The Trail of Broken Treaties


The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in July of 1968. It grew over the years, and on October 6, 1972, a group of Red Power activists from AIM left their homes in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to begin a caravan to Washington D.C. in what they called “The Trail of Broken Treaties.”
The activists had drafted a twenty-point manifesto they called “An Indian Manifesto for Restitution, Reparations, and Restoration of Lands for a Reconstruction of an Indian Future in America.” As part of this manifesto, the activists demanded the Federal government legally recognize past treaties and return over 100 million acres of Native land.
The caravan that entered Washington D.C. was over 4 miles long and represented over 200 tribes from all over the country. The leaders had hoped for meetings with various Federal agencies, but when they arrived they found that no one was willing to meet with them. Peaceful, planned demonstrations were cancelled. The churches they planned to sleep at refused to let them in.

See also: Indigenous History


Because of this, they headed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to figure out their next steps, and were still in the building past 4:30pm, when the building was set to close. Riot police came to the scene unexpectedly to force them to leave. This escalated the situation rather than helping everyone to evacuate peacefully. The travelers occupied the building from November 3-9, when a Federal court decided the protestors could be lawfully removed. The conflict resulted in an estimated $2 million in damages and reports of missing federal documents. Rather than call attention to the requests of the 20 Point Manifesto and the subsequent neglect of the Federal government, all media attention was turned to the destruction of Federal property. 

Months later, Hank Adams, leader of the Trail of Broken Treaties, was interviewed about the confrontation: “For some, we had defeated the building; for others the building had defeated us. In the days and weeks that followed, the twenty points were not addressed by the Nixon administration. And the media seemed more concerned with the damage to the building than what the building [Bureau of Indian Affairs] represented to Indigenous People.” 

Throughout his presidency, President Nixon signed 52 bills related to Native American sovereignty, including restoring millions of acres of land but the 20 Point Manifesto was never formally addressed.