UNL’s AIM: A Brief History of the American Indian Movement And its Influence on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Handbook, TONIC

TONIC Handbook (18)

Proposal page, TONIC

TONIC Resource Proposal 1973

Jake Borgmann, History 250: The Historian Craft, Spring 2019

The late 1960s and early 1970s brought about great change to the United States. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement stirred many Americans into action, including the nation’s forgotten minority. Native Americans that came together into urban centers following the Termination and Relocation Acts sought change through the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM would prove impactful throughout the country from 1969 to 1975, and affected many liberal institutions such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). In response to AIM, UNL pushed for more progressive policies regarding race and Native Americans. Despite their early impact however, AIM’s efforts and influence ultimately died out with time, but UNL’s AIM inspired policies continue to live on to this day.

The American Indian Movement’s inception can be credited to the Termination Act of 1953 and the Relocation Act of 1956. During World War II, 44,000 Native Americans, 10% of the entire US Indian population, participated in the war. [1] Because of their efforts, many Americans began to recognize Native Americans, as fellow Americans. Believing that Native Americans were finally ready to assimilate into the American lifestyle, the federal government ushered in a new era of Indian policy.

First to come out of this desire was the Termination Act of 1953 which ended the reservation system of the time. The idea was to subject Native Americans to state and federal laws as well as grant them all the rights and benefits of being an American citizen. Consequently, the Termination Act also meant that Native American nations would no longer be federally recognized and would no longer receive federal aid. The Relocation Act of 1956 furthered the new Indian policy by sending Native Americans from various reservations to urban centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Minneapolis. These urban Native Americans faced poor housing conditions, redlining, segregation, and discrimination. Seeking assistance and community, urban Native Americans came together to discuss the troubles that plagued them. In Minneapolis, this convening of urban Native Americans directly led to the formation of the American Indian Movement. [2]

Since its inception in 1968, the American Indian Movement has focused on Native American spirituality, leadership, and affirmation. AIM speaks out against unemployment, housing, and discrimination, while simultaneously advocating for tribal rights. Historically, AIM has sponsored many protests throughout the United States in order to garner publicity and support. Some of the group’s most impactful protests were the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972, and the Wounded Knee Incident in 1973.[3]

Back in 1969, Alcatraz was not the tourist destination it is today, and was instead abandoned federal property. In accordance to the Treaty of Fort Laramie, AIM made its debut and legally occupied the island, declaring it Indian land. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was an agreement made between the US federal government and the Sioux nation in 1868 that, in part, returned all retired federal land to Native Americans. The Occupation made national news and lasted over a year and a half. Alcatraz’s occupiers published newsletters and even broadcasted their own radio program. The Occupation of Alcatraz only came to an end after federal officers cut off the island’s access to power and water and then forcibly removed the remaining inhabitants in 1971. [5]

Less than a year later in 1972, the American Indian Movement made plans for another large protest to attain media coverage. Wishing to bring attention to the decades of unfulfilled treaties made between Native Americans and the federal government, AIM devised the Trail of Broken Treaties. The Trail of Broken Treaties began with Native Americans gathering in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Rapid City to form seven caravans. These caravans then headed east towards Washington DC, growing in size as they traveled. The Trail of Broken Treaties brought together the largest group of Native American protesters in history to Washington DC, and just one week before the presidential election of Richard Nixon. AIM put together the Twenty Points Position Paper that detailed the group’s goals, which particularly featured the re-envisionment of Indian-federal treaty making. AIM had hoped to present it to the federal government. Once it was made clear that the government had no intention of reviewing the Twenty Points, the caravans protested by seizing the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and burning many of its documents. After a three day standoff, government officials heard AIM’s requests and negotiated the future of Indian treaty making.[6]

The last of AIM’s major protests came about in 1973 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Wounded Knee is a town within the Pine Ridge Reservation and also the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. AIM chose to occupy Wounded Knee in remembrance of the 300 Lakota Sioux murdered there in 1890. AIM’s mission was to yet again bring recognition to numerous treaties that the federal government had broken, as well as see the removal of Dick Wilson as chairman of the Oglala Sioux. Dick Wilson was a half blood that was believed to have been unfairly representing full blooded Oglala Sioux. The occupation quickly turned into a siege led by federal marshals and the National Guard. The federal government cut off supplies, electricity, and water from the Native Americans at Wounded Knee, and throughout the 71 day siege both sides fired upon one another. Ultimately, the Wounded Knee Incident brought once again nationwide attention to AIM and the Native American struggle, but at the cost of two AIM members’ lives and the paralyzation of one US marshal. [7]

The Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Incident, among other Native American protests and demonstrations, brought attention to many of the various issues plaguing Native Americans and inspired several liberal institutions to take action. One such institution was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In accordance to Section 19 of UNL’s Charter, the university has always admitted students and faculty of all races, and since its founding, has always had a small Native American community.[8] In order to support their fellow Indian Cornhuskers on campus and across the state, UNL’s faculty and student body took action by creating TONIC, publishing articles about AIM in the Daily Nebraskan, and partaking in support protests.

Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children (TONIC) was a UNL sponsored teaching program established in late 1969.9 It was no coincidence TONIC was formed during the Occupation of Alcatraz. The Occupation garnered national attention and forced many Americans to rethink the way Native Americans were viewed and treated. TONIC began with UNL trained tutors traveling to the nearby Winnebago Reservation and the Omaha Reservation to directly teach Indian children.[11] The tutors were volunteers consisting of students primarily from UNL, but also from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and the Concordia Teachers College.[12] Later, TONIC was made into a two-credit hour course, and each volunteer was educated in historic and contemporary Indian culture to better understand their students.[13] By 1974, UNL Chancellor James H. Zumberge considered TONIC to, “(1) Supplement the education each child is receiving in school, and (2) To develop comradeship with the child involved.”[14] While TONIC was the most hands on initiative UNL’s students and faculty led to support Native Americans, it was not the only one.

More of AIM’s influence on UNL and Lincoln, Nebraska in general was seen on November 7, 1972 during the Trail of Broken Treaties. The Lincoln AIM chapter led by A-Go Sheridan issued a support protest at the Lincoln capitol building. The protest was attended by 35 Lincoln Native Americans, as well as some UNL students and other Lincolnites who joined in. The goal of the protest was to both show support and garner attention for the Trail of Broken Treaties protest going on at the same time in Washington DC. The Lincoln Trail of Broken Treaties support protest was featured in the UNL newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan.[15]

The Daily Nebraskan was another important aspect of UNL that was influenced by the American Indian Movement. From AIM’s peak years of 1969 to 1975, the Daily Nebraskan published numerous articles highlighting the movement’s endeavors. The Daily Nebraskan helped to inform UNL students of protests such as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the Wounded Knee Incident. The Daily Nebraskan also helped spread news about the UNL Council of American Indian Students.[16]

The Council was formed in 1970, similarly to TONIC, during the Occupation of Alcatraz. UNL’s Council of American Indian Students served as a platform for Native Americans to convene and work together. The Council also sponsored an annual event called Indian Awareness Week. Indian Awareness Week invited all of UNL’s students and faculty to learn about both historic and contemporary Indian culture, as well as view an intertribal powwow.[17]

While the American Indian Movement acted across the United States and received national news media coverage multiple times, by 1976, the group’s influence had dwindled. From 1969 to 1975, AIM was a household name. Everyone had heard about the group’s Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Incident. AIM brought to light many of the issues Native Americans faced and forced Americans to reevaluate the American Indian. Today, AIM still exists, but continues on as a lobbyist group. While the American Indian Movement of the early 70s is long gone, their impact still lives on today, and it lives on at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

AIM lives on at UNL through UNITE, Native American Heritage Month, and the powwow. The UNL Council of American Indian Students was largely replaced by UNITE, the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange. UNITE is made up of both Native American and non-Native American students. The group serves to empower and promote Native American students and to share Indian culture with the rest of UNL. UNITE helps sponsor events for Native American Heritage Month in November and has continued on the tradition of hosting an annual powwow. While the powwow was discontinued for a time at UNL due to financial reasons, UNITE successfully brought the event back in 2016 and has worked hard to ensure the event remains an annual occurrence.[18]

The American Indian Movement saw a golden age from 1969 to 1975 and reshaped the way Native Americans were perceived. AIM garnered national attention through protests like the Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Incident. With publicity and a message deserving of it, AIM greatly impacted liberal institutions across the United States, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AIM inspired UNL to create racially progressive programs like TONIC and the Council of Native American Students. While the revolutionary Indian group’s influence died out with time, the American Indian Movement’s legacy continues to live on today at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Endnotes:

  1. Lincoln Riddle. "Much More Than Code Talking - The Role of Native Americans in World War II." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. September 27, 2017.
  2. Levanne R. Hendrix. "1953 to 1969: Policy of Termination and Relocation." Stanford Ethnogeriatrics. March 05, 2014; "LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview." Overview - American Indian Movement (AIM) - LibGuides at Minnesota Historical Society Library. February 06, 2019.
  3.  Laura W. Wittstock, and Elaine J. Salinas. "A Brief History of the American Indian Movement." AIMovement; "LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview."
  4. Alcatraz Proclamation and Letter | Indians of All Tribes (December 1969). For the purposes of the paper, neither the Alcatraz Proclamation or Letter are used instead the brief history of the event provided at the beginning of the site is used.
  5.  Jason A. Hepler "Framing Red Power: Newspaper Coverage and the Trail of Broken Treaties." Framing Red Power. 2009; Brenda Norrell. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca." Censored News. December 27, 2013.
  6.  John E. Carter "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE. 2011; Chertoff, Emily. "Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement." The Atlantic. October 23, 2012; Brenda Norrell. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca."
  7.  UNL Charter. Section 19. February 19, 1869. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  8.  James H. Zumberge. Chancellor Correspondence. Letter from Chancellor Zumberge to “Colleague” discussing TONIC and charity for the organization. April 15, 1974. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3.
  9. N. Higgins, J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook. Photo of four TONIC students. 1972. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page VIII.
  10.  James H. Zumberge. Chancellor Correspondence.
  11. Higgins, N., J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook. Introduction. 1973. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page IX-X.
  12. James H. Zumberge; N. Higgins, J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook.
  13.  James H. Zumberge.
  14.  A.J. McClanahan "AIMed Support." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), November 8, 1972. Page 9
  15.  "Nebraska Newspapers-The Daily Nebraskan." Nebraska Newspapers « Search Results "American Indian Movement". University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Page 1-3
  16.  "Indians Perceive Education as Goal of Awareness Week." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), April 6, 1973. Page 9
  17.  "UNITE Brings the Native American Powwow Back to UNL." RSO Newsletter. 2016; "UNITE|University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange." NVOLVE U 2.0.
  18. N. Higgins, J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook. Photo of TONIC Handbook. 1973. University Archives & Special Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3.

Bibliography:

  • Alcatraz Proclamation and Letter | Indians of All Tribes (December 1969). Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/alcatrazproclamationandletter.html.
  • For the purposes of the paper, neither the Alcatraz Proclamation or Letter are used instead the brief history of the event provided at the beginning of the site is used.
  • Carter, John E. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE. 2011. Accessed April 10, 2019. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.war.056.
  • Chertoff, Emily. "Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement." The Atlantic. October 23, 2012. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/occupy-wounded-knee-a-71-day-siege-and-a-forgotten-civil-rights-movement/263998/.
  • Hendrix, Levanne R. "1953 to 1969: Policy of Termination and Relocation." Stanford Ethnogeriatrics. March 05, 2014. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/american_indian/learning_activities/learning_1/termination_relocation.html.
  • Heppler, Jason A. "Framing Red Power: Newspaper Coverage and the Trail of Broken Treaties." Framing Red Power. 2009. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.framingredpower.org/narrative/tbt/.
  • Higgins N., Thorson J., Weiland M.. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook. Introduction. 1973. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3.
  • Higgins N., Thorson J., Weiland M.. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook. Photo of four TONIC students. 1972. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page VIII.
  • "Indians Perceive Education as Goal of Awareness Week." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), April 6, 1973. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/1973-04-06/ed-1/seq-9/#words=American Indian Movement.
  •  "LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview." Overview - American Indian Movement (AIM) - LibGuides at Minnesota Historical Society Library. February 06, 2019. Accessed April 03, 2019. http://libguides.mnhs.org/aim.
  •  McClanahan, A.J. "AIMed Support." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), November 8, 1972. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/1972-11-08/ed-1/seq-9/#words=American Indian Movement.
  •  "Nebraska Newspapers-The Daily Nebraskan." Nebraska Newspapers « Search Results "American Indian Movement". University of Nebraska Lincoln. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/search/pages/results/?city=&rows=20&searchType=basic&proxtext=American Indian Movement.
  •  Norrell, Brenda. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca." Censored News. December 27, 2013. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2013/12/in-memory-carter-camp-ponca.html.
  •  "Nov. 25, 1969." Digital image. 1969-1971: The Occupation of Alcatraz. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://mashable.com/2016/11/13/occupation-of-alcatraz/#DDpS989VhSqd.
  •  Riddle, Lincoln. "Much More Than Code Talking - The Role of Native Americans in World War II." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. September 27, 2017. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/much-more-than-code-talking-the-role-of-native-americans-in-world-war-ii-x.html.
  •  "UNITE Brings the Native American Powwow Back to UNL." RSO Newsletter. 2016. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/rso/5239/29894.
  •  "UNITE|University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange." NVOLVE U 2.0. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://orgsync.com/141067/chapter.
  •  UNL Charter. Section 19. February 19, 1869. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • Wittstock, Laura W., and Elaine J. Salinas. "A Brief History of the American Indian Movement." AIMovement. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.aimovement.org/ggc/history.html.
  •  Wolfe, Shelby. Members of the Auxiliary American Legion at the 20170 Academic Achievement Powwow sponsored by the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange. Digital image. The Daily Nebraskan. April 22, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2019. http://www.dailynebraskan.com/news/unite-powwow-honors-graduating-native-american-students-with-music-dance/article_85bdecb0-aaf9-11e2-875b-001a4bcf6878.html.
  •  Zumberge, James H.. Chancellor Correspondence. Letter from Chancellor Zumberge to “Colleague” discussing TONIC. April 15, 1974. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3.
UNL’s AIM: A Brief History of the American Indian Movement And its Influence on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln