Penthouse Retrospective

by Team Penthouse Originally Published: April, 1981

Russell Means | 40 Years Ago This Month

Nobody’s in charge except the courts. And when the poorest of the poor are continually forced into using the judicial system of the U.S., which is designed for the rich, how long can we last? We’re being drained, physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually, in the fight for our rights in courts, because that’s the only place where we have received any semblance of justice.

That’s the lower courts. But what happens when your big issues-the breaking of treaties, for example-are carried to the Supreme Court?

Means: Ambiguous decisions are handed down. They say, “Yes, you’ve been violated, but sorry, we can’t do anything about it.” The Supreme Court copped out by giving Congress absolute control over Indian people when there is no legal precedent in a certain case. In effect, it abrogates all treaties made with the United States.

We’re not asking the U.S. to change. We’re not asking that it be overthrown. We’re only asking the government to live up to what the Founding Fathers allegedly intended for this country. Article Six of the Constitution states that treaties are on a par with and equal to the Constitution and therefore are the law of the land. But this doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to the Indian treaties. It boggles the mind of any right-thinking person: more than half a million people continually subjected to the whims of those in power. And the national news media refuse to report what’s going on in Indian affairs.

What is an example of the media’s inattention?

Means: Remember back in 1974 or 1975, when two black girls in Atlanta were sterilized without their consent? It was national news. But when the General Accounting Office discovered that, during a four-year period, 24 percent of the Indian women of childbearing age in four area hospitals were sterilized, did the national media care? The majority of those girls were below the age of consent.

How were the sterilizations performed?

Means: By all types of trickery. There were many instances of their going in for an appendectomy and coming out sterilized. Going in to give birth, coming out sterile. Getting their tonsils taken out, coming out sterile. We couldn’t get anyone to listen.

Are there other examples of the media failing to report Indian stories?

Means: Many. Look at the revolution in Nicaragua. Over 90 percent of the original fighters were Indian people. They suffered the brunt of the repression of Somoza before the Sandinistas made the big offensive. But do you read anything about the “Indian revolt”? No.

Or take this example. Down in Farmington, New Mex., there was this all-white high-school club back in 1974. The way they got membership in this club was to bring back the fingers of a Navajo. In other words, they had to go out and kill a Navajo and cut off his fingers and bring them back. These were high-school kids, big, six-foot juniors and seniors. They were busted for the murders of several old Navajo men or drunks. They got their wrists slapped — sent to juvenile facilities. That didn’t impress the national media, either.

How did you come to join AIM?

Means: I met AIM at a meeting in San Francisco. At that time I was into mod clothing: the ascot ties, the bell-bottoms, cream-colored loafers, all of that. So I went to this meeting in my black suit, with my rose-colored dress shirt, white tie, and patent leather shoes. I looked at the AIM leaders. Dennis Banks had a wave in his hair. Clyde Bellecourt had a flattop. They wore moccasins and belts and sashes and Indian jewelry. I thought, “So they’re Indians. What are they trying to prove?” They were dressing ridiculous! A couple of weeks later I got a call from Dennis Banks. He said that they were going up to the National Council of Churches’ tri-annual convention in Detroit to present the churches with a list of AIM challenges. He wanted to know if I would support them.

I flew up there and saw Dennis take over the podium. I saw him lobbying down on the floor of the convention and in the bars. It seems that some of the most important decisions are made in the bars, whether you’re Christian or not. AIM was well prepared; everything was well thought out. Prior to the AIM assault, the churches had programs where they would show pictures of these pathetic Indian children and solicit money for their churches! No money went to the Indians! Our list of challenges asked that we receive this money.

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.