(Originally posted 2001; last updated May 2012)
This lesson plan is designed to be integrated into a historical, social, and political discussion about the Civil Rights Movement and political activism during the 1960s and 1970s. Because it provides a case study of American Indian activism before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement, it is essential that students already understand the goals and accomplishments of Civil Rights activists. The optimal length of this plan is 6 days, but suggestions for extending it are included in the Note to the Teacher sections throughout the site. The lesson focuses on two historical case studies - the takeover of Alcataz and the 1973-76 actions at Pine Ridge Reservation - to illustrate the course of Indian activism during the Red Power era.
Grade Level and Standards: The lesson is especially focused on high school topics related to the 11th grade California standards. (See Standards listed at the end of this guide). The contents can be adapted for middle and elementary school students.
Objectives: The student will be able to
- Understand the historical chronology of Indian activism.
- Analyze and interpret the goals, demands, actions, and achievements of American Indian activists of the 1960s and 1970s.
- Understand at least two case studies of Indian activism in the late 20th century.
- Understand the legacy of the Red Power Movement in Indian Country.
Academic Language (words or phrases with which students should be familiar will be in red, bold print the first time they appear in the text of the lesson): activism, justice, protest, negotiation, compromise, legal remedy, civil rights, Red Power, assimilate, sovereignty, confederation, pagan
Note to the Teacher: This lesson could be used in several ways in your classroom. The two most obvious would be:
- to use the lesson to either begin or end a civil rights unit as it introduces the idea of activism and protest in Indian Country or
- to use this lesson as part of a comprehensive discussion of the history of federal Indian policy from the late 18th Century through the 20th Century.
In the first case, you would proceed directly with the lessons below on Indian activism. In the second case, you would preceed this discussion of Indian activism with the lesson plan on "Federal Indian Policy" that can be accessed at http://americanindiantah.com/lesson_plans/FederalIndianPolicy.html
Introduction: The Red Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s consisted of organized Indian resistance to almost 200 years of federal policies that attempted to destroy Indian culture and spirituality, to assimilate Indians into the non-Indian political and economic structure, and to dismantle Indian sovereignty. As we will see over the next week, the influence and successes of the Red Power movement is apparent in the continuing activism of American Indians throughout the United States
Hook: When students enter the room, divide the class into three groups, each of which will be assigned one of three questions. The assignment and questions should be projected, included in a power point, or written on the board as follows:
Each group will take 10 minutes to discuss the following:
- Group two - What is activism? How is it different or the same as protest? How would you describe someone who is an activist? A protester?
- Group two - What is justice? Does every American have the right to seek justice? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Group three - Describe an issue about which you are passionate. Would be willing to become politically active about this issue? To what lengths would you go with your activism?
After students have conferred for 10 minutes, have each group report out. Then, launch into the next part of the discussion as follows:
Lesson Content: These words - activism, protest, justice - will play a major role in our discussion this week. We have looked at some basic definitions and discussed our ideas about activism, protest, and justice. Now, we want to extend those ideas into our understanding of American Indian history. Discussion:
Lesson Content: These words - activism, protest, justice - will play a major role in our discussion this week as we continue to fill this gap in our educational knowledge. We have already studied federal Indian policies and for the rest of this week, we will examine Indian activism that arose in response to such policies.
Note to the Teacher: If you choose to have your students take notes during this discussion, you may want to introduce or review Cornell note taking with your students. Or, you may want to think about using a Mind Map or the Squeeze notetaking approach, You can learn more about all three note taking methods if you click here.
Indian activism has been a prominent feature of American history since the Europeans first landed in North America. Indians have since been activists as they attempted to keep the white settlers from taking their land and destroying their exercise of cultural, spiritual, political, and economic traditions. Most of these efforts were on behalf of individual Indian nations, or small confederations of Indian nations, and, thus, did not consist of a united effort on behalf of many Indian nations. It was not until the 20th century that Indian activism took place on a national level - activism that sometimes did and often did not capture the attention of mainstream America.It is this more contemporary, 20th Century national activism that we are going to address over the next several days. During the 1940s and '50s, American Indian activism primarily stressed negotiation, compromise, and a preference for legal remedies.
These three legal approaches to activism were primarily directed by the oldest national Indian organization - the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). The NCAI, founded in 1944, restricted its membership to persons of "Indian ancestry" who were members of any "Indian tribe, band or community of Indians." The men and women who founded NCAI represented tribes from 27 states. According to its constitution, NCAI sought "to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian race; to preserve Indian cultural values; to seek an equitable adjustment of tribal affairs, to secure and to preserve Indian rights under Indian treaties with the United States; and otherwise to promote the common welfare of the American Indians."
During a 1961 meeting of the NCAI, several hundred Indians met in Chicago to discuss how they could influence the incoming administration of President John F. Kennedy. The participants issued a statement that prayed for a new federal policy that would fulfill long standing federal commitments to Indians, but NCAI did not assert any Indian rights or raise the real concerns of Indians on the reservation.
Thus it was that a number of young Indian people who attended the conference became disillusioned with the NCAI and decided to organize a new group - the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). Its primary goal was to resurrect a sense of national pride among young Indian people and its message was clearly activist - Indians were no longer to bow their heads in humble obedience to the BIA and other institutions of white society. Instead, they were to look back to their own great cultural traditions and make decisions about their lives based upon such traditions.
While NIYC was growing, so was a new generation of Indians who were largely young and college-educated, and were proud of their Indian heritage, unwilling to accept white paternalism, and contemptuous of white society. Increasingly, they began appearing at university seminars, joining the NIYC, and attending hearings of federal agencies whose affairs touched Indian life.
On February 2, 1967, the President of the NIYC, Clyde Warrior who was a young Ponca Indian from eastern Oklahoma, testified at a hearing of the President's National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty. Let's read a few excerpts from Clyde Warrior's speech, "We are not free."
Note to the Teacher: You may want to abridge the speech.
- How does the history of the federal government's involvement with American Indians contribute to the "poverty of spirit" that Warrior describes?
- Do you agree with Warrior's statement that American Indians were not free in 1967? Explain. Are they more free today? How and why?
What is it about the American school system that passes judgment on American Indians and makes them feel as if they are not worthy?
- If you felt like Clyde Warrior, would you join an activist organization in order to improve your life, as well as the lives of your family?
By 1967, Clyde Warrior and other activists had become frustrated with the membership and mindset of the NCAI. Warrior and his supporters favored creating regional organizations of activists who would speak out against the rule in Washington, D.C. and defend the position of traditional Indians across the nation.
- Who were the traditional Indians? What do you think were their goals in the late 1960s? (Traditional Indian people - some of whom were and others of whom were not Indian activists - largely agreed with Clyde Warrior's beliefs. They demanded a return to basic Indian philosophy, the re-establishment of ancient governmental systems run by open council instead of elected officials, a revival of Indian religions, the replacement of white laws with Indian customs. In other words, they wanted the freedom to choose to return to the ways of the old people, the traditional Indians.)
- Do you think all Indians were traditional? (No, there were many Indians on federally-recognized Indian reservations and in urban areas who were more closely associated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Thus, the Indians of many nations were divided among themselves between those who favored a return to the traditional ways and those who favored continuing under the federal supervision and guidance of the BIA.)
This interest in activism, this rejection of white privilege, and this search for freedom within communities coincided with the early origins of the Civil Rights Movement which was erupting across the southern United States. To get a better understanding of the full scope of Indian activism in the 20th Century, let's look at this selected chronology of events at http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/TAH/ActivistChronology.html.
Tomorrow we are going to begin a more detailed discussion of two of these events - the 1968 takeover of Alcatraz Island and the 1973-76 activities at Pine Ridge Reservation.
Introduction: For the past two days, we have learned some of the history of Indian activism. For the next few days, we are going to examine two case studies of activism in more detail - the 1968 takeover of Alcatraz Island and the 1973-76 activities at Pine Ridge Reservation.
Hook: Take a look at these two photographs.
These pictures were taken in 1969 on Alcatraz Island. We are going to learn more about what happened on Alcatraz as we continue our discussion about Red Power.
Lesson Content: As we have already learned, by the late 1960s, a small group of young American Indians were tired of dealing with the federal system that had oppressed them for years. These activists - soon to be known as Red Power advocates - rejected the activist strategies of their predecessors - negotiation, compromise, and legal remedies - and instead moved into the more militant, radical arena of protest actions. The actual words "Red Power' were first used in public gatherings of Indian activists in the mid-1960s and was most likely coined by the late Vine Deloria, one of the nation's leading American Indian scholars (seen in the picture below.)
The movement began as many young, urban, and relatively well-educated Indian leaders articulated a list of historical grievances and demanded mitigation for violated treaties, illegal appropriation and misuse of Indian land, neglect of basic social needs, and the political and cultural compromises of tribal leadership.
Additionally, activists criticized federal courts which generally refused to grant civil justice to Indian land claims; local and state courts as well as law enforcement officials which often treated Indians as aliens; and the deplorable social and economic conditions faced by Indian across the nation - the infant mortality rate among Indians was the highest in the nation, and over half of all Indians could not read and write English.
What the newly-organized Indian activists sought in the 1960s were four specific goals:
We will see how Indian activists sought to achieve these goals in the two most well-known examples of Red Power - the takeover of Alcatraz and the incident at Pine Ridge Reservation.
Alcatraz - A Case Study of Indian Activism
One of the first actions designed to meet these goals was the November 9, 1969 takeover of Alcatraz Island. The occupation was planned by Richard Oakes and a group of Indian students living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thus, it was initially made up of young urban Indian students who had moved from the reservation to urban areas. Since many different tribes were represented, the name "Indians of All Tribes" was adopted for the group. On November 9th, they claimed the island in the name of Indians of all tribes.
Note to the Teacher: If you are interested in a more detailed historical approach to the story of the Alcatraz take over, see the "Selected Historical Chronology of Indian Presence at Alcatraz" at http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/TAH/Alcatraz.html
In meetings following the occupation, Oakes and his fellow American Indian students realized that a prolonged occupation was possible. Oakes then visited the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA where he recruited Indian students for what would become the longest prolonged occupation of a federal facility by Indian people to this very day. Eighty Indian students from UCLA were among the approximately 100 Indian people who occupied Alcatraz Island for 19 months.
One of the first actions of the Indian occupants was delivering the Alcatraz Proclamation in which they proposed to " purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island.
Group Assignment: Pass out copies of the Alcatraz Proclamation to each student. Give them 10 minutes to read the Proclamation and mark any questions, academic language, or important points they can find. Then, ask them to work in pairs to discuss the following:
Students should report their findings to the class and together, determine why Alcatraz became the occupation site, what the Indians of all Nations proposed to do with the land, and whether or not they think the federal government should have ceded Alcatraz to the Indian occupants. When done, move back to the discussion so that students can understand how the federal government actually responded to the take over.
The federal government initially responded to the occupation by adopting a position of non-interference. The FBI was directed to remain clear of the island. The Coast Guard was directed not to interfere, and the Government Services Administration (GSA) was instructed not to remove the Indians from the island. While it appeared to those on the island that negotiations were actually taking place, in fact, the federal government was playing a waiting game, hoping that support for the occupation would subside and those on the island would elect to end the occupation.
The situation became tense in January 1971 after two oil tankers collided in the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Though it was acknowledged that the lack of an Alcatraz light or fog horn played no part in the collision, it was enough to push the federal government into action. President Nixon gave the go ahead to develop a removal plan - to take place when the smallest number of people were on the island and to use as little force as possible.
On June 10, 1971, armed federal marshals, FBI agents, and special forces police swarmed the island and removed five women, four children, and six unarmed Indian men. The occupation was over.
- Which, if any, of the goals were achieved by Indian activisits on Alcatraz? (Remember, two of the major goals of the Indians on Alcatraz were to awaken the American public to the reality of the plight of the first Americans and to assert the need for Indian self-determination. Thus, they achieved two of their four goals.)
- Do you think the occupation of Alcatraz would be considered a success or a failure by the Indian activists? (The success or failure of the occupation should not be judged by whether the demands of the occupiers were realized. As a result of the occupation, either directly or indirectly, the official government policy of termination of Indian tribes was ended and a policy of Indian self-determination became the official US government policy. Furthermore, Indian people were presented sympathetically in the press and thus their goal to achieve public attention was realized.)
In addition to the publicity achieved by the Alcatraz take over, another group of Indian activists - some of whom were involved in Alcatraz - was beginning to achieve a great deal of attention. The American Indian Movement (AIM), co-founded by Chippewa Indian organizer Dennis J. Banks, begun in 1968 in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Within a few months of its founding AIM started to get active in the Sioux country of North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
The most visible national effort in which AIM emerged in a leadership position occurred in November 1972 when AIM members and other Indian activists traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Trail of Broken Treaties. They were armed with a 20-point proposal for revising the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be more responsive to the needs of Indian people and a request to establish a government commission to review treaty violations.
But AIM remained virtually unknown to most of the public until its involvement on the Pine Ridge Reservation between 1973-1976.
Pine Ridge Reservation - A Case Study of Red Power
For several decades prior to the 1970s, a conflict had been brewing at Pine Ridge Reservation - the historical site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and home to the Oglala Sioux.
Note to the Teacher: It might be worth 15-30 minutes to introduce students to the Oglala Sioux and the Pine Ridge Reservation. Some information is available at http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/TAH/Lakota.html. Either way, continue with the information below that explains the setting for the violence that occurred on the reservation in early 1973.
- What was the conflict that was brewing between the Oglala tribal council and the traditional Indians?
- Why were traditional Indians suspcious of the BIA?
- Based upon this information, what can you predict might happen at Pine Ridge Reservation?
Let's find out of our predictions about what will happen at Pine Ridge Reservation are accurate. Beginning in early 1973 upon the request of many traditional Indians at Pine Ridge, AIM activists arrived on the reservation.
We are going to learn more about what happened at Pine Ridge after AIM arrived and this will provide us with an excellent case study of the Red Power Movement. And we begin this study with the excellent film, Wounded Knee Incident 1973 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yFr5groCJg
Note to the Teacher: This video is approximately 70 minutes. It is best to show it in sections by stopping the film at certain points, asking questions, and continuing on to the end. The following discussion is set up to accommodate this type of learning environment.
Discussion questions for the first 6:53 minutes of the film:
Discussion questions for 6:54 - 17:40:
Discussion questions for 17:41 - 32:00:
Discussion questions for 32:01 - 42:05:
Note to the Teacher: If you are interested in extending this lesson to include a discussion of boarding schools, see the lesson plan on this website at http://americanindiantah.com/lesson_plans/ml_boardingschools.html
Discussion questions for 42:06 - 1:14:48:
- How and why were the AIM efforts at Pine Ridge part of the "spiritual movement" to retain Indian culture and traditon?
- How would you describe the Indian Relocation program of the 1950s? What were the consequences for most of the 100,000 Indian people who agreed to be involved in Relocation?
- What led to the end of the occupation by Indian activists?
- What happened in the three years following the seige?
- Why did AIM loose its impact after 1975?
- Some historians have argued that Pine Ridge was the location of a major civil war. Do you agree or disagree?
- Wounded Knee II was the longest armed conflict in the US since the Civil War, so why do you think we don't we learn about it in our history textbooks?
- Would you describe what happened at Wounded Knee as a success or a failure for the American Indian activists? Provide evidence for your opinion.
Now, let's try to review what happened at Pine Ridge was examining this chronology - http://americanindiantah.com/AIMPineRidgeRes.html. After reviewing the chronology, ask for any questions students might have about what happened before, during, and after the incidents at Pine Ridge between 1973-76. Make sure they understand the role of the Red Power Movement in both case studies of Alcatraz and Pine Ridge as this understanding will be essential to the final assignment on the legacy of the Red Power Movement.
This is the point in our discussion where we have to ask some important questions - How effective was the Red Power Movement? Do you think it achieved its primary goals of Indian self-determination, the return of tribal traditions and sovereignty, media and public attention, and better living conditions and justice for Indian Peoples?
Class Assignment: Divide the students into even numbers of groups ofstudents each - so, for example, 8 groups of 4 for a class of 32 students.
Groups will be given a day to find the appropriate evidence from materials used in class as well as other primary and secondary resources to back up their position. On the second day, each group will present their findings. The teacher will write the findings on the board and at the end of the discussion, help the students condense their findings into 3-4 major points for both sides.
By the end of the discussion, it should be clear that the answer to the questions are both yes and no.
2. No, we must also answer "No" in terms of absolutes. Changes have come and are continuing to come, but they have been slow. Especially slow has been the federal government's willingness to remove barriers in the way of American Indian Nations' full exercise of sovereignty. Changes will continue to evolve throughout the 21st Century as long as Indian activism stays alive and non-Indians continue to have a better understanding of the issues facing Indian Country today.
Deloria, Vine Jr. Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999
Johnson, Troy, Joane Nagel and Duane Champagne. American Indian Activism. (Chicago, University of Illinois Press: 1997.)
Matthiessen, Peter. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (NY: Penguin, 1992)
Miller, Robert J. Native America, Discovered and Conquered
This lesson plan coincides with at least seven components of the California History - Social Studies Standards:
11.1.2 Students analyze...the history of the Constitution after 1787 with emphasis on federal versus state authority.
11.3.1 Students analyze...the contributions of various religious groups to American civic principles and social reform movements.
11.3.3 Students analyze...incidences of religious intolerance in the US
11.6.4 Students analyze...the effects and controversies of New Deal economic policies and the expanded role of the federal government in society and the economy since the 1930s.
Parts I and IIII address the manner in which the federal government influenced the economic, political, and social lives of Indians throughout the 20th Century.
11.10.2 Students analyze...the key events, policies, and court cases in the evolution of civil rights.
Parts II and III of the lesson plan discuss the Termination Act and relocation policy of the 1950s and how such federal policies resulted in the growth of the urban Indian population.
11.10.5 Students analyze...the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of the quest of American Indians.,..for civil rights and equal opportunities.
Part III traces the Red Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and how it affected the civil rights of American Indian Peoples.
11.11.6 Students analyze... the persistence of poverty and how different analyses of this issue influence welfare reform, health insurance reform, and other social policies.
Part III discusses contemporary Indian activist efforts to improve the social, political, and economic situation in Indian Country today.