The American Indian Movement, an organization of Native Americans, began more than 30 years ago in Minnesota and quickly became a militant thorn in the side of the United States government. The group took over Alcatraz in 1969 and a dam and an abandoned naval air station in 1970, marched on Washington and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1972, and finally became involved in a standoff with federal agents at Wounded Knee in 1973.
And in case you forgot, some of these actions worked. The dam takeover won back 25,000 acres of land for Native Americans; the BIA occupation resulted in the presentation of AIM's 20-point manifesto to President Richard Nixon; and the Native Americans involved at Wounded Knee were acquitted after an eight-month trial -- during which U.S. District Judge Fred Nichols said that government misconduct toward Native Americans had been so widespread that "the waters of justice have been polluted."
And while the days of occupying federal lands are gone, AIM's direction these days is just as important, and its role in Florida has just begun to take shape. The 16th Anniversary Florida AIM Conference is only the second that is open to the public. (The first was last year's event in Melbourne.) This year's meeting begins Friday at the Friends Meeting House in Lake Worth. The focus of the movement here in South Florida is on providing adequate protection to indigenous cemeteries as well as addressing police brutality and violations of the Indian Child Welfare and Indian Arts and Crafts acts.
Friday's schedule consists of registration at 5 p.m., followed by the conference setup and then the AIM for Freedom Concert featuring American Horse. The convention gets into full swing Saturday with a variety of presentations, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with opening prayers and statements from representatives of AIM, the Guatamala-Maya Center, Maya in Exile, and the Friends Meeting House. This is followed by an opening address and press conference, and then a "how-to" for protesters. Seminar topics include "protest security, legality, and your rights"; "political prisoners"; "Indian religious freedom"; and more than a dozen others, with breaks for lunch and dinner.
The final day of the conference addresses many of the nationally known topics AIM has protested over the years, including police brutality and racism in sports and the media. The movement's fiery rhetoric against the mascots of such teams as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins has given the group more headlines in recent years than any other subject. And while its members don't seem eager to start occupying stadiums, AIM's voice is not about to be silenced.