Penthouse Retrospective

by Team Penthouse Originally Published: April, 1981

Russell Means | 40 Years Ago This Month

South Africa passed the Bantu Development Act. The apartheid law. It’s virtually a carbon copy of the Indian Reorganization Act but improved.

You have said that there was no disease in the Americas until the white man came.

Means: It is documented in your own records. We knew nothing more than the common cold. Then you came, and your diseases alone almost wiped us out. We look on Genesis as a prophecy. This was the Garden of Eden. The apple was the white man’s science and technology.

Nothing was ever wrong with the Indians before the white man?

Means: Of course, we had occasional cripples, retarded people. We had social aberrations, such as homosexuality. But the Indian looked upon these unique individuals as something special the Great Mystery created to teach us. These people had something special to tell us.

What else is the white race guilty of?

Means: You invented work. Then you invented vacations to free yourself from work. The Indian has no understanding of that. The Indian did not sell his labor. Let me give you a contemporary example. The Indians of Canada’s Northwest Territory fought the oil pipeline. They said the pipeline would affect the way they hunt, trap, fish, live. It upset the ecological balance of human beings. The ecologists forget to mention that. They mention the danger of the pipeline to the tundra, the moose, the wolf. But they act as if man, living in the midst of this, is not to be considered. Naturally, as white men, they never think of living in harmony with nature. These Indians did. And they were willing to go to war for their way of life. They didn’t care about the new jobs and the high salaries. They wanted to save their world.

You spoke of the Americas as a Garden of Eden. You don’t believe that the Indians originated in the Old World?

Means: No. That is the biggest propaganda coup the whites have perpetuated.

To what purpose?

Means: To justify their conquest of us. If it wasn’t our original home, then they had a right to steal it. The archeologists’ first estimate of how long we’ve been here was 6,000 years before the life of Christ. Then they robbed another grave and found that we’ve been here for 10,000 years. And they continued to rob graves. About four years ago, in Baja, Calif., they found a cave and some humanlike bones, pottery, and arrowheads that could be as much as 1 million years old! Now, the Mexican government kept this secret for two years. When it finally leaked out, the official position was that they were visitors from outer space! They would do anything to keep us from being indigenous to the Western Hemisphere.

Another piece of propaganda has it that Columbus named us “Indians” because he thought he had found the Indies. His journals prove that wasn’t true. While I was in prison, I got a letter from a professor at the University of Turin in Italy. He said, “You probably know this, but Columbus was very impressed by the goodness of the native people. They would give away everything they possessed, and they were opposed to war. So he named them “In-Dias.” Dias, in Italian and Spanish, means “God.” Together with in, it is translated “Children of God.” He honored us with that name. I’m so goddamned proud of that!

But then he and his successors ended up enslaving and destroying your people.

Means: Yes, he took that second trip, unfortunately. Did you know that as late as 1715, the majority of slaves in the United States were Indians? But we were economically unfeasible, because we were so susceptible to disease and because we’d split for the woods the first chance we got. It then became an economic necessity for the white world to import black slaves.

How do you respond to the popular image of the Indian as excessively cruel, even in intertribal warfare?

Means: Of course, there was cruelty. But cruelty begets cruelty. For example, we didn’t start the scalping. The Dutch started that by paying for the heads of Indian men, women, and children. They paid less for the children’s! But it was messy and cumbersome, dragging a sack of heads back to the paymaster. So the English refined it and said, “Just bring back the scalps.” In battle, you return atrocity for atrocity. We thought scalping had some spiritual significance to the white man.

How did Indian tribes make their laws?

Means: We ruled by the unanimous vote of small clans and societies, which were autonomous. As long as we didn’t infringe on the rights of other clans in the tribe, we lived as we liked. At certain times the clans would assemble, with the entire nation, for religious and social and economic purposes. We didn’t have majority rule. When disagreements could not be resolved, the minority quietly left the majority and then formed their own autonomous community.

Ask anyone about indigenous Americans, and you may well get nothing but blank stares. Russell Means set out to change all of that. Forty years later, the battle continues.