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American Indian Movement of Colorado

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Friday, July 02, 2004

Marlon Brando-Blood brother to the Redman.

Okay, sorry about that title but I thought it captured the ridiculous 60's/70's headlines when the subject was Marlon Brando's support for American Indian activism. It was either that or "Marlon Brando-On the Reservationfront." Before anyone sends a chastising email, keep in mind that Brando tended to act in ways that were unconventional(in the WASPY sense), so he probably wouldn't mind a little diversion from the somber path.

For those that may not know, Marlon Brando passed away yesterday evening. He suffered lung failure at the UCLA medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 80 years old.

Marlon Brando was renowned as a brilliant actor. He played charcters that seared themselves into the consciousness of American pop culture. Brando's filmography in the 1950's includes;"A Street Named Desire,""The Wild one," and"On the Waterfront." He won his first Academy Award, for Best Actor in a lead
role, as Terry Malloy, in "On the Waterfront." In this film, Brando's character spoke the often repeated and imitated line "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am."

Marlon Brando's work in the 1970's includes Colonel Kurtz, in "Apocalypse Now," and Vito Corleone, in "The Godfather." It was for playing Vito Corleone that Brando won his second Academy Award for Best Actor in a lead role.

This Academy Award Presentation was held on March 27, 1973. This took place during AIM's liberation of Wounded Knee. Rather than accept the Academy Award, Brando sent Sacheen Little Feather to decline the award and read a brief statement in support of the people in Wounded Knee. The media chose to portray this act as a bizarre publicity stunt but Indian people were aware that it was consistent with Brando's unapologetic support for American Indian activists and issues.

Marlon Brando was a friend of Clyde Warrior, one of the progenitors of the "Red Power" movement via the National Indian Youth Council. Along with the NIYC, Brando joined the Puyallups in their "fish-in" struggles in the early 60's. "Fish-ins" was the term used to describe the tactics by the indigenous Nations of the U.S Northwest in which they cast fishing nets in the traditions of their ancestors who signed treaties, guaranteeing their right to fish in such a manner. There were 6 treaties guaranteeing this right, beginning with the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek. Their method of fishing was illegal, according to state law, and they were routinely arrested by Washington State authorities.

On March 02, 1964, Marlon Brando and Clergyman, John Yaryan, were arrested for participating in a fish-in, alongside Puyallup leader, Bob Satiacum. Brando's arrest brought enormous media attention to the cause and the fish-ins politicized a whole generation young indian people.

Marlon Brando also gave support to the Occupation of Alcatraz. From November 20, 1969 to June 11, 1971, American Indians from all over held the island of Alcatraz. Alcatraz fueled the growing movement for Native rights and also created another generation of activists. Some of the people who organized the occupation or participated in it include, Richard Oakes, Wilma Mankiller and John Trudell. Brando, along with other celebrities, gave material support and visited the island in a show of solidarity.

Brando's support for the American Indian Movement became widely known when he declined to accept the Academy Award. His support didn't end with the liberation of Wounded Knee.

In "Ojibwa Warrior," Dennis Banks tells of Brando's aid when he was a fugitive with Leonard Peltier. Banks states that he and Peltier visited Brando's home in the fall of 1975. According to Banks, Brando gave them the keys to his motor home and handed Dennis a roll of money to help them on their way. Banks later counted the money and the amount came to $10,000 dollars. It was in Brando's motor home that Banks, Peltier, Anna Mae Aquash and Kamook Nichols were pulled over in, while driving on an Oregon Highway. Banks escaped, driving Brandos' motor home before abandoning it a few miles down the road, where Oregon State troopers shot it up.

Marlon Brandos' support for American Indian issues became less public over the years. Since the 70's, no actor of Brando's caliber has expressed the same level of support for American Indian issues. No actor ever may. Just as the era of activism in the 60's and 70's may never be duplicated, so may the conscientous actions of Marlon Brando be consigned to the past.

Marlon Brando. 1924-2004


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