The CLEVELAND AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT (AIM) was founded by RUSSELL MEANS, a Lakota Sioux activist and Objiwa activist Dennis Banks in 1970. Banks had helped found the original AIM in Minneapolis two years earlier and later met Means in 1969. The Cleveland chapter became the second oldest AMERICAN INDIAN Movement organization in the country. The organization has had several meeting places throughout its history including the basement of St John’s Episcopal Church, the American Indian Education Center and locations in Parma and on Denison Avenue in West Cleveland. As of 2021 it is without a permanent meeting place.
Cleveland AIM has had several directors during its history starting with Means, followed by Jerome Warcloud in the 1980s, Robert Roche (Chiricahua) during the 1990s and it is currently (2021) directed by Sundance (Muskogee) who has been in the role since 2006. Today, their Elders Council consists of Sundance, Morning Dove (St David Island Pequots), Three Eagle Cloud (Taino) and Cindi Byron Dixon (Mohawk). Volunteers have also played an essential role in the organization. The American Indian Movement had several original goals including supporting indigenous sovereignty, solidarity, spirituality and sobriety. The Cleveland chapter was founded with two of its own. The first was to establish a permanent native cultural center in Cleveland. The second goal was to work to change the CLEVELAND INDIANS’ baseball team name and eliminate its CHIEF WAHOO logo. The organization has demonstrated outside of the Cleveland Indians home openers every year since 1970 and has encouraged activists around the area to participate. In 1972 the organization filed a slander and libel lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians and it was ultimately settled in the mid-1980s during Francis J. O’Neill’s time as team owner. The settlement was sealed but the ownership had promised to start phasing out the name and logo. However, O’Neill died in 1983 and two years later the team was sold to RICHARD JACOBS who kept the name and logo in place for the entirety of his ownership of the team.
In 1995, the GATEWAY CORPORATION tried to ban the Cleveland AIM-led home opener protests outside of JACOBS FIELD. However, AIM filed a lawsuit claiming the grounds around the stadium were public property because the stadium was funded by taxpayer money. This move was successful and the Gateway Corporation agreed to allow the protests so long as it was given notice ahead of time.
Cleveland AIM filed a complaint to the Ohio Commission of Civil Rights saying that the Cleveland Indians' use of the name Indians and the offensive logo were discriminatory in 1999. The commission ruled that because Native Americans were not prohibited from attending games at the stadium, the team was not culpable for discrimination. In 2018 the Indians retired the Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms and the team’s chairman and CEO Paul Dolan announced that the team would also move on from the team name in 2020. In 2021, the change was made official as the club was rebranded as the Cleveland Guardians.
Cleveland AIM has also worked with school systems in Ohio to address the issues with indigenous inspired team names and logos. In 2007 Cleveland AIM, led by Sundance, was the driving force behind Oberlin City Schools changing their name from Indians. In 2013, when Berea and Midpark high schools merged, AIM worked with them to adopt a non-Native American name (Berea High School’s teams had previously been known as the Braves). The group has also worked with several other schools to answer questions about their current names and branding as it relates to the issue of Native American mascots.
Working to get Native American names and logos at schools around the state continues to be a primary focus of the organization. Cleveland AIM also played a central role in promoting the introduction and celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Ohio. In 2017, Oberlin, Ohio became the first city to celebrate this holiday while also abolishing the observance of Columbus Day. The group has worked with local governments in Cleveland and Akron urging them to do the same and while both cities agreed to introduce Indigenous Peoples Day, neither abolished Columbus Day.
Cleveland AIM has been a part of other celebrations in Northeast Ohio throughout its history. From 2000 to 2013 the group was a part of an annual pow wow led by the American Indian Education Center. They also held a Christmas dinner until 2018. Currently (2021), Cleveland AIM supplies speakers, drummers and dancers for entertainment and educational events around the state.