October 31, 2017 / 2:01 AM / 24 days ago

American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks dead at 80

(Reuters) - Civil rights activist Dennis Banks, who co-founded the American Indian Movement that pushed for indigenous rights during the 1960s and ‘70s, died in his native Minnesota, his family said on Monday. He was 80.

Banks gained national recognition during the 1973 armed standoff between Native American activists and federal authorities at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The 72-day siege, a protest against tribal officials accused of corruption and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, left two occupiers dead, a federal marshal paralysed and numerous others injured.

Wounded Knee had been the site of an 1890 massacre of more than 300 Oglala Lakota men, women and children by U.S. Cavalry troops.

Federal prosecutors charged Banks and another AIM leader, Russell Means, with conspiracy and other offences related to the siege. The charges were ultimately dismissed.

Banks later served 14 months in prison on assault and rioting convictions, stemming from a separate incident at a courthouse in Custer, South Dakota.

“Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world ... on Oct. 29, 2017,” his children and grandchildren said in a statement. “All the family who were present prayed over him and said our individual goodbyes.”

Banks died from pneumonia at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, after open-heart surgery this month, his daughter Tashina Banks Rama told the New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Mayo Clinic said she could not confirm the report.

Born on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation of the Ojibwa Tribe, also known as the Chippewa, in northern Minnesota, Banks grew up impoverished in a home with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.

“I was not born in a hospital but on a creaking bedstead in my grandparents’ house,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography, “Ojibwa Warrior.”

He was educated at a government-run boarding school for Native American children, and in 1954 joined the U.S. Air Force.

After his discharge from the military, Banks moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. In 1966, he was arrested and sent to prison after stealing groceries to feed his family, he wrote in his memoir.

While in prison, Banks founded the American Indian Movement, or AIM, with other imprisoned Native Americans. The group became one of the most influential advocacy organizations at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney

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