Urban Relocation and the Founding of AIM

Seven Generations 2020

Seven Generations 2020

Bob "Punk" Wakanabo
1950 Cass Lake, Minnesota – 2019 Fargo, North Dakota
Warriors Now & Then
lithograph on paper
17 x 11 in.
Allen Cooper Papers (MSS 925 BC, folder 2), Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico,


The 1952 federal Urban Relocation Program attracted Native people to major US cities with the promise of housing and jobs at a time when the government was also trying to dissolve reservations and unemployment was rampant. Oftentimes, though, when people moved to cities—like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Denver—the benefits they had been promised were not there. As a result, many relocated Indigenous people were unable to find jobs or housing and experienced culture shock and discrimination.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) was a product of the Urban Relocation Program. By 1968, the situation in Minneapolis had come to a head. Indigenous people in the city (and in many urban centers) experienced increased violence at the hands of police. In response, Clyde Bellecourt (Ojibwe), Dennis Banks (Leech Lake), Eddie Benton-Banai (Ojibwe), and Pat Bellanger (Ojibwe) formed AIM. They first became famous for the “AIM Patrols,” which teamed up with the “Soul Patrols” to track police activity over radios. The patrols showed up to calls when Native or Black people were involved. The patrols documented police interactions and stepped in to de-escalate when necessary, which led to a drop in arrests.

Beyond protecting Indigenous people from police violence, AIM also fought against Indian child removal and poverty. They achieved both through the Little Earth affordable housing complex and the Legal Rights Center (LRC) in Minneapolis, which are both still operating. The LRC litigated child removal cases and offered legal representation to Native and non-Native people who could not afford it.