The Existential Indian
An Interview with Russell Means by Linda Brookover
What audience did you hope to reach with your new book, Where White Men Fear to Tread?
Young people and Indian people need to know that we existed in the 20th Century. We need to know who our heroes are and to know what we have done and accomplished in this century other than what Olympic athletes Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills have done.
1973 at Wounded Knee--is what you say in the book what you felt then or what you feel now?
Wounded Knee happened because Indian people wanted to survive as Indians and there wasn't any way to survive, so we made a stand and made a statement, but now Indian people are beginning to rebound, rebound according to their [concept of] "Beauty." And that's really what's necessary.to understand: Indian people have to become free again. That's the real issue, whether we are free, not whether one man plotted against the United States of America or whether one man did this or that. Being an Indian means living with the land. And the only way we'll be able to do that is to gain our freedom. And thats the only thing that people should talk about.
So I'd much rather get across the concept of freedom. It's what's important to Indian children. The only way you can be free is to know is that you are worthwhile as a distinct human being. Otherwise you become what the colonizers have designed, and that is a lemming. Get in line, punch all the right keys, and die.
What is your vision for the Internet?
I'd like to talk about free markets. Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving. And that's basically becoming limited. If you can understand what a free market is, a free market of ideas, that's what the Internet in the computer age has brought about. Governments and corporations have yet to find a way to control this last free market of ideas. And why is the Internet the last free market of ideas? People better start addressing these types of questions, otherwise what has happened to the news media will happen to the computer as an information tool. I find freedom to be the most important issue facing any human being today, because without freedom, then life is pointless. The more dependent you become on centralized power, the more easily you are lead around. So the last thing we have to protect is the place of ideas which is the information superhighway.
"Indian policy" has now been brought down upon the American people, and the American people are the new Indians of the 21st Century. Getting rid of family farmer and the family rancher, subsidizing the farms and getting them to become dependent on the government, that's "Indian policy"
Does this exemplify your assertion that "America is one big reservation"?
In the government schools, which are referred to as public schools, Indian policy has been instituted there, and its a policy where they do not encourage, in fact, discourage, critical thinking and the creation of ideas and public education. After finishing twelve or sixteen years in public school, your ability to creatively think is very limited because that's the way it's been designed and that has been perfected in Indian education. "Indian policy" is to turn out non-thinkers and non-doers and make people a lot easier to control. Let me go to Clinton's new proposal: to have uniforms in public schools. And people are doing that. How come they're doing that? Dress codes! I find that abhorrent.
Now you go to the medical field, the policies of the pharmaceutical companies, it's one and the same really. You find legislation being passed against holistic medicine and against the use of even water in healing. If you look at Indian policy, in medicine that is, as was applied on the Indian Reservations, you will see this same Indian policy coming forth in the pharmaceutical/ medical field. They're not liable, they can go ahead and make mistakes and they can even experiment on you. We have had these revelations recently, and yet no one is doing anything. The fact that this government, along with private medical industry, has performed experiments on the American people, well that was the case in the first half of the century on Indian reservations.
Now you go to the housing industry, and you can find Indian policy in virtually every aspect of your life. The biggest and largest and fastest growing mortgage company is the Ginnie Mae. Those are issued by government mortgage companies; and that's exactly how "Indian housing" started, with the creation of small government-housing corporations.. So Indian policy has become institutionalized and the result has been that American people have become more dependent on government and that the American people have become more dependent on corporations.
You also have strong beliefs about "Native Americanism" and the protection of the environment.
I don't want to talk about the environment and the American Indian viewpoint, I hate the word Native American. Its a government term, which was created in the year 1970 in the Department of the Interior, a generic term that describes all the prisoners of the United States of America. Those of us who are forced to live on trust territories, the Micronesians, the original Hawaiians, the Aleuts, the Inupiates, the Upics, who are erroneously called Eskimos, and all of the 500 nations of the American Indians are so-called "Native Americans." I refuse to be defined by a government, any government; so I am an Indian. Because I know where that came from, a bastardization of two Spanish words: In Dios, "in with god." And Columbus wrote la gente indio, "a people in with God;" so I much prefer to be called Indian rather than Native American.
You can't talk about the environment, you can't talk about political correctness, affirmative action and all the other innumerable things that freedom is about, unless you have a free society based upon the integrity of the individual. If you have a responsible society, these other issues will not come up in a responsible society, and that is what freedom is all about.
We are the very people, the American Indians, who taught the world about freedom of the individual through representative government. That was largely taken from the Northeastern Indian peoples of North America, and we are all true to that form throughout this hemisphere; but the Iroquois Confederacy was the shining example of freedom for the individual through representative government.
Do you think attitudes towards American Indians will be changing any time soon?
If I have anything to say about it, it will. That's why I am in the entertainment business, that s why I'm doing recordings and doing movies that's why I'm writing books. I jumped in with both feet.
Is this the motive behind your new album Russell Means, The Radical?
I call it my own music, so I call it "Rapajo," "Rapajo music," because it's my version of Rap and it's another form of music. I use all genres: jazz, country and western, rhythm and blues, hip hop, hard rock, rock and roll, and blues; so its fun.
The band will be touring in this country and in Europe, but we're going to pay more attention to the rest of the world because we know that the worldwide market is more ready for the Indian. America still has a mental block when it comes to us
My production company. We're going to make movies. This summer we start with a production on my reservation about modern-day Indians. In fact this movie is about a modern-day Indian reservation that becomes a free nation, and we're just going to pattern it after what we tried to do in 1984 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Also there's a new book that I will be writing. I will probably start next year and get into TV production, especially with children's stories.
How do you feel about the accusations of stereotyping that some have made about your movie roles: Pochahontas, The Last of the Mohicans, and Natural Born Killers?
There are no stereotypes in Pochahontas.. None whatsoever. That's the finest movie ever done about Indian people in Hollywood.
Who in the world knows anything about Indian Women? Nobody! In fact most of our own women don't know about themselves. And their place in primitive indigenous societies which are fostered by women and run by women in the clan system which is woman led. In fact males didn't even have the right to their own suffrage to vote in our societies which was because of the female male balance in the universe and the female male balance throughout all of life.
The children of the world are being introduced to my people, the American Indian through the woman Pochahontas, a very strong woman , in fact, very self-confident, the perfect example for any little girl, any woman in any society. That movie is the perfect example of what society is supposed to be all about. She has to teach that lunkhead the white hero what life is all about, she even teaches him to fly, for crying out loud. My little five-year old son said, "She taught that white man how to fly!" She was wiser than the wise man even wiser than her father! I mean what better statement could be made about Indian people than what Pochahontas did, said, and represented?
I don't really care about what dysfunctional adults think. I have as yet to meet a child who came away from that movie without a good image of American Indians.
Do you have any afterthoughts on The Last of the Mohicans?
There is one part I objected to doing, but couldn't do anything about it, because the director, Michael Mann, wouldn't change it. That is what I call the "African Village" scene. We've all seen that type of scene in movies about Africa, where the white "princess" is in danger, and the tribal emperor comes out with his entourage of sub-chiefs and sits on his throne of sticks before the multitude of his village screaming for the blood of their captive. Then the white prince arrives oh so heroically to save her. Since Africa got its independence and the African-Americans have become and economic force in this country, you don't see that type of scene in movies anymore. That scene has now been transposed to the Indian.
The other part and everything else about The Last of the Mohicans was fantastically shot, a great movie. It put some history right especially that scene in the cabin at the beginning, but there were many other scenes in there which made it such a beautiful movie, I am very fortunate to have acted in it, because It is such a classic and because it is going to endure.
What about your role in Natural Born Killers?
I was the only "good" thing in it. I don't mean that facetiously. Everything and everyone else in it was evil or bad. That was one of my proudest achievements in acting. [The director] Oliver Stone intercut a couple of my scenes, the dying scene and the singing with the gourd by the fire, throughout the movie. It was a great chance for me as an actor. I had to speak Navajo in the movie, and I know I spoke it very badly, but at least I got to speak [as an Indian], and I also handled a coiled rattlesnake. It was a very satisfying experience, and I like the movie's statement and so did the rest of America.
Does that statement relate to your view of Good and Evil?
Indians don't have a devil, like Islam, or evil in our lives, we don't believe in evil. We believe in life and all things in life; but life can be tricky, so we have a trickster.
Is this like the Contrary in Lakota society?
The Heyoka, yes, he's a teacher. It was always a "he," by the way, the contrary in indigenous society. This trickster is a teacher, who can be funny or benevolent or can trick you into doing stupid things, sometimes bad things, but never evil things. Evil things come from a special kind of demented world that only Eurocentric males are capable of imagining. Male dominated religions are capable of addressing evil because that's what they want to do, so they do it. We have no evil.
The contrary teaches us about the tricks which life can play upon us and to watch out and be aware of those paths in life that will take us down a dumb or dangerous road. In our villages we might have a person, who would live the life of a heyoka or contrary and they would do everything backwards They walked backwards, rode horses backwards, they'd wash with dirt rather than with water; and it was a physical lesson to our children and to the adults that you have to watch out for the backwardness of life.