I wasn’t alive when the American Indian Movement (AIM) came about and began taking action. I’ve heard stories, from both Natives and non-Natives, about events that happened at the time. That, plus doing reading on AIM, is all I have to go on.
I take it that in the 70’s, activist groups didn’t consider the variety of identities even within a seemingly single group. AIM didn’t, I take it, consider women and sexual minorities, for example, the way many activist organizations do today. This made for a (mostly) male-led organization, although there were some notable women.
Most of the Native people who participated in AIM activities had gone to boarding schools, it seems. Thus, as forced assimilation works, to the extent it works, they were somewhat disconnected with their tribal traditions.
During the occupation of Wounded Knee, Native people were armed. Whether it was justified that they were armed is up to you and your theory of these things, but I think it can safely be said it was justifiable to be armed. This is considering the policy of boarding schools and other policies by the United States.
AIM may have ultimately lost that battle, but it made a huge mess for the United States. Suddenly, Native people, who had been pretty much off the radar, were back on (white) people’s minds. And the United States handled this mess with all the grace of a bull in a China shop.
The legacy of AIM is complex and cannot be narrowed down to one incident (the occupation of Wounded Knee). Native people and injustices toward them have gained a wider audience and there has been progress, however slow, on things such as the rights of Native American artists, repatriations from museums, and even moving into the self-determination era of Indian Policy.
Not all of this can be attributed to AIM directly. But what AIM helped do was foster an activist mentality among Native people and spread “panindianism”–for good and for bad.
Whatever its failings–and I’m sure there are some!–AIM has probably had a net positive force in the world.