In the spring of 2017, I found myself sitting on a lawn outside a modest hotel in Mill Valley, California, with Dennis Banks, the legendary founder of AIM (American Indian Movement), and Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American actress-activist who, in 1973, turned down the best-actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in protest against Hollywood’s racist depiction of Indians.
Inside the hotel conference room, a few dozen veterans of AIM’s militant actions of the 1970s were gathering to celebrate Banks’s 80th birthday. There was a sense of wonder that this “red giant”—as one former AIM warrior called him—had survived the fires of his volcanic past. Here he was after eight decades, still among us, looking fit and cool in his porkpie hat, wire-rimmed dark glasses, embroidered vest, turquoise bolo tie, and black jeans. Before the year was over, Banks would be dead, succumbing to complications from open-heart surgery. But today the “Ojibwa Warrior” (also the title of his 2004 memoir) was triumphant and in a mood to relive the glories and traumas of his revolutionary life.