The National Indian Youth Council’s Concepts of Community Within the Red Power Movement (By Annie Stoller-Patterson)

OVERVIEW

In this 9th grade history lesson, students will learn, analyze and critically discuss the idea of community identities within the Red Power Movement and why they were important to the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC).

FRAMEWORK

This lesson will help students to understand ideas of community and identity through the reading, understanding and analyzing of a primary document from the National Indian Youth Council.  To that end, this lesson will require students to think analytically and apply the knowledge that they have accumulated to reading and understanding a primary document.  This lesson should be taught after students have had an introduction to the movement from the rights of American Indians so that they have a background knowledge on the subject.  This lesson can be spread over one or two class periods, depending upon the length of classes and the ability level of the students.   The primary document can be used in a variety of ways, but for this lesson its main focus is upon the collective identity and issues of community that the Red Power Movement faced.

In this lesson, students will learn to work effectively with others, apply their knowledge of history to draw specific conclusions from primary documents, compare and contrast the Red Power movement with other social movements they have learned about in class and apply the concepts they learn to their current ideas about communities that are important in their own lives.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING

The NIYC placed a great deal of value upon the diversity of community identities within the Red Power Movement.

 ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

  1. What role did NIYC play in the Red Power Movement?
  2. How is the idea of “community” within this movement both important and problematic?
  3. How did the NIYC define and try to perpetuate the idea of “community?”
  4. How is the Red Power Movement’s sense of community different from that of other such social movements?

GLOSSARY

  1. NIYC:  The National Indian Youth Council.  An organization that took part in the American Indian Movement.
  2. Red Power Movement: A movement for the rights and unity of American Indian tribes.
  3. Tribe: a group of people indigenous to what is now the United States
  4. Clan: a group of people of common descent
  5. Nationalism: identification with a group or nation

INTRODUCTION

Because American Indian groups have such a long history in this country, it is important to first gain background knowledge about their individual and collective historical identity to understand the social movement for Indian rights.  Before Columbus arrived in America, tribes did have connections between one another for trade and political reasons.[1]  However, there was never really any complete cohesiveness between all the tribes that inhabited what is now the United States.[2] Most sense of community before this movement came from individual tribes or clans but rarely extended outside of specific villages or living arrangements.[3] However, the Red Power Movement sought to unite these varying tribes to fight for rights of all tribes.

The Red Power Movement was the movement of American Indians that began in the 1960’s.[4]  As we have been studying, this movement was born because of the terrible conditions and treatment that American Indians had been receiving for hundreds of years.[5]  They were forced to live on reservations, go to boarding schools where their cultural traditions were erased, were cheated out of many rights supposedly protected by past treaties and many were even forced to be relocated to urban areas during the 20th century.[6]  Many American Indians lived in poverty and were often taunted, bullied and even killed by non-Indians who thought of them as second-class citizens.[7]

The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) was a group that wanted to fight for the rights of American Indians.  They wanted to take radical action against those who had oppressed them for so long.  NIYC grew out of the American Indian Chicago Conference of 1961, where groups of Indians had gathered to discuss how to fight against injustices.[8] Many youths attended this conference and they started creating meetings of their own to discuss specifically youth-related ideas about the American Indian Movement.[9] Some older members of the community saw this as a direct rebellion and were concerned that these students were going to ruin the cohesiveness of the movement.[10]  After the conference was over, the youth who had been meeting in off-the-records caucuses met officially in Gallup, New Mexico and formed the NIYC.[11] The first president, Mel Thom, a Walker River Paiute Indian said that the NIYC was formed “with the belief that we can serve a realistic need.”[12]  There was no real unifying characteristic of the group except that they were young and unhappy with the way that older American Indians were handling the movement.[13]   The youths in this group came from many different tribes and some lived on reservations while others lived in cities.[14] The formation of this diverse of an organization helped to establish the idea of community that the primary source discusses: that of creating a national Indian community while still retaining the importance of tribal unity.

The slogan of the NIYC was “For a Greater Indian America.”[15] This slogan is very telling about the goals and values of the organization, for it shows the American Indians are meant to have three distinct yet intertwined identities: their tribes, their inter-tribal Indian relations and their identities as American citizens.[16]  The NIYC values not only tribalism but also a unity among tribes that seemingly have little in common.  It was this mentality that was the seed of the Red Power Movement: a movement to honor and perpetuate the American Indian identity.[17]

The NIYC created a national Indian identity that led to many important protests.[18]  For example, tribes from across the country came to support several tribes in the Pacific Northwest who wanted the fishing rights that the government had been denying them.[19]  The demonstrations in support of allowing tribes to fish in their traditional locations were called fish-ins because they were using a tactic similar to those used in the African-American movement: lunch counters sit-ins.[20]  Demonstrations like these were especially important to the NIYC because they felt that Indians were in grave danger of not being taken seriously by the American people and the government.[21] They felt that they fish-ins were the perfect way to show that they “had the guts to take action.”[22]  Even though many of the Indians who were involved in the fish-ins were not members of the tribes with the traditional rights, they still felt it was important to protect and support other Indians because they were all united in a common cause: to stop the injustices of their country and retain their cultural heritage with dignity.

MATERIALS

  1. Copy of “Policy Statement to the American Indian People”
  2. Copy of Map of American Indian Tribes
  3. Large poster paper
  4. Markers
  5. Student journals

ACTIVITIES

When the students enter the classroom, tell them that today they will be exploring concepts of identity and communities within the Red Power Movement.  To refresh their memories, use equity cards call on students to tell the class what the Red Power Movement was, when it took place, and what the goals of the movement were (this is assumed previous knowledge from previous class periods). Next, divide the class into four equal groups and assign each group one of four questions:

  1. What are communities? What is a collective identity?
  2. How are communities important in people’s lives?
  3. There are hundreds of different American Indian tribes in the United States. What might be the differences between tribal groups? Think cultural, religious, social, etc.
  4. There are hundreds of different American Indian tribes in the United States. What might be the similarities between tribal groups? Think cultural, religious, social, etc.

Have the groups discuss their question among themselves and record their main points on a sheet of paper.  After about ten minutes, call the groups back together to share what they talked about with the class.  Allow each group a minute or two to share.

Next, give the students a brief introduction to the NIYC, its purpose, and some of its goals.  Explain how important a sense of community is within a social movement and why that may have been difficult within the Red Power Movement.  This information can be drawn from the introduction section above.  Then, show the students the map of different American Indian tribes (appendix A).  What does this map indicate?  What do they think would be the difficulties associated with uniting such a diverse group of people who may not identify with other tribes that they have never even heard of?

Then, hand out copies of the primary document, “Policy Statement to the American Indian People” (appendix A).  Allow the class about 20 minutes to read the document at least twice and highlight what they believe to be the important sections about creating an American Indian identity and community across the nation.   Then, send the students back to their groups where they will discuss several statements from the document that speak to ideas of an American Indian identity and community.  Give them each a large piece of poster paper where they are to write each statement and then write brief bullet points about why they believe this statement is important and its meaning.  Give them about 15-20 minutes to do this.  Then, invite the groups back together and have each group share what they wrote.

Next, lead a guided class discussion about specific parts of the document.   If none of the groups mentioned it, call particular attention to the following statements:

  1. “Our purpose is not to create one kind of Indian but make young Indian People more effective members of their tribal communities.” (paragraph 4)
  2. “ We do not necessarily identify exclusively with someone because he is the same age as we are.  We identify with people because they are our relatives, our friends, or our Indian brothers.”  (paragraph 10)
  3. “We will strive to foster brotherhood of all Indians. We will not bring to disruption or chaos the normal and traditional process of government or personal relationships in any Indian community or Indian reservation.  If there is a great injustice in an Indian community or reservation and we feel it imperative to support one group of Indians against another, we will do so taking care not to endanger or destroy the tribe we are seeking to serve.” (paragraph 11)
  4. “Finally, we believe that all Indian who fight for the survival of our people are warriors whether they work at the highest levels or simply go about their daily affairs affirming themselves and their people.  We will not give up on Indians who oppose our ideals and actions.  We believe in the capacities of people to grown and change, both ourselves and others, and will maintain a dialogue in the spirit of brotherhood withal our people.” (paragraph 14)

Ask questions about each of these statements such as:

  1. How did the NIYC want to unite people of different backgrounds to create an “Indian People”?  In what ways is this significant to the movement but also problematic in relation to the idea of individual tribal identities?

Sample Answer: The NIYC wanted American Indians to identify with multiple different communities: their tribes, their American Indian identity and their American citizenship. In that way, they could be a part of the larger movement for Indian rights without sacrificing the very thing that was at the heart of this struggle: individual tribal autonomy and traditions.  This appears to be a bit problematic though because the tribes they were trying to unite were spread across the country and each had very unique traditions and cultural differences.  They really had little in common besides that they had been marginalized by the US government for decades.

       2.  How would creating a national Indian identity help tribal communities and the movement be more effective?

Sample Answer: It would be difficult for a movement to gather any support if people did not think that the goals applied to their lives.  It is therefore imperative that they band together to fight for their individual tribal rights as well as the rights that were supposed to be guaranteed for them by the US government.

       3. What do the term “Indian brothers” and “Indian brotherhood” mean?

Sample Answer: This term likely refers to uniting due to the common struggles that American Indians have had in this country, but not forgetting about their individual and unique tribal traditions and lifestyles.

       4.  Is it possible to both preserve tribal identities and still create an “American Indian identity?”

Sample Answer: The NIYC certainly believed so! Because the NIYC fought for unique tribal rights (such as the fishing rights of tribes in the Pacific Northwest) they placed importance not only upon a national identity but also upon various tribes banding together to fight for the rights of their brothers in need.

        5.  What is the significance of valuing all contributions to the movement?  Are all types of roles just as valuable when fighting against injustice?

Sample Answer: Even though the movement was united under a common American Indian brotherhood, people were still capable of giving different things to the movement.  If everyone is involved in the most effective manner that they can be, then the movement will grow bigger and stronger.

        6.  What differences do they see in this document versus other documents that the class has read in relation to the Chicano Movement and the African American Movement?  How do ideas of community change across the different movements and how are they similar?

Sample Answer: The Red Power movement seems to be unique in that it was not fighting for the same rights that Chicanos and African Americans were: American Indians wanted the right to their own unique traditions and practices, where as African Americans and Chicanos wanted to be treated equally in a “White” society.  Also, the Red Power movement seems to have a more diverse base of members than the other two movements.

Finally, depending on how much time is allotted, assign a journal entry as in class work or as homework.  Ask students to pick one of three topics and write about it in relation to what they studied and discovered in class today.  Write the three topics on the board:

  1. Why is a sense of community and collective identity important in a social movement? How can this sentiment be cultivated?
  2. Is it possible for one person to identify with many different community identities?  What such communities might have been important for American Indians during the 20th century?  Why?
  3. What communities do you identify with (social, religious, ethnic, etc.)?  What impact have these identities had on your own life?  Can you draw parallels between your own identity struggles and those faced by the American Indians?

ADDITONAL SOURCES

  1. American In Ferment: The Tumultous 1960s.”  Digital History. (2003).  Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=387
  2. Bonney, Rachel.  “The Role of AIM Leaders in Indian Nationalism.” American Indian Quarterly, Vol 3, No 3. (1977).
  3. Cobb, Daniel.  Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. (2008).
  4. Hanson, Jeffery. “Ethnicity and the Looking Glass: The Dialectics of National Indian Identity.” American Indian Quarterly, Vol 21, No 2. (1997).
  5. Lyons, Scott Richard. X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (2010).
  6. Nagel, Joane. American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Red Power and the Resurgences of Identity and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. (1996).
  7. Shreve, Bradley. “From Time Immemorial: The Fish-In Movement and the Rise of Intertribal Activism.” Pacific Historical Review, Vol 78, No 3. (2009).
  8. Shreve, Bradley Glenn. “Up Against Giants: The National Indian Youth Council, the Navajo Nation, and Coal Gasification, 1974-1977.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol 30, No 2. (2006).

STANDARDS

  1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  3. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
  4. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.

[1] Bonney, Rachel.  “The Role of AIM Leaders in Indian Nationalism.” American Indian Quarterly, Vol 3, No 3. (1977).  209.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “American In Ferment: The Tumultous 1960s.”  Digital History. (2003).  Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=387

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cobb, Daniel.  Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. (2008).  58.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.  59.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Nagel, Joane. American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Red Power and the Resurgences of Identity and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. (1996). 129.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “American In Ferment: The Tumultous 1960s.”  Digital History. (2003).  Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=387

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Shreve, Bradley. “From Time Immemorial: The Fish-In Movement and the Rise of Intertribal Activism.” Pacific Historical Review, Vol 78, No 3. (2009). 417.

[22] Ibid.

Responses

  1. Good way of explaining, and good post to obtain facts on the topic of my presentation
    focus, which i am going to present in academy.

  2. Hi I am trying to track down the NIYC’s “Policy Statement to the American Indian People.” The link above does not work, do you know where else I can find it?


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