American Indian Movement co-founder, activist, author and teacher Dennis Banks has died at 80 years of age. Banks died from complications of pneumonia he had contracted following open heart surgery.
According to a recent post on his Facebook page by his family, Dennis Banks passed away at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017 amidst family, friends and traditional song.
“Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017. As he took his last breaths, Minoh sang him four songs for his journey. All the family who were present prayed over him and said our individual goodbyes. Then we proudly sang him the AIM song as his final send off. Our father will be laid to rest in his home community of Leech Lake, MN. Presiding over traditional services will be Terry Nelson. We welcome all who would like to pay respects. As soon as arrangements are finalized, we will post details.Still Humbly Yours, The children and grandchildren of Nowacumig.”
In response to the announcement of his death, Facebook and Twitter have already been flooded with comments.
Lonn Duncan condolences to the family, our hearts, thoughts and prayers always. rest in peace brother. a true and great warrior.
Michael Mitchell Condolences to your family. A great leader to all Indigenous peoples.
Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota Ojibwa / Anishinabe) is well-known for his role in co-founding the American Indian Movement (AIM) alongside George Mitchell and Clyde Bellecourt.
Banks is also infamous for his interactions with fellow AIM activist Russell Means at the Wounded Knee occupation. At the Wounded Knee uprising, federal agents fought against Native occupiers for 71 days resulting in the loss of life of two tribal members and serious wounds to a federal agent.
Means and Banks were charged in 1974 for their participation in the occupation, however, a judge in federal court threw out the charges on the grounds of federal misconduct.
On April 12, 2012, Banks received a Living Legends Award in Washington D.C. for his ‘contributions as a co-founder of the American Indian Movement and his ‘commitment to the well being of the American Indian community.’
As a teacher, Dennis Banks taught at Deganawida Quetzecoatl University in the 80’s but later was incarcerated for 1973 charges at the infamous ‘Custer riot.’ After an 18-month term, Banks continued to work for the rights of Native people both as a drug and alcohol counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation and as an activist fighting for Native gravesite protections and repatriation, and legislation to protect these sites.
In 1978, Banks initiated “The Longest Walk” a traditional and spiritual journey from San Francisco to Washington DC. Aspects of the longest walk are still celebrated annually.
In addition to his activism, Dennis Banks acted in movies such as War Party (1988), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Thunderheart (1992), and Older Than America (2008). As a musician he released Still Strong (1993) and teamed up with Peter Gabriel on Les Musiques du Monde and with Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning artist Kitaro on the CD Let Mother Earth Speak.
He also got into politics and in August 2016, Banks was the vice presidential nominee on the Peace and Freedom Party, a socialist political party with ballot access in California with presidential nominee Gloria La Riva.
As Dennis Banks once told Indian Country Today in a 2013 interview, there will always be a place for activism and change.
“There’s always going to be a need for change whether it’s the American Indian Movement or Idle No More. Whether it’s now or 10 years from now, we’re always going to need those people to go out and confront the issues and take a stand even if we all become doctors and lawyers and senators and congressmen, even if we all become millionaires. There will still be a need to tell America that there are some very important contracts that were made in the 1700s and 1800s that deal with our land.”
The family has stated Dennis Banks will be buried in Leech Lake, Minnesota with traditional services.
Vincent Schilling is on Twitter - @VinceSchilling