"It's the mid-1960's, and everyone is fighting back. Black Americans are fighting for civil rights, the counterculture is trying to subvert the Vietnam War, and women are fighting for their liberations.
" Indians were fighting, too, thought it's a fight few have documented, and even fewer remember. At the time, newspapers and television broadcast were filled with images of Indian activists staging dramatic events such as the seizure of Alcatraz in 1969., the storming of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building on the eve of Nixon's re-election in 1972, and the American Indian Movement (AIM)-supported seizure of Wounded Knee by the Oglala Sioux in 1973. Like a Hurricane puts these events into historical context and provides one of the first narrative accounts of that momentous period.
" Unlike most other books written about American Indians, this book does not seek to persuade readers that government policies were cruel and misguided. Nor is it told from the perspective of outsiders looking in. Written by two American Indians, Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior. Like a Hurricane is a gripping account of how for a brief, but brilliant, season Indians strategized to change the course and tone of American Indian-U.S. government interaction. Unwaveringly honest, it analyzes not only the period's successes but also its failures.
" Smith and Warrior have gathered together the stories of both the leaders and foot soldiers of AIM, conservative tribal leaders, top White House aides, and the ordinary citizens caught up in the maelstrom of activity that would shape a new generation of political thought. Here are the insider accounts of how local groups coalesced to form a national movement for change. Here, too, is a clear-eyed assessment of the period's key leaders: the fancy dance revolutionary Clyde Warrior, the enigmatic Hank Adams, and AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means. The result is a human story of drama, sacrifice, triumph, and tragedy that gives a ground-level view of events that forever changes the lives of Americans, particularly American Indians. "
Like a Hurricane... Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior,
The New Press: New York, 1996, hb,
pp 343, ISBN 1-56584-316-9
Bob Dylan once described the decade he reluctantly owned this way: "It was like a flying saucer that landed. Everybody heard about it, but only a few saw it." If that was generally true for the often surrealistic, flesh-and-blood carnival of the 1960s, it was a particularly dead-on description for the fast and furious campaign American Indian activists waged during that time.
For most of those who did not directly experience the surge of activism it has all but faded from memory. If it is recalled at all, it is as a series of photojournalistic images of Indians with bandannas and rifles courtesy of television reports from the presatellite age. For others it is only known through Hollywood reconstructions like Thunderheart or the permanent celebrity status of movement leaders like Russell Means and John Trudell.
A great many books written about the American Indians have shared two characteristics. They have been written by people who were not Indians, and they usually sought to persuade readers that government policies were cruel and misguided. That tradition has on occasion produced important, even brilliant books, but it is not the tradition that guides this work.
We came to writing Like a Hurricane out of a profound dissatisfaction with the existing narratives of this crucial period in Indian and American history, one that we believed too often saw Indian people as mere victims and pawns. Our focus is not on the U.S. government's failed policies or on police repression, but on how Indian people, for a brief and exhilarating time, staged a campaign of resistance and introspection unmatched in this century. It was for American Indians every bit as significant as the counterculture was for young whites, or the civil rights movement for blacks.
As coauthors, we came to this project from different places, but a shared fascination to understand as much as we could the people and organizations that comprised the story of Hurricane. Coauthor Smith participated in the aftermath of the story chronicled here, traveling to South Dakota in 1974 at the age of nineteen to work on the Wounded Knee trials. He stayed with the movement through most of 1970s, joining th staff of the American Indian Movement's International Indian Treaty Council in 1977. Coauthor Warrior also knew of these events, but from a greater distance. While a graduate student, he wrote in the alternative and Native presses about Indian community issues and kept running into questions that represent the legacy of the watershed years featured here. Though not related to Clyde Warrior, whose life is told in the pages that follow, he has heard many stories of the Ponca leader from friends and relatives in Oklahoma
We have relied on a wide range of sources, including more than sixty interviews; archives in California, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Washington, D.D.; contemporary press accounts from Indian and mainstream news organizations; memoirs; and other records. We have chosen to focus the book on three key events that took place from November 1969 through May 1973. Other events are, arguably, equally significant, and other personalities might have been included, but in the end we felt the student landing on the abandoned prison at Alcatraz, the fumbled, nearly catastrophic occupation of the BIA in Washington, and the seige at Wounded Knee a few months later best illustrated the character and substance of the Indian movement.
We look forward to future works that will engage these questions from other points of view and with different emphases. Certainly many of the figures chronicled here merit full-scale biographies. We hope others will more deeply explore the Red Power activists of the early 1960s, the student movement, and the deep connections between Iroquois and Hopi traditionals and the militants of Alcatraz and later of AIM, to cite only a few examples.
We have tried to provide an honest account of the period, through the eyes of urban Indian rebels, conservative tribal chairmen, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials, White House aides, and others. The decision to write a book where not everything is red or white means that some of what follows reflect negatively on the Indian struggle. Indeed, much of Hurricane is a continual education in the missteps and errors of the movement, which like all others, often fell short of its goals. At the same time, it is also true that this undertaking has only increased our admiration for the imagination and daring displayed by so many courageous Indian people.
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