Penthouse Retrospective

by Team Penthouse Originally Published: April, 1981

Russell Means | 40 Years Ago This Month

The United States government, for 200 years, acknowledged the Indian nations as sovereign. They made more than 300 treaties with us but then broke everyone. The most important, to me, was the 1868 treaty affecting South Dakota. It just sticks in my gut. Everything we wanted was in that treaty. It reserved western South Dakota for our land. It created a buffer zone where no non-Lakota could trespass. The U.S. agreed to enforce that with their military. But gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the treaty was broken. Then the white man swarmed in.

The government has now offered the Indians a $106 million settlement for the Black Hills. The offer is considered an insult to the Indian people. Why?

Means: Because we’re getting $17.5 million for the Black Hills. The rest of it is 100 years’ interest. Seventeen and a half million! They spend more than that on an aircraft! Millions more. Think of the gold bullion they have already stolen from those hills. But most important, the agreement would confirm the right for the U.S. to unilaterally violate all treaties and therefore the Constitution of the United States!

You are one of the council of ten who run the Black Hills Alliance, a group dedicated to keeping the multinationals away from your land. What does your group want to do with the land?

Means: Well, the Black Hills Alliance is a coalition of Indians and non-Indians in Western South Dakota. It’s a coalition of sorts between white ranchers and Indians. In other words, the cowboys and the Indians are getting it together so that we can fight the rape of the Black Hills! How do you like that? We want to stop the genocidal march of industrial society.

We are deeply into alternative energy and renewable resources. We are definitely into self-sufficiency. We are rebuilding the Dakota nation.

What renewable resources are you referring to?

Means: The Northern Plains are rich in wind and solar energy potential. We are building underground or earth-covered homes. The architecture is solid wood. We can build a two- , three-bedroom house for $1,500, guaranteed to last for a minimum of 70 years before you start replacing the wood. Underground homes save 60 percent on conventional energy costs. Solar and wind energy will make up the rest. In fact, we should be able to generate, just from the sun and the wind, enough energy to sell some back to the utilities.

We are going to build a community separate from the rest of the reservation. A self-sufficient community, the first self-sufficient, sober, and straight Indian community in the Northern Plains.

We are doing all of this because we recognize that the colonial power of the U.S. has forced people of color, and all poor people, to live in a crisis situation. Every day is a crisis of existence. When that is the case, you don’t have time to look back to yesterday and learn or to look toward tomorrow to plan. You are living in constant tension.

What are you doing with your own land?

Means: My brothers and I inherited 190 acres. It’s in what they call a range unit, which includes anywhere from four to seven sections. We own a quarter of a section, held in trust by the federal government. We can’t do anything with that land without the express consent of the secretary of the interior. We can’t sell it, rent it, lease it, till it, work it, without his consent. And if we leased it, we could be shot as trespassers on our own land. Now, our little quarter of a section is not leased to the BIA because of our involvement with AIM. Nevertheless, because it’s in a range unit that a white rancher is leasing, he grazes on it.

Are you getting paid?

Means: No. The rancher pays no one. He’s just got it free. This is our punishment for joining AIM. In 1969, when we joined, it was taken out of lease.

Since the federal government is the trustee for our land, it sees to it that nobody screws the Indians except friends of the BIA. Government programs do not benefit the Indians except in the initial phase. They grant monies to these Vichy Indians, who have relatively astronomical salaries and who administer to a destitute people. They must keep us dependent or they would have no more jobs. They cannot permit economic development on the reservation, because we would become independent of Uncle Sam’s handouts.

In the state of South Dakota, we represent less than six percent of the population; and yet, because of the federal monies that come to South Dakota for Indians, we represent 25 percent of the tax base. But these millions of dollars that come onto the reservations immediately go out again into the surrounding white communities. Every economist will tell you that a dollar, to make a community economically viable, must turn over four to seven times before it leaves the community. On the reservation, it doesn’t turn over once! It leaves on the first bounce, because there is no business sector in which it can circulate.

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.