In February 1973, a group of AIM members took part in a seventy-one day long siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The occupation was in response to the 1890 massacre of at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children by the U.S. Seventh Calvary at a camp near Wounded Knee Creek During the siege, the American Indians occupied the Sacred Heart Church and the Gildersleeve Trading Post. Although periodic negotiations were held between AIM spokesman and U.S. government negotiators, there was shooting from both sides. There were two AIM members killed at Wounded Knee and numerous others were wounded.
The following description of the American Indian Movement was published during the height of activity from the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. to Wounded Knee in South Dakota. The narrative appeared in local American Indian newspapers and flyers:
“WHAT IS THE AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT? Things will never be same again and that is what the American Indian Movement is about … They are respected by many, hated by some, but they are never ignored … They are the catalyst for Indian Sovereignty … They intend to raise questions in the minds of all, questions that have gone to sleep in the minds of Indians and non-Indian alike … From the outside, AIM people are tough people, they had to be … AIM was born out of the dark violence of police brutality and voiceless despair of Indian people in the courts of Minneapolis, Minnesota … AIM was born because a few knew that it was enough, enough to endure for themselves and all others like them who were people without power or rights … AIM people have known the insides of jails; the long wait; the no appeal of the courts for Indians, because many of them were there … From the inside AIM people are cleansing themselves; many have returned to the old traditional religions of their tribes, away from the confused notions of a society that has made them slaves of their own unguided lives … AIM is first, a spiritual movement, a religious re-birth, and then the re-birth of dignity and pride in a people … AIM succeeds because they have beliefs to act upon … The American Indian Movement is attempting to connect the realities of the past with the promise of tomorrow … They are people in a hurry, because they know that the dignity of a person can be snuffed by despair and a belt in a cell of a city jail … They know that the deepest hopes of the old people could die with them … They know that the Indian way is not tolerated in White America, because it is not acknowledged as a decent way to be … Sovereignty, Land, and Culture cannot endure if a people is not left in peace … The American Indian Movement is then, the Warriors Class of this century, who are bound to the bond of the Drum, who vote with their bodies instead of their mouths … THEIR BUSINESS IS HOPE”.
Words and thoughts by Birgil Kills Straight, Oglala Lakota Nation. Author, Richard LaCourse, Director, American Indian Press Association 1973.
During the stand-off Marlon Brando asked a Native American woman, Sacheen Littlefeather to speak at the Oscars on his behalf, refusing the Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. She appeared in full Apache clothing. She stated that owing to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry” Mr. Brando would not accept the award. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. This was considered a major event and victory for the movement by its supporters and participants.