Dennis Banks, Native American Activist And Wounded Knee Occupier, Dies At 80

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Dennis Banks, a Native American activist who co-founded the American Indian Movement and helped lead the 1973 armed occupation of Wounded Knee, has died at 80.

His death was announced on Facebook, and confirmed by his family in a statement to The Associated Press.

Banks was Ojibwe and Turtle Clan, and his Ojibwe name was Nowa Cumig. He died surrounded by his family on Sunday.

He co-founded the American Indian Movement, or AIM, in 1968 to advocate on behalf of native people and against discriminatory federal policies and practices. The next year the group, including Banks, began a lengthy occupation of Alcatraz Island. That occupation captured national attention for their protest over, among other things, living conditions on reservations.

But it was the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee that propelled Banks, in particular, to the spotlight.

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NPR’s Leah Donnella has reported on that historic event:

“During the 1973 demonstration, about 200 people occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota — the site of an 1890 massacre in which U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of Native Americans. Protesters turned Wounded Knee into what one former AIM leader called “an armed camp” in order to protest corruption in tribal leadership and draw attention to the U.S. government’s failure to honor treaties.


“Over the course of the 1973 occupation, two Sioux men were killed and hundreds more arrested. But the resistance, which lasted 71 days, underscored Native American civil rights issues … ”

In 1998, Banks told NPR that the purpose of the protest was to focus attention on the U.S. government’s poor treatment of native people.

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