FREE SPEECH ZONE | AIM still sharp after 42 years


The American Indian Movement (AIM) gathered in its 42nd year to reflect on victories and the challenges still ahead. AIM founder Clyde H. Bellecourt pulled himself around after undergoing six hours of surgery just days before the conference began. Visibly tired and weakened by the ordeal of combined kidney and gallbladder surgery, he nonetheless led discussions on AIM history and accomplishments to a group of 100 attendees from all over the U.S. and Canada.

A keynote address by Chief Terrence Nelson from Roseau River, Manitoba pointed the way to future AIM involvement in economic reforms and nation building.

He explained that Roseau River is part of the Pembina Band of Anishinaabe people who in their several bands live in several U.S. states and provinces of Canada.

The issues of Anishinaabe people have most involved land, sovereignty, and resources, he said. Yet in 1903  land surrender at Roseau ripped thousands of acres away from the nation. Nelson carefully explained the faulty process the crown used in taking the land. Many years later the Canadian Parliament modified the scope of application of the land management regime in the Indian Act. In February 1996, 13 First Nations from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario entered into a Framework Agreement on Land Management with the Minister of Indian Affairs. Roseau was among those and it selected lands near Winnipeg, but not within the city limits. The process of selecting land is not yet complete but the economic advantage the nation now holds is vastly different from the struggle to farm the acreage of Anishinaabe lands held in 1903.

Nelson’s message was clear and forceful. AIM needs to enter into the development of wealth through economic projects and international trade. The future of AIM will be given to helping native people help themselves out of poverty and dependence on public sources for assistance. It may take decades, but the vision needs to be adopted now, he said.

He touched on treaty rights and sovereignty, concluding with the statement that, “we had sovereignty before the treaties, we have sovereignty during the time of these treaties, and we will have sovereignty after the treaties.”

Other presentations at the conference included discussions of the AIM trademark, refinement of the guiding principles, spiritual leader teachings, a youth panel, an education panel and plans for the new Heart of the Earth Interpretive Center in Dinkytown -to open in 2013.

Clyde Bellecourt presented a history of AIM and its many activities over the decades. Millions of dollars flow through AIM founded nonprofit organizations each year, he said. He was joined by Jimbo Simmons from San Francisco AIM who spoke about work with other cultural groups, the work of the late Vernon Bellecourt, and travel to Libya to bring AIM’s message to the university system of that country.

The conference concluded on Saturday with a fine dinner orchestrated by Clyde’s daughter Susan and the giving of gifts to Clyde. As the conferees thinned out and some headed for the airport, the tired leader promised he would go home and rest. Few believed he would actually do it.

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Four Anishinabe Chiefs whose clans had settled along the Roseau River were among the signatories of Treaty 1 in 1871. Although there were four distinct groups, the Crown initially set aside only one reserve for the Roseau River Band, IR 2, comprising 13,350 acres, located at the confluence of the Red and Roseau Rivers.

The Chiefs believed that Treaty 1 had promised them a reserve on both sides of the Roseau River, from its mouth to the Roseau Rapids located 20 miles upstream. In particular, one group of band members fought for years to have a reserve created at the Roseau Rapids. In 1888, the government allocated one and one-quarter sections, or 800 acres, as the Rapids reserve, IR 2A. 

Between 1889 and 1903, the year of the surrender, the Roseau River Band came under increasing pressure from local settlers, municipalities, and politicians to surrender all of IR 2 for the purpose of settlement. The reserve was considered one of the best in Manitoba, containing prime agricultural land, as well as water and timber. The Band was asked many times if it would consider a surrender of all or part of the reserve, but the Chiefs always declined.

When Indian Commissioner David Laird met with band councillors in late December 1902, he proposed a surrender of the eastern portion of IR 2, but they responded that it was the only dry land on the reserve and would be needed for their cattle during the spring floods and, further, that they intended to cultivate that land in the future.  In January 1903, the Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, instructed Inspector S.R. Marlatt to attempt to obtain a surrender of IR 2. Marlatt held a meeting on the reserve on January 20, at which time the Band refused a surrender. Ten days later, on January 30, 1903, the Band surrendered the eastern portion of the reserve, comprising 12 sections, or 7,698.6 acres, or 60 per cent of the reserve. Among the terms of the surrender was a condition that two sections of land at the Roseau Rapids be purchased for the Band from the proceeds of sale.