American Indians occupied Milwaukee’s Coast Guard station 50 years ago. It was a uniquely successful operation.
The Coast Guard occupation is a recurrent theme in a new book about Indian activism in the 1970s: “I Will” by Sheron Wyant-Leonard. The author takes a cinematic approach to the story of the American Indian Movement, shifting from scene to scene with an abundance of dialogue and four major stars: Herb and Dorothy Powless, Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks.
Wyant-Leonard portrays Herb Powless as a deft politician who made some powerful friends on his frequent trips to Washington, friends who worked to turn the Coast Guard station over to its Indian occupiers. AIM and its affiliated programs, however, served members of many tribes. What Powless needed was a federally recognized Indian nation to accept the land in trust, as a sort of urban reservation. According to Wyant-Leonard, he shopped the idea to four Wisconsin tribes before the Forest County Potawatomi said “yes” — a fateful decision for all concerned.