This essay of mine is originally from 2009 where it was posted on ‘myspace’ (before Rupert Murdoch’s people destroyed that platform.) A mutual acquaintance brought the essay to Russell’s attention with a request for some response, which was never forthcoming. Why I am re-posting the essay now is, I ran across an essay at Cultural Survival which extensively utilizes Russell Mean’s as an authority on the subject of fraud in Native American spiritual matters. I do not take issue with the gist of the essay posted at the Cultural Survival website (except for it’s very incomplete coverage of a complex subject, which I will take forward in upcoming assessment) but I do take issue with Russell Means as an expert authority and role model.
I know a little something about what it means to be Indian in the old ways, and it is that standard, the original Native American standard, I will speak to here.
At our age, we either have become elders, and that entails a certain kind of wisdom achieved in the native way, through a lifetime of personal evolution or, we have become ‘nothing people.’
Russell would not know me from Adam, were we to meet, is my guess. So now I will remind him of what is not forgotten.
Russell and I go back over 30 years, to the International Treaty Councils held at Fort Belknap in Montana. I was invited by the Atsina members based on my association with the old Blackfoot Confederacy, The Kainah, Sisika, Amskapi Pikuni, Skinee Pikuni, Sarcee, Atsina and particularly because of my relationship to the Pikuni peoples.
On one occasion I accepted, and generously donated considerable financial support to this American Indian Movement event. Delegations from numerous tribes attended, from the USA and Canada. My nephew, Devalon Small Legs, from an important family of Canadian AIM leaders of that time, attended from the Skinee Pikuni, I was the only Amskapi Pikuni present.
AIM had incorporated both political and spiritual movements, our Blackfoot confederated members tended to the spiritual side. The difference is, the spiritual people understand that to be Native American is primarily a way of life, a lived philosophy. I am White. But I grew up bi-culturally Native American, with relationships in the Native community from my youth. My Pikuni spiritual people had always honored this. Also my Plains Ojibwe and Cree peoples.
Russell’s AIM people did not even bother to inquire when they met me, they saw a Whiteman, judged me on that fact solely and Russell accordingly has been a fool for over thirty years. Indian people should never have to be instructed to be civil in their Native community.
On top of about $700 out of pocket to help feed the International Treaty Council event and provide some travel money, a lot of money both for myself and that community in that era, I had brought in some non-native people with open minds. I wished to create empathy, open channels of dialog and raise awareness in the outside world concerning the cruel apartheid system our subjugated tribes suffer.
Russell’s AIM delegation killed that. The only people from the Means camp to visit our camp, came to make pointed racial insults. It was so bad, my Blackfoot confederacy people and Atsina hosts had to call a special meeting simply to insist we be treated in a civil way. It never happened (civility from Russell’s people) but the worst of the insults ceased. So much for dialog.
At a subsequent meeting attended by Russell and myself in Great Falls, Montana, Russell had to be pointedly told I could participate in the Pipe Ceremony by my nephew Devalon, the AIM spiritual leader for that event. That was the last and only time I had personally met Russell, but I have kept an eye on him since.
I am related to the Gophers, a plains Ojibwe family. I am not close to all of them, I will say it is for reasons more traditional people would understand. However I did know Robert Gopher, a key International Treaty Council supporter, quite well. To be fair, I will say Robert was a well intended but bullheaded and not the brightest man. When our relative, a Gopher kid, was to be sentenced for manslaughter, a result of drinking and driving, Robert asked Russell Means for help. That was a big mistake. The kid was guilty as hell, with multiple prior offences, and instead of opening a civil dialog in the community concerning why these things too often happen in the repression of enforced poverty, Russell shot his mouth off to the press to the effect the prosecution of the kid amounted to “racism.” That was pretty rich, based on my experience with Russell. His “racist prosecution” statement was all over the Montana newspapers, it pissed off the judge and the book was thrown at the Gopher kid, he got the maximum possible sentence the prosecutor was asking for, 100 years.
When I met the author of ‘In the Spirit of Crazy Horse’, Peter Mattheissen, we had a short conversation about Russell. I told Peter that Russell is a “really big asshole” and Peter agreed with me “Yes, Russell is a very big asshole, but he is an important asshole to his people.”
I respectfully disagree with Peter. There is only one important asshole in Indian country, and that asshole is Old Man Coyote.
Russell went on to bail out of Sundance and dumped his Montana Sundancers in the middle of vows, that made the newspapers with tribal spiritual leaders pointedly upset, he rode off into the sunrise, when Russell got a call to be a movie star in Iroquois country. It would be fitting he played a bad guy.
And it came out the non-violent AIM educator, Annie May Aquash, was murdered by the Means faction of AIM, the order to kill Annie was given out of a meeting held in a Means brother’s kitchen. Like Peter Mathiassen and many others, I had believed it was corrupt law enforcement had murdered Annie, but that was Russell’s AIM faction line of bullshit. It hurt, that one. Some of our Indian people are no better than the goons who persecute us.
And then, Russell’s wife called 911 in New Mexico because he was beating her.
Finally, Russell tried to run for tribal council, the most corrupt and repressive banana republic regime you can imagine, tribal councils being completely in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and habitual offenders against Native American human rights and a mainstay of the American apartheid system for Indians.
I am not aware Russell has ever corrected himself in these matters.
In the Indian way, when you have made mistakes, they must be confessed. Russell had stated “For the world to live, Europe must die.” Russell should better look at killing the “Europe” in himself. Because the ego of the Whiteman, also known as refusing to learn and correct oneself, is fatal to what it means to be Indian- that is to be generous, gentle, kind and loving people who live in a beautiful way.
People should, in the circumstance of Russell presenting himself as a role model for our young people, question whether Russell actually is an authentic Indian who has overcome great adversity or, sadly, whether the facts point to Russell as a failed and angry trash product of the Boarding School legacy.
This is something Russell has never sorted out, he has never walked the walk. Insofar as the facts speak for themselves, in the old Indian way, Russell is a ‘nothing person.’
Life in Indian Country Essay collection