Sunday, March 4, 2012

We Feel It In Our Hearts: Visiting Dennis Banks

About 150 people from Las Cruces, El Paso and even all the way from my little hometown, Crownpoint, came to the New Mexico State University campus to see Dennis Banks and his documentary “A Good Day to Die.” 

I wrote a story about it, here, for the Las Cruces Sun-News the next day.
I bet if Martin Luther King Jr. was still around, there would’ve been more people, but there wasn’t. I don’t think a lot of people knew who Dennis Banks was or what he did for Native Americans.
He’s our Dr. King. He’s our freedom fighter.
Banks is a cofounder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an activist group founded in the late 1960’s by urban Natives in Minneapolis to fight the injustices they faced everyday from abusive cops, a corrupt justice system and an economy that had Natives living in ghettos and on the streets.
AIM stood up for a Native mother who had no one else to call when her son was murdered and the white killer got off with a slap on the wrist. AIM stormed and trashed the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs building in South Dakota. They took over Wounded Knee and demanded justice for Native people.
They were "hostile" and they were rightfully angry. City cops would round up Natives in the city bars and blame them for unsolved crimes to improve their own track records. Native families lived in slums. White people stole Banks and thousands of other Native children away from their families, beat them, erased their identity and taught them how to hate themselves in boarding schools. White people stole this land and they still don’t pay rent. Yeah, they were angry – I’m shaking with this anger right now.
Banks and AIM stood up and said, “NO!” They got the world’s attention before the American press decided to give Natives 30 seconds on TV.
Banks came here last week to wake everyone up and to remind them that things are still not right and we should still be fighting for who we are and what we believe is important to us. Other people will never know what it’s like to be Native, they don’t understand us and so they don’t know how to respect us – “some of them do,” he said to me in a short interview.

We should also never forget about history. Natives, and everyone, should learn it, get angry and do something about the future. Americans sanitized history and tried to erase us, which is the “American way.”
“A Good Day to Die” is a very moving documentary about AIM and their battles. The showing and Banks’ words told me that we have to keep fighting; don’t lay down and become white, don’t let them have that. We have every right to be Native, different and strong — we have been so for millions of years — in this place where everyone is, unfortunately, made the same.
My fight is with words; with this keyboard. My American Indian studies professor, Dr. Pepion (Blackfeet), proudly introduced me to several people that night by saying, “This is Andi Murphy, she’s a Navajo journalist here; the first Native journalist in the history of this city.”
What are you fighting with?

Here is a response by my sister, Alisha Murphy. She’s a social work major, and senior at NMSU.
The event was so special. Words cannot express what I am feeling. I’m so proud to be Native. I’m so happy to have met one of the founders of the American Indian Movement. Dennis Banks changed the minds of millions during Wounded Knee II, and he especially helped Natives feel like they existed in the “white man’s world” again. He is the inspiration of change, he’s the reason Natives have a voice and he was sitting next to me, talking to me one-on-one.
This hero told me to find my own way and to change people’s lives through the social work that I do. He looked at me square in the eyes and said he supports me. I feel that he and I connected on the raw fact that helping other people gives us a sort of high, where that’s all we want in life.
Helping other people is our mission and it doesn’t matter what the situation is, we will keep fighting to help other people. I’m working with kids from impoverished homes and broken families. Dennis Banks has inspired me to keep on with my work and to be the change. Most of all he encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in, even if that does mean I stand alone.
His life and his experience is an example of Native strength, perseverance and pride even when the negative overshadows the positive. To me, being in his presence was priceless; knowing his history, I felt the energy was still there, that if I spoke to him, asked him questions, I would learn so much. And I did!
An inspiration? Yes, he was exactly that. I walked away from that dinner table feeling more confident in who I am and I felt that I could start a change.
AIM was powerful back in the 1970’s, it changed ways of thinking and it made history. History was made that night when he stepped into that auditorium and into my life. I will never forget his words and advice. We need that spark in students, we need that energy to make ourselves noticed amongst our own people and to the world. 
Too radical? No way! Dennis Banks allowed me to put my phone number in his phone and he then shook my hand. I felt so much respect for this man and it was overwhelming. Never in my life did I think I would meet such an incredible human being. He’s a symbol of standing up for what is right, taking the hard hits, standing alone for justice and that is what social work is. 
As he was talking to me (eating his salad), I looked at him straight in the eyes, soaking up everything I could from that moment I never thought I’d get. This man stands for something and he’s eating fry bread with me. He started out wanting to be treated better and then he went on wanting his people to be treated better. His willingness to connect with students tonight was excellent. At first I was intimidated and scared of what to say to this great person. Within a minute of him answering my question about his hat, I felt like I was talking to a family member. The way he spoke to me wasn’t in a way that made it seem he was above me or I was inferior to him, he spoke to me as an equal. He respected that I was a Native woman talking to him. Having a discussion and not just standing in the background. Dennis Banks’ words are truly an inspiration, his life is a symbol of change which is possible.
Dennis Banks changed my life, this is no exaggeration; actually I’m still in awe that he was in Las Cruces.
His advice to me:
“Plant your garden of change, watch over it and water it because as a leader you create change.” 
So many people thanked him for his work and so did I, but I also feel that saying it isn’t enough. His visit is a wake-up call to the next generations, asking them to stand up and take charge. What better way to thank him than to stand up now!

1 comment:

  1. What better way to learn Native history, to meet face to face a Native who stood up and fought for his right and the rights of all Native Indians! So proud that my daughters have the apportunity to soak up every piece of Native history! And apply what they have learned to their own lives!
    Thank you Dennis Banks for encouraging words!