Penthouse Retrospective

by Team Penthouse Originally Published: April, 1981

Russell Means | 40 Years Ago This Month

So we intend to build a food cooperative, a sewing factory, a dairy, an animal farm, that will all be geared strictly to the local economy. No profit motive.

Why do you think that American Indians remain so misunderstood by white civilization?

Means: Because yours is an arrogant civilization, based on an inferiority complex. You’ve had the finest minds, down through the centuries, studying the American Indian, and not one, with all their tape recorders and cameras and research, can see past a piece of pottery. That’s the value you put on people.

How would you explain the Indian way of life?

Means: The red philosophy is that all living things come from one mother. Eons ago we looked around and saw that every living thing had a direction and a role to play in life except the two-legged creature — the human being. The red people decided that human beings were the weakest things on earth and were cursed with the power of reason. So we decided to learn from our superiors, and that is how we built our civilizations.

“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.”

We listened to what the eagle and the sparrow had to say. We listened to the evergreen and the cottonwood. We listened to the snake and the spider and the deer. We found our place in life. And that is why these powerful superior beings that surround us show such generosity by giving us their bodies, their lives, for our well-being. The only way we can pay them back is to be buried without a coffin and to return to the sacred mother earth to fertilize her, to feed her and, therefore, to feed all her children.

What is it then, after this history of bad faith, that you want the white man to do?

Now, eons ago when the white man looked around, he said he was blessed with the power of reason, and that’s when he blew it. He said, in effect, that he was superior to all other life, that he was a god and that he had the license to exploit and manipulate. Look at your filthy water and air. Look at the tasteless manufactured foods and pills that cause cancer. To prove that he was a god, the white man created science. From the sciences came the ethnologist, the archeologist, the psychologist, all the “ologists.” They were the white man’s gophers, digging up, colonizing, imprisoning, inspecting, disrupting all of life in order to bring back information so that the white man could tell himself that he had justification for feeling superior.

Means: Recognize our right to self-determination, abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs, take away our trust status, protect our existing borders from encroachment by anybody. Assist us in a generous loan program and allow us to develop our economy. In short, live up to the treaty plus get us into the United Nations.

Who is your primary enemy standing in the way of these aims?

Means: The multinational corporations. A well-fed, economically viable community will not permit its resources to be taken away. So it is against the interests of the multinational corporations to allow us to be self-sufficient. In order to get the land, the corporations exploit and manipulate the people who own it. Virtually every landowner in the U.S., whether he’s in debt or not, is materially well-off-except for the Indian.

The Indians are directly controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In recent years Indians have headed up that bureau. So, some of your enemies must be Indians.

Means: There ain’t no such thing as an Indian in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He might have Indian blood, but that does not make him an Indian. I get tired of that white-man cop-out. Look at Billie Mills, all his life treated as an Indian: looked down upon, discriminated against in the Marine Corps. But when he wins an Olympic gold medal for running, the white man made sure to say he was three-eighths white. Before and since, he’s always referred to as an Indian.

I don’t care how much Indian blood they’ve got running through them. If they’re neo-colonialist Vichy Indians, they’re not Indians; they’ve been colonized to the maximum, and they’re our biggest enemy. At any rate, Indians don’t argue degrees. It’s more spiritual than racial. And that’s why non-Indians are so easily adopted into our nations. It’s what’s in your heart, not what’s in your blood.

What’s wrong with the reservation-tribal government system operated by the BIA?

Means: It was shoved down our throats. In 1924 they “gave” us citizenship. Who wanted it? We were supposed to be sovereign, independent peoples. Now we have over 4,000 laws that govern us that do not govern you. And then you get into over 20,000 more rules and regulations from the different agencies of government, government agencies that control us. And yet I hear the multinationals and the truckers crying about their rules and regulations. An Indian can’t even stand up and act like a human being. If you do, you’re sent to prison or you’re assassinated. Or they make sure you’re ostracized.

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.