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Trail of Broken Treaties


"TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES." A central protest event of the Red Power activist period of the 1970s, the "Trail of Broken Treaties" was organized by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to bring national attention to Native grievances. The "trail" began on the West Coast in the late summer of 1972 as an automobile caravan composed of Indians from across the country who intended to demonstrate their concerns in Washington, D.C. As it proceeded east, the caravan stopped by reservations and urban Indian communities to drum up support, recruit participants, conduct workshops, and draft an agenda for Indian policy reform. The caravan arrived in Washington, D.C., in the early days of November, just before the 1972 presidential election, a time considered ideal for anyone seeking media coverage.

As it traveled across the country, the caravan grew, numbering several hundred when it arrived in the capital. Initially the group was orderly, but when housing for the protesters disintegrated, the original goals of the organizers shifted from meetings and demonstrations to a week long occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building. The occupation was reported on the front pages of the New York Times and many other newspapers. The publicity drew attention to Indian rights and provided a platform for the protesters to present their "20-Point Program" to increase the role of tribes in the formation of Indian programs. The "self-determination" federal legislation of the mid-1970s that shifted more local control to recognized tribes should be understood against the backdrop of the Red Power protest era, especially the Trail of Broken Treaties and the protests it inspired.

Another important outcome of the Trail of Broken Treaties and the other protests of the era was a surge of Native pride and consciousness. For example, the Lakota author Mary Crow Dogdescribes the response to militant Indians such as those in the American Indian Movement:

The American Indian Movement hit our reservation like a tornado, like a new wind blowing out of nowhere, a drumbeat from far off getting louder and louder. …I could feel this new thing, almost hear it, smell it, touch it. Meeting up with AIM for the first time loosened a sort of earthquake inside me. (pp. 74–75)


Crow Dog, Mary, and Richard Erdoes. Lakota Woman. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990.

Josephy, Alvin M., Jr., Joane Nagel, and Troy Johnson, eds. Red Power. 2d ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.


See alsoWounded Knee (1973) .

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