Remembering Mike Haney- A life of resistance with a smile by Thomas Pearce

There we were hurtling through the snow on a cold night down Interstate 74, my eyes wide, I was slumped into the red leather back seat of the massive Cadillac crammed full of fugitives heading toward Indianapolis on the way to Cleveland for the opening day of Baseball to protest the Wahoo or as Mike Haney and Vernon Bellecourt liked to call them “the Cleveland Franchise”.

On the radio a voice was saying “Illinois State Police are looking for a group of American Indians who broke into (lie) the Dixon Mounds Museum today and tried to rebury the remains of American Indians on display there. Mike looked back at me from the front seat and with a wink said “good one huh” and then “how does it feel to be an AIM gangster on the run?” I looked back all wide-eyed gulped and said “great” shakily. He and Vernon cackled and laughed and started making fun, “yep you’re in it now, you can never get out”. I look back at that night one of many and smile deep in my soul. Mike Haney and Vernon Bellecourt were two of the most important influences on my life.

Mike Haney speaking to an African-American Congregation at Chestnut Baptist Church about racist mascots as Jessie Jackson, Alderman Paul Bather, Dennis Banks, and myself look on.    

         Mike went through life on his own terms here is my memorial letter to him, ( I left out part of the Dixon Mounds Story out of concern for legal issues but there are none):

Mike,
I will remember you last showing up at my door with Cheri and your son in Kentucky on the way to Washington DC. Needing a cat nap, black coffee, some oil, a little food and a smile. You wanted us to go with as we had many times before. On that night we could not.
Mike I tried to learn fearlessness from you and we fought many battles together. Dixon Mounds, Cleveland, Atlanta, disrupting homecoming at UI Champagne, and all the other actions we took and you always seemed to force us to have fun doing it. Wherever we were the International House of Pancakes or Shoney’s became our office.
I will never forget the time you demanded we come to Cleveland immediately for the kick off of the base-ball season at Jacob’s field. In your usual style you finagled us a couple of rooms at the Ritz Carlton and we packed those rooms with Indians and activists for two days. the highlight of our stay was when you took all of us to the breakfast buffet (I have no clue who paid for it but it wasn’t us) and we all sat down. Scraggly, tired, road weary and ready for a protest. We all sat there proud to be your guests. All of the sudden we noticed them coming in. I started laughing. There they were. The bulk of the Cleveland ball club. I said Mike can you believe this and he smiled winked and said “goooood food huh?”
Mike, Vernon, and Charlene Teters burning the Chief at U of I homecoming
Mike always had a way of being in the right place at the right time. As if his strategy was unfolding perfectly (except those times it wasn’t but we don’t need to go into that). When five of us found our way into the end zone at homecoming and unfurled a banner that said “Indians aren’t your mascots” across our knees at half time. We literally brought halftime to a screeching halt for 50,000 fans. The police actually had to protect us the fans were so mad. We made our point and at the end of half time we got up and walked out slowly.
 Mike Haney and Charlene Teters after burning an effigy of Chief Wahoo in a coffin in Cleveland Ohio
I remember the moment that transfixed you in my memory forever though. The night after we shut down Dixon Mounds as we listened to the radio as we were leaving the state of Illinois when the radio news came on and announced the state police were looking for a group of Indians who had attempted to rebury the 128 remains of their people at the museum exhibit at Dixon Mounds. We were in a smoke-filled car and you put in a cassette of some good pow-wow music in the stereo looked over your shoulder and said “good one, huh”. I couldn’t believe later that the state agreed to shut down the burial exhibit. We all thought we were going to be sitting in a concrete room for quite some time. We didn’t always walk away unscathed but Mike you always made it look easy.
The funniest thing I ever remember Mike doing and have on video? Well we showed up in Atlanta to protest the World Series between the Atlanta and Cleveland franchises. There were only a handful of us there. Maybe twenty. We had secured a protest zone at the main entrance where tens of thousands of fans would be walking in. The justice department was there to “observe”. The city of Atlanta assigned their elite “Red Dog” squad to “protect us”. We got there before Mike. We had our drum, a 1000 watt PA system (Mike demanded it), and some signs. Mike got there and shook everyone’s hand and then he opened up a bag he had and donned a sheet and a hood not covering his face and pulled out a small cross about the size of a rubber tomahawk. He then proceeded to announce he had found an alternative to the Atlanta Braves mascot. It would be the Georgia Klansmen or the Georgia Crackers and proceeded to do the crucifix chop. This is definitely the funniest and most poignant video of any protest or action in my archive. Fans confronting Mike donned with make up and chicken feathers told Mike he was a racist. He asked them if they had been one of the characters in Deliverance. Things got interesting from that point on. Mike had a sense of humor.
Mike, you are one of the brightest stars that have guided me through the years. Many may complain that you overstepped your bounds in trying to stand up for your people, but to me
you taught me to do whatever it took to get the job done and have fun doing it.
My friend we looked at many a starry sky together, we smoked, ate, laughed, got detained, and sang. I know you are smiling wherever you are. We carry the gifts you gave us and we will hand them on. Stories, advice, choke cherries, smoke, and dreams of a day when people truly enjoy justice. My elder you taught us well. To fight injustice and have a good time doing it.
Tom Pearce
Mike was foremost a warrior in an age filled with daredevils and football players who pass for heroes while all of America wish them on at the edge of their seats, Mike taught that the real warriors and heroes made their mark against the vast majority of white public sentiment by standing up and saying no! No to being your mascots. No to being a part of this imperialist war machine. No to racism against African-Americans. No to economic exploitation of the land and the people.
I was watching a video of a stadium of people cheering on a millionaire dare-devil as he crashed his motorcycle and broke his bones and then cheered as he announced that he was going to “walk out of here”. Of course this is someone who is beloved by millions by putting his life on the line repeatedly for MILLIONS of dollars, and although I guess we should revere people of courage? What does it say about the American mind that somehow a sports figure or stuntman is uplifted in the shoulders of the world by saying ” I will risk my life for millions of dollars”?
It made me think of Mike Haney. Mike traveled the US, usually in a broken up car, often with his young sons at his side and had a network of friends along every interstate that he would drop in on and ask for some coffee, some gas money, a place to lay his head a minute, some smoke, and a hug with a big smile. I never heard him complain about his life. He loved being a warrior, a true fearless warrior. In the time I knew him I saw him jailed, attacked by crowds of football fans, bones broken by police, and on and on. Always with a smile. He could make millions in Hollywood playing the stoic warrior in this or that movie but the movement was his life. The land and the people.
Mike a 6 foot 6 Seminole-Lakota from Oklahoma was just a little more concerned with doing whatever it took to fight for his people. Handsome and one of the best orators I ever met, he could make his enemies laugh while jailing him. In a world full of people content on celebrating “jack ass” for running bicycles into  walls, and daredevils who put their lives on the line for the almighty dollar it is hard for a young person as I was to find motives to be something for no personal gain but because it was right. This was a lifestyle that would make all of us who lived it a bit crazy at times and Mike was no exception. How could you not. We live in a society of American Idol, Evel Knievel, Britney Spears, and where if a working class person wants to liberate themselves from poverty a million people will pay to watch you put a gun to your head or crash a car. Meanwhile those like Mike who went from town to town saying as loud as he could not only no but “HELL NO!!” didn’t get any book deals, movie deals, pats on the back but constant persecution. It is hard to ask anyone to live a life like that. Mike led by example.
Mike was always available to go to a university and demand to see all the remains of Indian people in vaults in Anthropology departments across the US. It got to the point where the University of Louisville had our pictures on the wall with a note to call the police if we were seen coming into the building. In the end? Mike taught me that in this evil country and nation? It is better to be notorious than noteworthy. So for now? I won’t be cheering for any daredevils or sports stars. I cheer for warriors and great artists whose work is a reflection of the world we live in. I have no more time for trivial pursuit.  In the end it is nice to be entertained but I learned to view things this way, “What did you change today, who did you help today? If the answer to that question on a regular basis is myself?  Then you’re not outstanding you are pretty damn ordinary”.
Life wasn’t always bad by the way, in good times we would eat great, stay in nice digs, and laugh and dream, and travel from one end of this beautiful stolen land to another. Most of the time though, we sold AIM shirts out of the trunk of the car to get gas to get out-of-town. I would not trade those years for anything. My favorite times with Mike were when we would come into a small poor community and be asked if we would like to do a sweat. We would sit under the stars afterward and laugh softly, eat some berries, and take turn telling stories to young people with eyes all wide. Those were the days.
Mike Haney quotes:
“All the scared Indians are dead”
“You should change the name to the Georgia Crackers or the Atlanta Klansmen”
“Our weapons are buried somewhere but we have a shovel”
“Didn’t I see you in Deliverance?”
“Warriors stand up for something bigger than themselves, never turn from duty, and provide for their people”
Mike Haney, Clyde Bellecourt and I at AIM 25th Anniversary Powwow

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3 Comments

  1. The stories are amazing, shows how the common people can do extraordinary things when the heart is in the right place

    • Thank you so much Hinhanska your dad is proud of you I know.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.


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