"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.... Our lodges were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the Nation's hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children."
Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk) of the Oglala, Lakota Nation,
as quoted in "Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence",
compiled by T.C. McLuhan
When the American Indian Movement sprang from the earth in 1969, they did not revive the battle for the liberation of Indian lands, for recognition of Indian rights, or even for the redemption of Indian dignity. The struggle of the Indigenous Nations to retain their lands, cultures, and political and human rights began almost before the ink was dry on each of the treaties that were/are supposed to guard and maintain those lands and rights. Far from abating, that struggle has intensified ever since. A few of the "headline" actions undertaken by AIM may have helped or hindered those battles, depending on who is doing
the analysis, but AIM has been, thankfully, responsible for a much more sweeping changes in Indian country. The members of AIM have done something much more subtle, much more powerful for every Indian, every Indian family, every Indian nation on this continent and probably throughout this hemisphere. Their actions, and more precisely, the manner in which all of AIM's actions are realized, has ensured that any and all the progress made in the numerous and ongoing battles to redeem the God-given right of self-determination of the First Nations of this land..., is carried on AS Indian Nations, not just BY the Nations. As subtle as that distinction may seem at first glance, it is momentous in its implications.
AIM's "way" has initiated a 'second front' in the war for the survival of the Nations. A war of battles largely more covert than they were twenty years ago, but as ruthless and fierce as any open warfare. It is a war between the "white way of doing things" and the "right way of doing things," a revolution that pits Indians against Indians across an ideological chasm. And AIM deserves praise for doing so, or the "Indian" in "Indian Nations" would literally be the stuff of folklore now, a fond memory to be trotted out and put through its paces at the annual pow-wow, or carried on a card in one's wallet, like a membership to the 'Y.'
Many in the Nations are necessarily so busy with today that all the many yesterdays leading up to the present feel like forever away. Battles for First Nation/Indigenous rights, land claims and other related issues are currently so vast in terms of sheer volume that AIMs magnificent influence on the journey of the Nations to the immediate is all too often obscured and overwhelmed with the events of almost every passing day. The information age adds to the amplitude of immediate concerns.
From the moment each treaty was signed with each Nation, the settler-regimes simply blinked at any concern expressed by the Nations about the trampling of their rights and obliviously continued to implement their Manifest Destiny. Among the tools they created to assimilate and otherwise erase the nuisance to their mission (i.e., the Nations) was that of the "Indian School" system. During the four decades 1900 to 1940, more North American Indians were 'educated' in these schools than had been so processed/programmed in the preceding four hundred years. The "Three R's" that these Indians learned in those schools forged, by and large, the tools that helped the Nations make their great progress in the battles for Indian land, rights, etc. during the past forty to fifty years. But the "hidden curriculum" intrinsic to any and all such contemporary 'schooling' was also learned. The unchallenged use of that "hidden curriculum," consciously or unconsciously, was and remains a subtle and insiduous mortal danger to each and every Indian Nation in North America. AIM challenged its use.
The Indian leadership and 'elites' that use(d) the formal curriculum in these battles did so by ways and means with which they'd been unconsciously programmed in the Indian schools. The organizations they formed to do battle did not take long to become an end unto themselves. Consensual decision-making, inclusive of every family or the Nation(s) that would be impacted by organizational action by their organizational leaders, was left aside as being "inefficient and too time-consuming," leaving such decisions to these exclusive, "educated" elites. The role of Indian family/Nation elders and the wisdom they hold was reduced to, at most, uttering a perfunctory prayer to open and close meetings. In stark contrast, the "modus operandi" of AIM restored the traditional dynamic to its rightful place in Indian organizational life.
The battles undertaken and won by these formal Indian organizations were fought using the tactics, organizational structures and decisional processes of the dominant society (i.e., the "white way"). Fire was/is fought with fire, so to speak, but both sides use(d) non-Indian 'wood' to strcture and fuel those fires. The battles, primarily legal ones versus the institutions of the dominant society, were/are fought the "white way". But somehow the direction and control of those battles for Indians seem to have left the vast majority of the Indians they were being fought for out of the picture. The "right way" (generally referred to as 'the grassroots approach') that could and should compliment the "white way" was/is to a large extent, ignored by the (formal) Indian organizational leadership. There would be no "way" other than the "white way" even considered these days if AIM had not come along when it did.
AIM doesn't operate on settler-government funding. It has no bureaucracy to maintain, no operational overheads to equate, no need for linear-based hierarchic structure, no formal hiring process, no "elite." (Albeit the latter point may be argued by some.) It operates the "right way" and provides the counterweight to the preponderance of the Indian leadership & elites who operate(d) the "white way". Given the volume and speed of the battles fought by all of the more formal Indian organizations that exist at local, regional, national and international levels of operations, their momentum from about 1950 until the mid 1960's would have relegated the "right way" to the mists of folklore and myth. Today that "right way," the intrinsically Indian way, is alive thanks to AIM's commitment to using it in tandem with the complimentary elements the "right way" inculcated into the formal Indian leadership by the Indian schools. They put the individual Indian back into Indian collective initiatives; put the "right way" on par with the "white way." The operative shift is at such a basic, fundamental, "radical" level that, in the final analysis, it's significance is awesome.
The Indian families that are the only actual substance of the Indian Nations are now recognized as a power that must be considered by the dominant culture's institutions as well as by the formal Indian organizations. These families form the flesh on the structure of every Nation, and the elders of those families give effective voice to the views of the family members they speak for. The family has retained its place as the heart and soul of being Indian. No other Indian organization save AIM has ever validated the role of the Indian family so openly, so consistently or so concretely. In this critical context, AIM has safeguarded the circle of family, the greater circle of the family of families that constitute each First Nation, the circle that Black Elk described in the quotation above. The hoop of the Nation(s) remains a real, viable and operative dynamic in any and all of the actions undertaken by and/or for these Nations in North America. Thanks to AIM. Black Elk would definitely concur and bless them for it.
And where does the Rabbi referred to in the title fit into this viewpoint? Well, Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav, a predecessor of Martin Buber, was a Talmudic scholar and a keen observer of human nature. One of his many homilies provided the author of this article with the insight as to why AIM's tremendous contribution to the Nations defined herein is often overlooked by so many, including many members of AIM. To wit;
"As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds."
Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav, as quoted in,
"The Snow Leopard", by Peter Matthiessen,
author of "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse".