Native American Activist Dennis Banks Dies

Native American activist and actor Dennis Banks walked on to the spirit world October 29 at the age of 80 as a result of complications from open heart surgery. He was surrounded by family at the time of his death who helped Banks on his journey with songs.

Dennis_Banks_(8673602267)_(cropped)By Neeta Lind – IMG_4247, CC BY 2.0,

A founder of American Indian Movement, Banks was involved in the uprising at Wounded Knee in the seventies. Accused of murder during the uprising, he was later acquitted of the charge when the judge threw out the charges due to misconduct by the government. Wounded Knee is also the site where hundreds of Native Peoples were massacred by federal authorities.

1200px-Wounded_Knee_AIM_veteransBy Neeta Lind –, CC BY 2.0,

As a leader in AIM, Banks participated in the occupation of Alcatraz Island and the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington DC.

He was also responsible for organizing the “Great Jim Thorpe Longest Run” – a cross country run – to protest the stripping of Olympic athlete and Native American Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals after it was deemed that Thorpe violated the amateur rule when he accepted payment for playing baseball while running track for the Olympic team. Thorpe’s medals were eventually restored and given to the family.

He was an Elder Advisor for Ancient Teachings on 13 episodes of the television series “Apocalyptic Survival” and the cultural advisor for “Older than America”.

As an actor, Banks appeared in “Older than America”, was Ongewasgone in the 1992 version of “The Last of the Mohicans”, and “War Party”. He also made a number of appearances in documentaries as himself.

He was born Nowa Cumig (Dennis James Banks) on April 12, 1937 on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota as a member of the Ojibwe Nation but spent his school years at a government boarding school in the southern region of the state far from his home and family. After leaving school, Banks joined the Air Force where he served in Japan.

Once an angry man, Banks spent 14 months in prison and upon his release he turned his life around and instead of inciting violence, he preached peace. As a addiction counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he encouraged public service

He is survived by his children and grandchildren.

The family is planning a traditional funeral with a burial on the Leech Lake Reservation.

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