by Liberty Finch
Long before greedy U.S. administrations and power-addicted neo-con militants were thumbing their noses at international treaties or bombing the shit out of places like Vietnam or the Middle East, the government was engaged in domestic campaigns to oppress or eradicate indigenous populations right in its own back yard. Anyone who can read between the lines of a homogenized classroom history text knows that the European white man stole this country from the native peoples who had inhabited the land, respectfully and peacefully, for thousands of years.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a major civil rights movement in U.S.
history. Founded in 1968, AIM is a spiritual, cultural, social, economic and
political movement that has given voice to Indian people whose modern day struggles
have included, among other things, discrimination, police brutality and property
Paul native Dick Bancroft has been photographing AIM for decades. A pictorial
history of his work entitled Hanta Po—All of You Get Out of My Way
is currently on display at Ancient Traders Gallery. The work is a profound
collection of images—a mixture of portraiture and photojournalism—that
captures the rich history of a national organization that originated right here
in the Twin Cities.
Included are photos of many of AIM’s founders: Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon
Bellecourt, Bill Means and Dennis Banks; as well as a series of portraits of
the stoic and dignified Leonard Peltier from his cell in Levinworth State Penitentiary.
Bancroft may have been snapping pictures as a means to document the movement
and its players, but the results portray an intense history that captures the
inspiration and determination of activists committed to the struggle for social
As Bill Means said, “It’s one thing to protest, and another to provide
and work for a solution.” AIM worked tirelessly to promote civil rights
for its people, and Bancroft captures the passion of the movement at events
like the occupation of the abandoned building at the Naval Air Station in Minneapolis;
the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan that traversed the country; the Longest
Walk to Washington, D.C., and conferences and summits in the United States and
“Listening to the Testimony on Sterilization of Indian Women” was
taken at the United Nations Conference on Indigenous People and the Land in
Geneva, Switzerland, in 1981. The photo is a close-up of a young Native American
woman sitting with hands clasped at her chin, headphone cupped at her ear, looking
off to the side—a blank expression on her face, save for the tears streaming
down her cheeks. It’s one of the most powerful images in the entire collection.
AIM’s successes are plentiful: passage of the American Indian Religious
Freedom Act and championing other organizations such as Little Earth of United
Tribes Housing, Heart of the Earth Survival School, the Indian Health Board
and more. Bancroft’s contribution is a pictorial legacy that, visually,
could be the best civil rights history lesson you never had.
Bancroft’s work is not for sale. His purpose is to document a movement
and educate people on the continued struggle of America’s indigenous populations.
His photography collection is a rich, respectful and compelling contribution
to the American Indian Movement. ||
Hanta Po runs through July 9 at Ancient Traders Gallery, 1113 E.
Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-870-7555.Gallery hours are Wed.–Sat. noon–6