Red Road Warriors
I’ve recently completely re-written my Red Road Warriors page, which is my page dedicated to remembering and detailing some of my heroes from the modern indigenous resistance movement. Because the changes to it are not apparent unless you click on it, I am posting it here as well as a regular article, but remember to check it out, as I will be adding more over time!
“A political prisoner is someone who is out fighting for his or her people’s rights and freedom and is imprisoned for that alone.” – Leonard Peliter
Honour Anna Mae Pictou Aquash and Harriet Nahanee! Free Leonard Peltier!
In 1968 Banks co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM), and established it to protect the traditional ways of our people and to engage in legal cases protecting our treaty rights. He participated in the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island. In 1972 he assisted in the organization of AIM’s “Trail of Broken Treaties”, which became a caravan across occupied Turtle Island to the settler capital of Washington, D.C. Caravan members intended to meet with settler government leaders, however they were refused, most notably by Harrison Loesch, the Interior Department Assistant Secretary responsible for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). As a result the caravan seized and occupied the BIA office.
Banks also spearheaded the movement on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1973 to oust the corrupt elected neocolonial chairman, Richard Wilson, who used settler government backed forces, the Guardian of the Oglala Nation (GOONs) to terrorize his own people. Along with traditionalist Oglala forces, AIM seized the town of Wounded Knee, which resulted in a 71 day siege which received national attention. Banks was the principal negotiator and leader of the Wounded Knee forces. Under his leadership, AIM led a protest in Custer, South Dakota in 1973 against judicial proceedings that reduced the sentence of a white man for the murder to that of an Indian to a second degree offence. As a result of his involvement in Wounded Knee and Custer, Banks and 300 others were arrested and faced trial.
He was acquitted of the Wounded Knee charges, but was convicted of incitement to riot and assault stemming from a confrontation at Custer. Refusing the prison term, Banks went underground, organized a small armed AIM group including Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. He received amnesty in California by then Governor Jerry Brown, who refused to extradite him to South Dakota. Today he continues to organize for our people’s rights.
John Dacajeweiah Hill (Splitting the Sky)
In 1995 John Dacajeweiah Hill, also known as Splitting the Sky, led one of the most important uprisings of our people in the 20th century at Gustafsen Lake, in occupied British Columbia. Preceding this uprising, which would be the most costly RCMP operation ever, he lead the Sun Dance at the site, which had been practiced at the site annually since 1990. He had been participating in Sun Dances in Turtle Island since 1981 and even danced in the 1994 ritual at Gustafsen Lake. The Sun Dancers who took occupation of the sacred grounds sought an international investigation into the matter of unceded indigenous territory. Local neocolonial indigenous leaders, the colonial media, and the settler state publicly challenged the validity of the beliefs of the Sun Dancers, arguing that political militants were using the religious ritual to advance their agenda. Only when internationally recognized Dakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse and Cree Medicine Man John Stevens entered the camp three weeks into the stand-off would the confrontation come to an end. It was later discovered that Splitting the Sky had suggested both Looking Horse and Stevens as mediators for the conflict, but this ignored by the colonial law enforcement.
Before he was known as Splitting the Sky, he was born John Boncore in Buffalo, New York in 1952. He was also to beaome known as John Hill. From the age of 7 he survived many years in New York State foster homes and youth detention centers which sought to brutalize him with torturous punishment for resisting forced slave labour, attempted sexual assaults, genocide, culturalcide, family and community annihilation, and emotional and spiritual deprivation. As he grew older and released himself from youth incarceration he found himself alone, lacking life’s basic skills to function as a balanced entity, and without any support system, he found himself in a situation in which he was arrested for attempted robbery. Splitting the Sky was sentenced to 8 years in prison. At the age of 19 he was sent to Attica, and only 16 days later was a ringleader of the historic 1971 prison rebellion. He then became the only person convicted for Attica. He was listed by former UN Ambassador Andrew Young of the Carter administration as the number one political prisoner in the USA in 1975.
Life has held many experiences for Splitting the Sky. Upon release from prison Splitting the Sky became the Eastern Regional Director of the American Indian Movement. He became involved in a major standoff at Ganiekeh in upstate New York, which became the only liberated part of Turtle Island in the 20th centiry. As well, he founded an organization to unite all Indigenous Peoples into a great confederation, known as the League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations (LISN).
Leonard Peltier of course should be in need of little introduction. He is a carpenter, welder, and a member American Indian Movement (AIM) who has been a political prisoner of the illegal, terrorist settler state of the United States since 1977 because he dared to stand up and say that our people have been, and still are, colonially oppressed in North America.
Prior to his incarceration by the colonial state, Leonard was working with different Native communities and was a community counsellor. During the FBI surveillance, in 1975, that followed the 1973 AIM occupation of Wounded Knee, two federal agents were shot dead at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Peltier was convicted of their murders and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment, despite the prosecution’s misconduct and admission of false evidence, and the fact that no witnesses linked Peltier to the crime. His incarceration continues to draw international attention.
He symbolizes the long history of abuse and repression that my people, the first people of North America, have endured. Peltier, is a member of the Anishinabe (Ojibwa) and Lakota nations, writes, paints, and organizes from behind bars. But for the Powerful, Leonard Peltier’s most serious “crime” is that he seeks to rescue in the past, in his culture, in his roots, the history of his people, the Lakota. And for the powerful, this is a crime, because knowing oneself with history impedes one from being tossed around by this absurd machine that is the colonial system. If Leonard Peltier is guilty, than we are all guilty because we seek out history, and on its shoulders we fight to have a place in the world, a place of dignity and respect, a place for ourselves exactly as we are, which is also, very much as we were.
Harriet Nahanee was a 73 year old residential school survivor, environmental activist, Pacheedaht (part of the Nuu-chah-nulth indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island) Grandmother, Elder, and Warrior. She passed away on February 24, 2007, in the manner that she lived her life, standing strong defending our land and our people. She was a powerful presence who was committed to indigenous education, environmental justice, and indigenous rights. As an Indian Boarding School survivor, Nahanee worked tirelessly to ensure that indigenous education saved what she saw as “the lost generations” and also spoke out about the gendered and cultural impact of Boarding School policies – including rape, murder of babies to hide the evidence, and burial in mass graves, etc. that typified some of the “women’s issues” at Boarding Schools.
She was concerned with re-instilling pride and traditional ways which she saw ran decidedly counter to nation-building in the West and its counter-productive consequences. Harriet died from pneumonia and undiagnosed lung cancer after serving 2 weeks in prison for her part in the 2006 blockade to defend Eagle Bluff, from the expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway, on her husband’s Sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territory. The highway expansion was a key development project for the corrupt Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics.
In her lifetime, Harriet Nahanee was a loyal supporter of AIM Warrior Leonard Peltier, who was extradited from Vancouver in 1976, and convicted of the murder of 2 FBI agents. At the time of her passing Nahanee had been weak from the flu and asthma in January, and it was widely suspected that Nahanee’s condition worsened during her incarceration at the Surrey Pre-Trial Centre. An inquiry into her passing was called for in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia on March 5. Following the completion of the Inquiry, colonial Solicitor-General John Les said the provincial government expressed “regret” for the passing, but as is so often the case denied any settler-government responsibility and refused opposition requests for an inquiry. She was an inspiration to women and activists everywhere. She was defiant and bold to the last minute.
Mary Brave Bird
Mary Ellen Brave Bird was born in 1953 on the Rosebud Lakota reservation in South Dakota. She is a member of the Sicangu Oyate also known as the Burnt Thighs Nation or Brulé Band of the Lakota. She was raised primarily by her grandparents, while her mother was in nursing school and working. Brave Bird was influenced by several traditional relatives, include her granduncle Dick Fool Bull, who introduced her to the Native American Church.
During the 1960s, Brave Bird attended the Roman Catholic run St. Francis Indian School, in St. Francis, South Dakota. In 1971 she was inspired by a talk by Leonard Crow Dog and joined the American Indian Movement (AIM). She participated in such major historical events as the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties and subsequent occupation of the BIA headquarters in Washington, DC. She was also part of the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee.
Mary’s first child, Pedro, was born during the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee. Pedro was the only child born at Wounded Knee during the siege. For her bravery, two medicine men gave her the name Ohitaki Win or Brave Woman. Mary later married AIM spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog. The couple had two sons, Anwah and June Bug, and a daughter, Jennifer. They’ve since divorced, and she has re-married and and divorced again (to Rudi Olguin), also giving birth to two more children, Summer Rose and Rudi. Today is a grandmother and active in the Native American Church,
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
Anna Mae was a Mi’kmaq activist from Nova Scotia who became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) during the early 1970s. She was part of Dennis Banks’ armed underground AIM cell following the Wounded Knee incident. She was found murdered in 1976 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a martyr of the indigenous peoples resistance movement.
When Anna Mae’s body was discovered frozen in 1976, FBI agents who knew her well processed the case. They failed to identify the body, declared her death due to exposure, cut off her hands to send to Washington, D.C. for fingerprinting, and buried the body as “Jane Doe.” After she was identified by fingerprinting, AIM members exhumed the body and demanded a second autopsy, which discovered the gaping bullet hole in her head.
In 2004 the homeless Lakota Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud was tried for murder of Anna Mae. Despite the Federal Bureau of Investigations’s attempt to cover-up ths all up, and their decidedly shady dealings at the 2004 trial, Looking Cloud was still convicted of the shooting death of Anna Mae and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution claimed that Aquash was executed by Looking Cloud and two other AIM members because they thought she was an FBI informant. The FBI is not finished using the Aquash case to go after other AIM members. John Graham, who was extradited from his home in Canada to the United States to stand trial for Anna Mae’s death is now both in jail, having also been convicted. Unfortunately, the case has succeeded in sowing division and uncertainty in the AIM leadership, an outcome surely hoped for by the FBI. To this day no justice shines its light on the grave of Anna Mae.
Leonard Crow Dog
In 1970 Dennis Banks showed up at Crow Dog’s Paradise seeking a spiritual leader for the American Indian Movement. Crow Dog had already been trying to unite people on the reservation to work together on issues that affect Indians. Crow Dog was recruited into AIM and led protests in Rapid City and the town of Custer to demand justice for hate crimes. Meanwhile the atmosphere on the Pine Ridge reservation, which borders Rosebud, became increasingly tense. Neocolonial tribal chairman Dick Wilson, who had been fraudulently elected, was terrorizing anyone who opposed him with a squad of thugs called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs). Residents of Pine Ridge were tired of corruption in tribal government and mistreatment by whites that went unnoticed by the larger society. In 1973 the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge made a dramatic stand at the village of Wounded Knee to demand justice.
The takeover of Wounded Knee had special meaning for Crow Dog because his great-grandfather, Jerome Crow Dog, had been a ghost dancer. Jerome saved several dancers from the massacre at Wounded Knee after receiving a vision. Arriving at the site in 1973, Leonard Crow Dog said, “Standing on the hill where so many people were buried in a common grave, standing there in that cold darkness under the stars, I felt tears running down my face. I can’t describe what I felt. I heard the voices of the long-dead ghost dancers crying out to us.”
Shortly after Wounded Knee, the federal government began prosecuting AIM leaders for various charges. One early September morning of 1975, 185 FBI officers, federal marshals, and SWAT teams showed up at Crow Dog’s Paradise looking for Leonard Peltier. Crow Dog was first taken to the maximum security unit at Leavenworth, he was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks. However, he was moved from one prison to another many times. By the time was released, following a world wide campaign of support, headed up by Vine Deloria Jr., he had already served two years in prison.
Ellen Gabriel is president of Quebec Native Women’s Association. She grew up in the Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke, where her role models included her grandmother, mother and aunts who joined the Native women’s movement to fight for the equality of rights for Native women that were violated by the sexist policies of the Indian Act. A child during the 1960s, the various revolutions that took place at that time inspired her to have an interest in justice and human rights.
She is most famous though for her role during the so-called “Oka Crisis” of 1990, when she joined the members of her community of Kanehsatà:ke as they erected barricades to protect the sacred Pines from the expansion of a golf course in the municipality of Oka. She was chosen by the People of the Longhouse and then by her community to be a spokesperson for them during the ensuing standoff. She has traveled across Canada, and has been to the Hague in Holland and to Strasbourg, France to address the European Parliament on the human rights violations that occurred during the Oka Crisis.
She presently sits as an executive director for Kontinón: stats – a local organization whose mandate is to preserve the Kanien’keha language. In October of 2004, Ellen was elected as the president of Quebec Native Women’s Association.
Howard Adams was an influential twentieth century Metis academic and activist. He was born in St. Louis, Saskatchewan, Canada, on September 8, 1921, the son of a Fraco-Metis mother and an Anglo-Metis father. In his youth he briefly joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Adams became the first Metis in Canada to gain his PhD after studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1966.
His path towards activism was sparked by Malcolm X whom he saw lecture at Berkeley, and the general radical environment of that institution during the 1960s. He was also influenced by the example of his ancestors. His maternal great grandfather was Louis Riel’s lieutenant Maxime Lepine who fought in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.
When he returned to Canada he became a prominent Metis activist in Saskatchewan, often creating controversy by propagating his Marxist and Metis Nationalist views in reference to contemporary and historical events. Adams was often critical not only of Canadian society but of Aboriginal leadership for what he saw as its co-option, and cultivation of dependency by receiving government funding.
Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall
Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall was born on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, Canada on January 15, 1918. He was born to Thomas Hall and Maryann McGregor. Louis was educated by the Catholic priests and at one point himself wanted to be a priest. He said that the only thing that stopped him was the fact that they didn’t make collars big enough for his muscular neck. He is most well known for being the founder and the spiritual leader of the Mohawk Warrior Society.
In the early 1970s, he worked with a group of Longhouse people to evict non-Indian people who were living in Kahnawake. In 1973, Louis left Caughnawaga with a group of other Mohawks from the Longhouse to settle what is known as Ganienkeh in upstate New York. Karoniaktajeh served 19 years as a Mohawk chief, and was a follower of the great Huron statesman, Deganawida, who sought to unify all Indian Nations under one Great Confederacy and devised this message through the Great Law. Louis believed that one should always be prepared to pick up a weapon to defend the rights of the people.
He was always honestly outspoken with his views on what Indians could do to unite and what Indians MUST do to keep their Nations strong without compromising their sovereign rights. Louis Hall loved Indian people – not just Mohawks – and he wanted to see them not only survive, but thrive using the old ways of the Iroquois Confederacy to unite and work together. Although what he says is from the viewpoint of a proud Mohawk, all Indians should be able to find something to bring back hope that old ways are still possible.
On these paths and bridges, all those who gave their lives for our people, both named and even more unnamed, will always have a special place, the best, next to us, who hope to be like them
To all, migwetch. Gi zah gin, gigawabamin menawah.