With their prayer vigils and riots and marches and occupations, Means and AIM not only got their message through to the white man and his government; they also inspired other Indians in all parts of the country to assert themselves. Once-warring tribes organized themselves, elected regional leaders, and lobbied in cities, on reservations, and in Washington for rights they realized had been stripped away from them during a century of near colonial subjugation.
The Indians began to reclaim their right to lands that had been granted them in treaties with the U.S. government in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries-but had since been appropriated by white men. In Alaska they were awarded nearly 1 billion dollars and 40 million acres of land with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. By 1978 various tribes in six eastern states were suing for 12 million additional acres. Their leaders began demanding greater control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that held 50 million acres of land on their behalf; an independent unit of federal lawyers to oversee legal matters; and more supervision in the disbursement of federal funds.
The courts became the new battleground. In some instances, the Indians demanded protection of sacred territories; in others, the right to benefit from the land’s riches. They soon realized the economic power that lay unexploited at their feet. In the West, Indian territory contained one-third of America’s strippable coal reserves, half the country’s uranium, and sizable amounts of oil. The 70 billion tons of coal alone were estimated to be worth a trillion dollars. The Indians sought advice from Arab oil experts and soon formed the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, which they hoped would become the “native American OPEC.”
Even though Russell Means has spawned and guided this resurgent Indian nationalism, today, radical as ever, he is worried that these latest efforts to exploit the land for material gain are a rape of nature and a violation of sacred Indian tradition. In 1979, for example, when the federal government was offering to buy the Black Hills, Means urged tribes to reject the offer: the land was “our graveyard, our church, the center of our universe, the birthplace of our people … everything we hold sacred and dear. And this is the reason it is not for sale.”
More than ever, Means is admonishing his fellow Indians not to forsake their heritage. He is contemptuous of those who do; he calls them “apples “ — red outside and white inside.
Last summer, at the Black Hill International Survival Gathering, Means warned “of coming to believe the white world now offers solutions to the problems it confronts us with … of allowing the words of native people to be twisted to the advantage of our enemies …. Feel sorry for them if you need to but be comfortable with who you are as American Indians.” After 40 battle-scarred years, Means is comfortable with who he is. “I am an Oglala Lakota patriot. That is all I want and all I need to be.”
What makes you most angry about white America?
Means: What pisses me off is the ignorance in this country: the ignorance of the deprivations that we Indians go through. You’re more concerned with boat people. You’ re more concerned with refugees from wherever. You’re more concerned with dissidents in Russia than you are with the genocide going on in your own backyard. And when you find out about it, it’s covered up. It’s covered up!
What is covered up?
Means: The FBI are the only ones who have federal jurisdiction on the reservation. They’re the enforcers, the gestapo. They make sure that anybody who gets out of line on the reservation is charged with a federal crime. What people don’t realize is that they bust in on old people, with dogs! Without warrants! They take people out of their homes and take them to jail. Without due process! It happens time and time again. Most of the time an Indian doesn’t even complain, because he’s so used to being oppressed that he thinks it’s the normal thing.
There was a famous author who went around to German people in Germany after World War II and asked them how they could have let all these people-the Gypsies, the Polish, the Jews-be exterminated. They said, “Wait a minute. The government and the press told us that everything was fine. They were just going off to work labor camps, and they were being educated and fed.”
So welcome to Nazi America. The whole country now believes the government is taking care of us, feeding us, educating us. The great white foster-father. Welcome to Nazi America. I can’t say it strongly enough.
Do you know how Hitler came up with his idea for treatment of the Jewish people and the Gypsies? The Gypsies suffered higher casualties than anyone, you know. They were virtually wiped out. Hitler got his idea for the treatment of the Jewish people and the Gypsies from the U.S. treatment of American Indians. “The U.S. has given me an excellent idea.” I can quote him almost verbatim.
Do you know the Howard Wheeler Act, known as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934? Well, approximately 30 years later