in literature. New books such as Vine Deloria, Jr.'s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and the classic Black Elk Speaks (1961), reprinted from the 1930s, reached millions of readers inside and outside Indian communities. A wide variety of Indian writers, historians, and essayists gained publication following these successes and new authors were widely read. N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for one of his novels and Leslie Silko received acclaim. Fiction and nonfiction works about Indian life and lore have continued to attract a large audience. Authors such as Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris have earned continued recognition. Since the late twentieth century, novels by Sherman Alexie have been adapted for film as well.

From 1969 to the Longest Walk of 1978, the Red Power Movement highlighted issues through social protest. Its goals were for the federal government to honor treaty obligations and provide financial "resources, education, housing and healthcare to alleviate poverty."[3] The ARPM wanted to gain Indian participation in social institutions; it was instrumental in supporting the founding of Indian colleges, as well as the creation of Indian studies programs at existing institutions, and the establishment of museums and cultural centers to celebrate Indian contributions.

The Red Power movement had accomplished many of its goals by the time direct social activism declined in the late 1970s. "By the early 1980s, over 100 Indian studies programs had been created in the United States. Tribal museums opened."[3] Among the most prominent of the cultural centers is the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which was authorized by the US Congress in 1989 and opened on the Mall in Washington, DC in 2004. It also has a branch at the former US Customs House, on the Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.


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