The American Indian Movement and the Trail of Broken Treaties (by Mariah Farris)



Key ideas and Details:
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.

Craft and Structure:
5. 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.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Range of Reading and Level of Complexity:
10. By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11–12 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


This project is designed to teach 11th or 12th grade students about the significance of the Trail of Broken Treaties event. More specifically, it focuses on the demands enumerated in the Twenty-point proposition the Caravan intended to deliver to the federal government.


Students should first gain a basic understanding of the history of AIM and its goals and ideals. They should also learn about how AIM fits in with the broader Red Power movement. The activities are designed to teach students specifically about the significance of the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Twenty-point proposition. Students will be asked to read the Twenty-point proposition first as a class then in small groups to understand and analyze the document. After learning about the basic history and context of the movement from a short lecture by the teacher, students will choose specific points from the document to study more carefully in small groups. This part of the project will emphasize research and collaborative work with peers to gain greater understanding of the subject. The students will present their findings in a brief PowerPoint presentation. This engages an interpersonal style of learning. Groups will then be mixed up so that students can compare notes about the details, history and intent of the different points. This will give them a more complete and critical view of the content of the Twenty-point proposition. They should focus on the specific ways that the movement sought to regain sovereignty for Native American nations.

Essential Understanding:

The Trail of Broken Treaties Twenty-point proposition document highlights the greatest struggles that Native American groups faced and sought to change in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and demonstrates how they approached the Federal Government to regain sovereignty and self-determination.

Essential Questions:

1. How does the American Indian Movement approach the United States Government

2. What is their specific purpose, and what strategies do they use to achieve that purpose?

3. What were the primary concerns of AIM and the other groups?

4. What historical offenses are identified in the Twenty-point propositions? How have these shaped the groups’ requests?

5. What connections existed between the American Indian Movement and other Civil Rights movements of the time?

6. What is the response by the United States government? What does this reveal about the relationship between the American Indian Movement and the Federal Government?

7. What commonalities are visible between different points in the document?


Sovereignty: The authority of a group or nation to govern itself or another state. Native American Nations sought to regain sovereignty from the United States government.

Assimilation: The process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of a group. The US government sought to assimilate Native Americans.

Termination and Relocation: The Termination and Relocation policy of the United States government intended to complete the assimilation process for tribes that were deemed capable of supporting themselves. The policy dissolved tribal recognition and proved to be very damaging.

BIA: The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1824 to govern relations between the Federal government and Indian nations. The BIA has frequently been perceived to be corrupt, and has often supported the interests of non-native groups in exploiting Native American property and resources.


Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, many marginalized groups in the United States (U.S.) began to advocate and fight for their civil and human rights. The Black Liberation movement is perhaps the most widely recognized, and its fight against the racist systems in America served to inspire other groups. The Red Power movement, the Native American movement, is relatively less well known. It did not have any figureheads that served to gain attention and fame, such as Martin Luther King Jr. for the Black Civil Rights movement. There were several separate groups within the Red Power movement, which used different tactics in fighting against the discrimination they faced. One of the most prominent groups was called the American Indian Movement, or AIM. AIM was founded in Minneapolis Minnesota in 1968, with the primary intention of promoting economic independence among native people. AIM deliberately avoided having any specific leaders, and emphasized their identity as a movement, rather than an organization.

The Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan was one of the more widely known events of the Red Power movement. The Caravan started in three urban cities on the West Coast of the US and traveled to Washington DC, stopping through numerous reservations on the way. The march was supposed to culminate in a meeting with the federal government during which the participants would present a Twenty-point proposition outlining changes to be made in Federal Government’s policy in relation to the rights of Native American Nations. However, the government refused to meet with the marchers, and the caravan culminated in a spontaneous occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters. This occupation was perceived as a demonstration of the militancy of the movement, an image that parts of the movement had sought to cultivate and others had sought to minimize. After much negotiation, the occupation finally ended with a promise that a representative of the government would review the carefully written Twenty-points proposition. There is little evidence that the document was every seriously reviewed or considered.

Thought perhaps initially inspired by the mainstream civil rights movement, the Red Power movement had somewhat different goals because of the unique history of Native Americans in the US. Native Americans had always been painted as a group in opposition to the government of the United States. Nations tended to be governed based on much more collective ideals, which made the American capitalist system foreign and unjust in their eyes. The government promoted a pervasive narrative of the American Indian Nations as dying cultures that could not survive in a modern world. They worked to assimilate the Native Americans into mainstream white society. This form of oppression was different from the oppression faced by other racial minority groups. Thus, the demands made by the Indian American movement differed some from many other demands made by other social movements. Their demands centered on regaining their sovereignty, which had been outlined in the Constitution. They sought to regain sovereignty to free themselves from the persistent exploitation by the US government, which had consistently broken treaties and agreements, and rewritten laws to take control of Native American land and resources. These violations increasingly worsened living conditions on reservations. The government had also created a termination policy, which was intended to quicken assimilation and was one of the prominent pieces of legislation that removed the sovereignty of the tribes. The termination and relocation policy moved many young Native American into crowded urban environments. Living conditions were very poor, which served to foster the outrage that many felt at their treatment by the government.

These events motivated many of the specific demands in the Twenty-point proposition. For example, the proposition includes demands such as the “Establishment of a Treaty Commission”, and the creation of a separate commission to review past treaties and identify those that the US government had violated. Both of these groups must include Native American representatives, chosen by Native Americans of all nations. Other demands center on the protection of Indian Land, and the control over court cases involving Indians.

This document provides a window into the most significant concerns of the Red Power movement. Though the Trail of Broken Treaties campaign did not go as planned, the document created attests to the ideals and goals of the movement.


Trail of Broken Treaties 20 point Proposition
History of the Red Power Movement:
The 1871 Indian Appropriations Act:
The Termination Policy:
The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act


This lesson will allow students to learn from both a lecture style presentation, and through their own explorations of a topic and their presentation to their peers. It can be completed in three approximately 50- minute class periods. Ideally, students would have access to computers to complete some research on each of the group presentations in class. If computers are not available in class, research can be completed and compiled outside of class.

Day 1: Introduction and Background 
The first day should begin with a brief (approximately 20-30 minute) lecture on the Red Power movement. This lecture should include an introduction of the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan.. The class will briefly go over the Twenty-point proposition as a whole, during which time students are encouraged to ask questions. Following this introduction to the topic, the class should be split into groups of 3-4 students Each group will pick one of the Twenty-Points to explore further.

Students should use the remaining part of the class period to read their chosen point carefully and collectively analyze its intent. If they have access to computers, they may begin online research to explore the events related to the demand (for example, the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act, or the Termination and Relocation policy).

Day 2: Student Research and Collaboration
Students should continue to work together to analyze their selected part of the Twenty-point proposition document, and conduct further research on the topic.

They will create a 5-7 minute PowerPoint presentation that includes the following information:

  1. What is the point demanding?
  2. Identify the primary historical occurrences that motivate this demand
  3. Summarize why it is important to AIM and the broader Red Power Movement

After making the PowerPoint, the group should use any remaining time to practice presenting it, to be prepared to do so the following class period.

Day 3: Student Presentations and Conclusion
Each group will present their PowerPoint. While each group presents, the rest of the students should listen and be encouraged to note down important details. After the presentations, the groups will be mixed up, and then the class re-divided into small groups that will discuss the connections between each of the points. After about 10 minutes, the class should reconvene and discuss as a whole the significance of the Twenty-point proposition in relation to the Red Power Movement, and what it reveals about the conditions that motivated that movement. The class period should end with a short presentation from the teacher summarizing what did come out of the Trail of Broken Treaties campaign and the Twenty-point proposition.

Additional Sources:

Kannan, Phillip M. “Reinstating Treaty-Making with Native American Tribes.” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 5th ser. 16.3 (2008): 809-37. Law Scholarship. William and Mary Law School Scholarship Repository. Web. 1 May 2015. <;.

Kelly, Casey Ryan (09/01/2014). ““We Are Not Free”: The Meaning of in American Indian Resistance to President Johnson’s War on Poverty.”. Communication quarterly (0146-3373), 62 (4), p. 455.

McKenzie-Jones, Paul. 2014. “Evolving Voices of Dissent: The Workshops on American Indian Affairs, 1956-1972.” American Indian Quarterly 38, no. 2: 207-236. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2015) 

Steinman, Erich. “Settler Colonial Power and the American Indian Sovereignty Movement: Forms of Domination, Strategies of Transformation.” American Journal of Sociology 117, No. 4 (2012): 1073-1130

Sanchez, John, and Mary E. Stuckey. 1999. “Rhetorical Exclusion: The Government’s Case Against American Indian Activists, AIM, and Leonard..” American Indian Culture & Research Journal 23, no. 2: 27. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2015).

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