In Memoriam – Dennis J. Banks (1937 – 2017)
Published November 4, 2017
LEECH LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION – During a two-day period over a thousand people paid their respects to Dennis J. Banks (Ojibwe), co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), at the Battle Point Community Center at Federal Dam, Minnesota on reservation, not far from where Banks lived during the final years of his life.
Banks began his spirit journey on Sunday night. He was 80 years old.
Bills Means (Lakota), the brother of Russell Means, came to pay his respects to a man who he considers changed the course of American Indians forever. Means first met Banks in 1969.
“Dennis Banks’ legacy will be he taught us grassroots people can be organized, well prepared, armed with statistics, mixed with street theater to change the communities,” Means told Native News Online on Friday night.
Banks always thought there were three things that had direct influence on modern American Indians. They are churches, education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Means recalled a time Banks went before a group of Christian bishops who reached out AIM to see how they could help with the cause.
“He told the bishops we don’t need your rummage items with mismatched tennis shoes and the USDA commodities. We need more.”
To make his point, he added some theater to his presentation. He brought a bag of commodity flour with him and threw it down as hard as he could. The bag opened and flour flew everywhere–even landing on some of the bishops,” Means said with laughter.
Tom Poor Bear, former three-term vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, met Banks in 1972 when he was only 16 years old when Banks first began coming to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to bring attention to injustices suffered by American Indians living there.
He participated in several marches held by AIM seek justice for American Indian who were beaten by non-Native people without any punishment.
“I was there in Custer, South Dakota, shortly before the takeover of Wounded Knee. A white man stabbed Wesley Bad Heart Bull and was served only one day in jail. We went down there and stirred things up. They called it a riot, I called it a ‘day of justice,'” Poor Bear said on Friday afternoon.
“All the memories of myself and Dennis Banks will always stay in my heart,” said Poor Bear.
Larry Bringing Good, who buried his mother earlier this past week, drove from Oklahoma to pay his respects.
“Dennis changed my life. I think I probably would be dead without what he did for me,” reflected Larry Bringing Good, a veterans peer support from Troy, New York. “I met him in 1987 and he helped me turn my life around. He urged me get involved with the sacred runs he held and longest walks. I have been coordinator on several.”
Banks’ funeral will be held to today at the Battle Point Community Center at 10 a.m. – CDT. Banks will be buried at the Battle Point Cemetery at Federal Dam, Minnesota.
Native News Online photos by Levi Rickert
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