Penthouse Retrospective

by Team Penthouse Originally Published: April, 1981

Russell Means | 40 Years Ago This Month

The American Lutheran Church accepted the challenge. Now there are about 12 Christian denominations with Indian desks. They have put out hundreds of thousands of dollars since 1969. Indian people alone have benefitted. We established an excellent rapport with the national church leaders and many of the local ones. And that is a stupendous accomplishment.

Then, in 1970, AIM took a long look at itself. We looked Indian, we dressed Indian, but we didn’t know why we were Indians. We decided to go back to seek out the old people and find out. We. returned to traditional Indian religion and its values and concepts. We found out that Indian spirituality among traditional people is what rules every aspect of their lives. Based upon our traditional religion, we then devised a short-range plan of action for the American Indian Movement. We had watched and learned from the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil-rights movement, the antiwar movement. After 1972, after the Trail of Broken Treaties March, we knew that white men didn’t know anything about the Indians and that the only way they could learn was by exposure. And the only way in this country to get exposure and to fight for your rights is confrontation politics. But we didn’t devise a long-range policy at that time, which was a mistake.

But then the repression by the federal government and law enforcement agencies put us in court for a long time and wasted us. The feds succeeded in splintering the American Indian Movement.

So AIM was disbanded?

Means: No. There are strong bastions of AIM in South Dakota and Minnesota. Also, on the Navajo reservation and in Alberta, Canada. There’s an AIM in Oklahoma and California. What has happened is that instead of a formal organization, there has been a rippling effect, whereby people are standing up for their rights more on their own rather than identifying with a group.

Do you feel any optimism about the future?

Means: Well, I am optimistic, even though I haven’t sounded like it in this interview. I believe the white people are beginning to see that the corporations and the government do not care about human beings.

But what if you’re wrong? What if we don’t end our love affair with consumption and technology?

Means: Well, I’m reminded of this old Hopi man down in the Southwest. An anthropologist was questioning him, you know, with his tape recorder and his sandals and his Bermuda shorts and his camera hanging around his neck. He asked the old Hopi what he thought of the new militancy among young Indians. The Hopi thought for a while and then said, “Let me tell you this way. The Spaniards were here for four hundred years, and they’re gone. You’ve only been here two hundred years.”

With that attitude the Indian will survive. He will cling to the earth and make it. If the white man can’t do that, he will perish.

Why do you live the way you do — on a reservation, with all its misery, oppression, and deprivation?

Means: I once tried the white man’s way and was pretty successful pretending I was white. Materially successful, that is. But I’ve learned where I belong. I stay here with my ancestors. I stay with everything that is meaningful to my life.

To walk with one of those old people of the Lakota is to walk in beauty. To listen to them speak. To observe their dignity, their understanding of life. They are our· last testament to what we were as a people. These old native Americans have touched and lived with yesterday. I would live on the reservation for no other reason than to be with them.

If you want to make a difference today, we encourage you to to choose a diversity option and give some assistance. -Ed.

Indian Reservation Russel Means Conceptual Art

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.