Russell Means: "I Owe a Lot to Dennis Banks"
LEECH LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION – Surrounded by his family and friends, Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, was roasted on Friday night as part of his 75th birthday celebration at the Northern Lights Casino and Resort on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Walker, Minnesota.
Banks, wearing a purple ribbon-shirt, black slacks, argyle socks with white athletic shoes trimmed in red and a black fedora, sat for over three hours as speaker after speaker came to the podium to roast him to enjoyment of the audience of some 350 people. Northern Lights' ballroom was filled with young and old.
Banks' brother, Mark, 80, from Dallas, Texas and Oneida comedian Charlie Hill served as emcees of the event. Mark Banks quipped he was present at Banks birth. He said.
Among the crowd were several members of the American Indian Movement who were part of the 71 day siege of Wounded Knee four decades ago.
One prominent American Indian Movement leader present was Russell Means, who even though he was billed as a roaster, he did not use the occasion to do so. Means was very gentle and caring when talking about Banks.
Means, who was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus last July and is now cancer free, spoke with great admiration about his relationship with Banks that dates back four decades.
He recounted first becoming acquainted with the American Indian Movement. The occasion was when he attended an AIM conference in San Francisco where he "publically insulted AIM" because he took a position opposite to AIM's involving an urban American Indian agency.
Means said he was surprised a week or so later when Banks called him to invite him to attend the annual meeting of the National Council of Churches in Detroit. Banks told Means during the call, "we need your help."
He said the telephone call from Banks demonstrated Banks' ability to reach out to others to get things done regardless of opposing views or differences. It is a trait of a great leader.
Means said he was grateful that Banks and artist Paul Collins, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, came to visit him last year in New Mexico when he was suffering from cancer.
Means said as he concluded his remarks.
Attorney Larry Leventhal, who represented Banks during his trial after he was indicted for his role in Wounded Knee, recalled some humorous moments during trial that ended in a mistrial.
Banks' daughter, Tokala Banks, was a crowd favorite when she arrived on stage dressed as an AIM warrior. Her presentation was mixed with admiration, humor and history of what was like growing up as a daughter of a leader who devoted his life to working on behalf of American Indians. She recalled crying when her father turned himself in to South Dakota authorities after fleeing the law for many years for his involvement in the incident at Custer, South Dakota prior to her birth.
Other roasters and presenters included: Singer Martha Redbone, singer Keith Secola, artist Paul Collins, Curt Hanson, former tribal Chairman Leonard Prescott, Bill Means, actor Gary Farmer, Kateri Walker and Chief Jerry Nelson.
Banks, whose actual birthday was on Thursday, said his goal is to live one day to the next.