Bury the Truth at Wounded Knee

Dennis Banks’s new memoir—and the murder that won’t go away

In a last-minute addendum tacked on at the end of the chapter, Banks writes about "the trial against AIM security personnel Arlo Looking Cloud." "I am sorry to inform my readers that Kamook took the stand," he declares. But he fails to mention the more important fact that it appears that the Aquash murder has at last been solved--at the very least, partly solved. In fact, he doesn't even mention that Looking Cloud was being tried for Aquash's murder.

In sworn testimony, both Nichols and John Trudell, a former AIM chairman, have testified that in late February of 1976 Banks personally told them that a body discovered in the ravine was that of Aquash. This is curious, since the FBI did not positively identify the body until March 3.

Yet again, Banks is silent on the matter.

University of Oklahoma Press

After Wounded Knee, Banks spent a decade as a fugitive on a conviction stemming from a courthouse riot in Custer, South Dakota. He faded from the headlines, but his life--like those of other AIM leaders--followed a Zelig-like trajectory. Banks went on to enjoy a modest Hollywood career--racking up acting credits in eight movies and twelve television shows. Means would live even more publicly, appearing in sixteen movies and nine television shows when he wasn't running for vice president (on a ticket with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, no less). Trudell, meanwhile, became a poet and recording artist. In a strange footnote, Looking Cloud allegedly confessed his role in the Aquash killing to Trudell after meeting the former AIM leader at a Midnight Oil concert where Trudell was the opening act.

In recounting his numerous encounters with celebrity, Banks proves once again what a truly bizarre country we live in. At one point, when he's on the run from the law, Marlon Brando--with Harry Belafonte by his side!--gives Banks $10,000 in cash and the keys to his motor home. That act perhaps undermines Banks's rather melodramatic characterization of his predicament at that time: "Kamook and I had become fugitives with all hands raised against us." All hands, that is, except for those handing over 10 grand and an RV.

When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps Patty Hearst, Banks is called upon to act as an intermediary. When Banks needs to raise bail money, the Rev. Jim Jones steps into the breach. Later, Jones--a man of far more apocalyptic Utopian fantasies--tries to talk Banks into joining the doomed commune in Guyana. It's an invitation Banks wisely refuses.

Banks doesn't devote much time to recent decades, which is fitting. AIM's glory years have long since passed, and its influence has waned. AIM's leaders were always better at staking out the moral high ground than maintaining it. In the end, the movement was racked by bitter infighting among its leaders and the government's calculated and overzealous prosecution of its members. And, over the long years, it has been haunted by the ghost of a woman AIM has long claimed as its martyr but who--by all appearances--was really its victim.

Until Banks and the other AIM eminences can own that, AIM's stirring, painful, and true history remains unwritten.

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