Effort to start a new Indiana AIM chapter 

click to enlarge Kylo Prince decorates a cake with metal files at a recent rally he helped organize downtown to raise awareness of activist Leonard Peltier's long-time imprisonment. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Kylo Prince decorates a cake with metal files at a recent rally he helped organize downtown to raise awareness of activist Leonard Peltier's long-time imprisonment.
  • Rebecca Townsend

If the Grand Governing Council approves his application, Kylo Prince, of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba, Canada, could become chairman of a new American Indian Movement chapter in central Indiana. As such, he hopes to unite Native Peoples and tackle issues like racism and recognition.

He knows it won't be easy. One challenge Prince faces is the lack of willingness to work together that toppled Indiana's Native American Indian Affairs Commission.

"There are many different nations represented, and not all have the exact same cultural values," Prince said, adding that even they have misconceptions about other Indian nations. "This is one of the prevailing issues that needs to be addressed and set aside. We know we are different and we need to learn to respect that which is different from our own and work together. We cannot have an effective voice if we have this internal conflict. We must put aside our differences and concentrate on similarities. One arrow can be easily broken, a quiver full of arrows – not so easily. Humility is the key."

Prince Charming

Humility is a trait the soft-spoken Prince possesses. Calling himself a "servant," this self-described "peaceful warrior" has been working for Native causes for years, even while facing personal challenges. "I just want to help my people and all others who follow my people's ways," he said. "I don't want my ego to get in the way of service to the people."

Prince, who grew up in Winnipeg until he was adopted by a family in Seymour, Ind., at age 8, graduated from Brownstown Central High School mid-term in order to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1988. Afterward, he went "home to my rez" in 1992, where he participated in his first sweat lodge with his father, grandfather and other relatives, and where he began to learn about his Native heritage, which includes a tie to KiishkiiMakwa, the first chief of his reservation. In addition to his Ojibwe blood, he has Oglala and Hunkpapa ancestry.

He started what he calls his "true walk on our Red Path" in 1995 and did a vision quest during the coldest winter in Manitoba history in the Turtle Lodge, taught by Leading Earth Man, a traditional chief and medicine man from Sagkeeng, Manitoba. The scars on his body show that he became a sun dancer that year.

Since then, he has served as Fire Keeper for four lodges, at which time he was given a second name by the Grandfathers: Leader of the Wolves. He has performed volunteer work at the Turtle Island Community Center and for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the First Nation Repatriation Program of Manitoba, an organization that provides counseling for Native People who were adopted outside of their race during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He served as a board member at the Native American Community Center in Bloomington and worked as a Native American Spiritual Guide at a U.S. Penitentiary.

Prince acknowledges having a "violent record" in Manitoba, where he struggled with drugs and alcohol, but credits the births of his two children for bringing about a change.

While in prison for robbery, he became the Elder's assistant, preparing lodges and learning to pour water the Dakota way.

AIM, past and present

Founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, AIM was created by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt and George Mitchell, all Ojibwe Indians and one-time residents of Minnesota's penitentiary.

click to enlarge A detail from a t-shirt at a recent downtown rally. - REBECCA TOWNSEND

Initially established to oppose police brutality, the organization soon evolved into a bona-fide indigenous rights movement, uniting Native Peoples in an effort to promote cultural pride and sovereignty, taking on the government and making a stand for Indian issues. As a result, American Indian activists gained a national platform.

AIM membership numbers are difficult to calculate because, as Albert RunningWolf Ortiz, a Kiowa based in Brookville, Ind., explained, there is no membership card to display.

Ortiz, who has served as chairman of the AIM Support Group of Indiana for two years, says, "If you stay sober, help Native People and are accepted by them, you're an AIM member."

Or, as Chris Orcutt, Indianapolis resident of the Chippewa tribe based in Turtle Mountain, N.D., puts it, "If you're Indian and you want to be part of AIM, you're AIM."

AIM's current focus is on protecting sacred lands, ensuring religious freedom, promoting sovereignty and ending the use of team mascots that promote racist stereotypes.

According to Ortiz, the purpose of all AIM chapters is to support and endorse decisions of the Grand Governing Council; help free AIM activist Leonard Peltier, who many believe was wrongfully convicted of murdering two FBI agents during a shoot-out in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; and help Native People.

Because, as Ortiz explains, AIM is a spiritual movement, its goal is to help Native People learn "who they are and where they come from." As part of its mission to protect the spiritual and physical welfare of Native People, AIM strives to educate non-Indian people about conditions and promote understanding of the history that led to the current state of affairs. Events like the Longest Walk 3, organized by AIM founder Dennis Banks, help bring attention to health issues such as diabetes, from which he says as much as 50 percent of the Native population suffers.

Stength in Humility

The new Indiana chapter has yet to be sanctioned by the GGC, but Prince hopes to gain approval at the upcoming annual meeting. Prince reports that he has drafted bylaws and a mission statement and has selected his Council in preparation to work for an area that spans beyond Indiana to Kentucky, Illinois and parts of Michigan and Wisconsin.

Ortiz recognizes that bringing people together is difficult, and promises to support Prince and serve in an advisory position. In addition to support from AIM, friends and his Council, Prince said he will be guided by the seven sacred laws of the Anishinaabe: Honesty, humility, truth, wisdom, love, respect and bravery.

"Humility means our egos are out of the way because we are not in it for ourselves, but for all people," he said. "Wisdom means that we can sit and listen and recognize what is good for all people and truth means we are truly walking the seven sacred laws."

Having faced racism and several of the problems common among Native Peoples, Prince said, "I was born an Indian and I will die an Indian. That is why I want to be involved in AIM. We need the world to know of our struggles and that we are still here and we shall remain."

click to enlarge The bead work on the back panel of Prince's jacket illustrates some of the symbolism central to the American Indian Movement. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • The bead work on the back panel of Prince's jacket illustrates some of the symbolism central to the American Indian Movement.
  • Rebecca Townsend

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