The "AIM Song" is the name given to a Native American intertribal song. Although the song originally did not have a name, it gained its current alias through association with the American Indian Movement.
The origins of the song itself are uncertain, and there are various theories attributing the song to various locations across North America and various points in history. For many tribes, the origins of the song have been legendized.
A popular theory is that it developed from a simple song hummed by a child at Crow Fair. This is possible, because the vocables are not particularly complex, however the claim remains largely ungrounded.
A more likely theory is that it was developed between two early members of the American Indian Movement.
Edward Benton-Banai, from the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe Indians, co-founded the movement in 1972, and is rumoured as the songwriter. The song could have been inspired by a traditional Ojibwe honoring song, known as the Airforce Song.
Severt Young Bear, an Oglala Lakota from Porcupine, South Dakota, was also involved in AIM. As the lead singer of the Porcupine Singers, he made the song popular in the early 1970s. Although he admits he did not write it, collaboration between himself and Benton-Banai could have helped the song to develop. Although Severt does give credit to Drury Cook (A Mnicoujou Lakota and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) for possibly making the AIM song, which at time of selecting a song, other songs were brought to AIM leaders as possible songs, Porcupine Singers performed the song for AIM leaders and the song was accepted by the Leaders at that time as the AIM Song or Anthem (Severt quoted this in his book "Standing in the Light").
Several Ktunaxa Elders (Marianne Michel, Leo Williams, Wilfred Jacobs, and Joe Skookum) were tape recorded at a powwow in 1981 at the Lower Kootenay Band at Creston British Columbia and stated that the song people are using in association with AIM and the Constitutional Express Constitution Express in 1980 which went from Vancouver to Ottawa is a Ktunaxa warrior song. Two of the Elders stated, "It is very important to me". The Ktunaxa songs are almost all melodic and most do not include the Ktunaxa language, which is in the same style as the "AIM Song".
Association with AIM
The song became popular around the time of the Wounded Knee incident in 1970s South Dakota. It was sung at protests and recorded on the news, and thus gained its connotations with the American Indian Movement.
Because the song is pan-tribal, it was used by members of AIM, who belonged to various tribes and spoke different languages. As such the song is used to unite people with a common cause and to develop a feeling of morale or spirituality.
At an AIM convention at Cass Lake, Minnesota, they discussed whether the song should be adopted as an official AIM song.
The song comprises non-lexical vocables (abstract sounds rather than semantic words). This involves the heavy use of vowels and semi-vowels, as consonants would bias the song towards a particular tribe (whose language uses those consonants). The song is intended as an intertribal, therefore it is deliberately not language-specific.
As is characteristic of a lot of Native American songs, the song involves vocal harmony. The men are backed up by around twice the number of women. The female vocal line becomes particularly prominent in this repeated motif:
The song is usually accompanied with a steady beat on a traditional man’s drum. It has also been heard with the accompaniment of a water drum, which suggests the song originated amongst the Plains tribes.
The song can be heard at protests and intertribal powwows. It has become particularly popular in the north-east.
At powwows, the song is used to warm up and "open the drum". This could be in the form of a private prayer before a public performance.
Many recordings have been made of the song, including one by Blackfire, a Navajo punk-rock band.