I am arrested protesting Diablo Nuclear Power Plant at Avila Beach, CA. John Trudell is there also. I overhear him talking with others. Mary and my two children witness and support this first action.I attend the Tribunal at DQ University. Banks is in exile there, protected by Jerry Brown. Russell Means is one of the speakers. He speaks from a prepared speech written by a friend in Florida: Its essence is economics. Russell does not participate in the "impeach Reagan" theme of the tribunal but chooses to talk about "economic revolution." (Later he tells me: "Ronald Reagan is the best thing that ever happened for revolution.")
At the end of the conference, he announces that a white man has shot himself up at Yellow Thunder Camp in the Black Hills, that the State is going to shut Yellow Thunder Camp down over it, and that he is leading a march for religious freedom in Rapid City. Banks says he is going to go and this sets off a reaction similar to what Russ describes in his book.
My family and I drive an activist from the Russian River (we are living in Sonoma County, CA) to the march. I write a statement "Leave Yellow Thunder Camp Alone" and distribute it during the march and after. My wife and children march with me. During the speeches I approach Russell and tell him that the family wants to support Yellow Thunder Camp with love gifts. We have seen hunger and poverty and extreme need there and are moved to help. Mary and I meet him in his office later and Mary hands him our first gift in the form of a check. Thus begins our regular love giving to Yellow Thunder Camp/Russell Means/American Indian Movement, which - in our naivete - are all the same thing. The giving will amount to between $125,000-$175,000 before we terminate it in 1995, a few months before publication of his autobiography. During this entire period, I have stopped paying taxes and sold off or given away or turned over to my family all ownership and monies.1983-88
I commit to AIM in person at 444 Crazy Horse Drive, Porcupine, SD. Ted Means receives me and advises me not to drink on the res, after I told him that I drank: "they might take advantage of you."
The four of us "Pipkins" are invited to various events, including Sun Dances, at Yellow Thunder. We have been making pilgrimages to the Black Hills and to Wounded Knee before and during this time. We ask permission from Indians - Jack Black Elk, Matthew King, Frank Fools' Crow, Russell Means, Kenny Cane, and others - to be wherever we go in Indian country. At one point, Matthew King asks to see me. Kenny Cane witnesses the conversation.
We attend a Sun Dance at which we are asked, by Russell, to represent "white people" in a prayer of the Four Sacred Colors(of humans) at the Sacred Tree. Louis Farrakhan represents the "black people." Russell's son-in-law, a dancer, represents the "red people" and an Asian represents the "yellow people." It is a thrilling experience for us, despite the fact that Farrakhan has just returned from shaking down a multi-million dollar "loan" from a notorious African leader. We find him to be a very warm man; he blesses my children and says to me: "You give us hope."
I spend two days with Fools' Crow, not by my request, and he teaches me many things and shows me his power with the "sky quarrelers" and takes me in through his eyes. He instructs me, in this way - through his eyes - to this day.
I consider Russell to be my "main man" with AIM and am quite taken away with how inclusive the Indians are of this white man with his Christian and military background. That we have given up a lucrative career and dropped out of the "Empire" but are heavy donors and advocates of the People and that the money may be the main thing with the Indians - or Russ, at least - occurs to me once in a while. But we have been ostracized by our own People, I was assaulted and nearly killed by a close family member, we are "on the run" (1984-1986.5) and in shock and my brains are scrambled and I have increased my drinking whenever I am not on an action. And so we keep sharing our income(based on royalties from a business we sold out to some employees - as this small business goes, so go we and so goes our giving) in a manner that keeps us broke from funding cycle to funding cycle.
We tolerate the Flynt thing, but don't like it and are glad when it is over.
In late 1983 I do the "Joey Green" action in WVA, which is effective. Russ gives me permission to smoke the Pipe during an action. I use a faux pipe I find at a tourist store.
In January, 1984 I am assaulted in my parents home and my brains are scrambled severely and I am in a constant state of paranoia and despair for years after. I become suicidal and drink heavily, but find that I have a high tolerance for alcohol.
A month after the assault we are in Florida and I decide to make a "mercy run" to Pine Ridge because of the sever winter. Mary and I leave the children with a relative and do a fund raiser in West Virginia which nets about $1600 in cash and checks and fills the motorhome, our home now, with used clothes for the Indians, who reportedly are burning clothes and furniture to keep warm.
We meet up with Russ in Rapid City. He receives the money, views the damage to my head, we joke about some things, and then he takes us to a friends place to dump off the clothes. ("She'll be angry," he said and appears ungrateful for the used clothes. She wasn't there, so we offloaded the boxes).
Sitting in the motorhome, he shares some thoughts with us and suggests we give him our motorhome. I explain that my family of four lives in it now. Russell appears to be under the illusion that we are wealthy.
We take Doc Columbus, whom we have met along the way, with us to the first Sun Dance. En route, I brief Doc on Russell Means: "He may have killed people," I say. "But he's my brother." Doc: "You're scaring me again." I explain that, whatever he's done, he is the person the Great Spirit attached us to and that we are going to be faithful so long as he is serving the People. Doc is a "real doctor" from Canada and goes to Yellow Thunder and even sweats with us, at Russell's invitation, but leaves early and is disillusioned, he and I "have words," and we never hear from him again.
Russ Forrest is our teacher at Yellow Thunder on one occasion. We see him off to Minneapolis before the Sun Dance.
Kenny Cane makes this statement to me: "There is no hardcore AIM anymore; there's just you, me and Russell Means."
Russell Means goes to Nicaragua, raising money from us, his "last" supporters on the "left" (we aren't leftists), he says. Everyone else has forsaken him, he says. "For political reasons," he says. We trust, support and defend him all through this. I question who we are supporting and suspect that Brooklyn Rivera is an agent of NSA, but Russell says this will help Indian People(the Miskito) and so we hang in there, despite the right wing feel of it all. Being raised a right-winger and earning medals as a patriotic speaker, I know how hypocritical the right wing is and "left it" because of that. At this point I began to suspect that the old AIM was dead and that we were stuck with Russell Means if we wanted to help Indians. We participated in several actions after this that involved Russell Means only. In every case we attempted to get as much publicity for him as possible.
At some point I realized that he had left Yellow Thunder and tried to get the family to support Yellow Thunder by sending money to Bruce Ellison for YTC. When I told Russell about it, he blew up. I think the check was not cashed. He claimed that Ellison had turned on him.
We were "on the run" (from family and the system) in Canada when I heard/read about the drug busts that went down on Minneapolis AIM. I knew that Russell had been pulling away from original AIM for years, but this publicity was the last straw for me.
I also read the LA Times article by Bella Stumbo that showed the rift in the Means family and, apparently between Means and Banks, over Nicaragua. I was sickened by these events and planned on talking to Russ about them at the upcoming Sun Dance. When I got to the Sun Dance grounds at Yellow Thunder a day before it started, Russell and Dennis were there together, waiting to talk with us. Dennis invited me to his Sun Dance and left. The next day, warriors showed up to rescind that offer. I was confused.
By early 1988, I was convinced that we (Russell and I) were no longer attached to either Yellow Thunder or original AIM, that original AIM is in public disgrace and that Russell needs to retire and write his autobiography and move on into "capitalizing" on his image, something he shows a lot of interest in. So, in Bakersfield, CA, we call a press conference and officially and finally retire him from AIM and announce the autobiography project. We are going to transcribe, edit and publish his autobiography at first, but after one session, I realize that neither he nor we are up to it at this time. He is involved with Libertarians and various other scams anyway. I am really getting sick, my father disowns me and my nuclear family(in writing), we change our name and I enter the worst years of my life.
1988-1995- During this time, the business royalties increase, as does our giving to Russell Means. He becomes more demanding and, while we have tried and failed to do business together, he begins to treat our love gifts as "payments" and speak of our relationship as a business relationship. He does not respect the fact that I am a spirit-man nor does he apparently understand that it is my family, not me who has nothing, that is supporting him - and me - financially.
We also stand beside him during this time on several actions which don't make it into his book. The evidence, from Gloria (whom we know and love) and others and our own observation, is that he entered an all out scam phase. He, indeed, documents some of them in his book.
We do many actions that do not involve Russell Means, including allying ourselves whenever possible with the "Free Peltier" movement. Russell never attends a rally for Peltier that we attended. When I ask him about it he is vague and usually starts by saying, "Look, I know these guys..." and sort of [defuses] our interest in any activity that did not further his agenda.
To my astonishment (we were now living in Washington State), Russell restarts an AIM office in Colorado. He does this with two men I have never met, only heard about: Ward Churchill (who wrote the details of the Nicaragua story that appears in the first person in Russell's autobio) and Glenn Morris. (Both of these men have been discredited/censured by Minneapolis-AIM.) Russ sends me material on this new venture. Since he retired from AIM in 1988, I view this as another scam and later discover documents that support that theory of the essence of "Confederated Autonomous AIM" chapters which started then.
During this period, I suggest - at a family business meeting - that we terminate our giving to Russell Means. After some discussion, the others decide to continue so I withdraw my objections to supporting him. In retrospect, I believe they were afraid to stop because of what might happen to me. They always respected my love for and personal commitment to Russell Means as my elder-brother and ally. But I don't think they understood that I have always had a higher commitment to The People and to Honor. - Russell went to treatment center. He told me that he did so because his Indian medicine didn't work. He tried to get both Mary(for co-dependency) and me(for anger), who were having extreme difficulty in our relationship, to go to his choice of treatment centers. Mary tried to make arrangements; I resisted, saying that I was a medicine man and that I wanted to trust the Great Mystery, my "Christ," and the "spirit-helpers" to help me and heal me; that if they couldn't do it, I didn't want to give the wasicu credit the way he was doing. Jokingly, I asked him how much money he made off these referrals and he just smiled.
In 1989, we conducted a Russell Means rally and sold tickets. At this rally he smoked a peace pipe with a local celeb who represented the "cowboys" and "frontiersmen." This rally was harshly criticized by our local allies, was poorly attended and served to further the image of Russ as a con artist. We paid his fee out of our pockets. This was in addition to our regular giving which he was now representing to others as his take from a real estate magazine business we were partners in. (That business never published or had any income and went defunct as soon as the $10,000 seed money, which Russell raised, was spent. I took full responsibility for this failure, even though it was my family's backers who let us down at press time on the first mailer. The reason they bailed? Russell Means. They didn't trust him).
In the early 90s, w e do an action at Point Roberts with Russell that puts us, in a picture, on the front page of the Seattle Times. We do another, local (Port Townsend) action that makes local papers. Russell then proceeds to influence the temporary breakup of my relationship to Mary.
Mary and I work things out, the IRS hits my family hard, we stop giving to Russell, I quit drinking "cold turkey," and Russell offers me a "partnership" in T.R.E.A.T.Y. Productions in Santa Monica, CA. I accept. In 3 months, I discover that he is a fraud, that he is just ripping people off, that he just wanted to be famous again (his own statement), that "Dennis Banks is not my ally" , that "I have no elders," that "AIM is in disarray," that he is the "true AIM," that "I don't take care of anybody," that he would kill an unborn child he fathered to save face (only he wanted me to arrange it), that his just-released autobiography misrepresents our relationship, contains numerous omissions (like the 1988 retirement that was published around the world) and is an unchecked fiction, and that - to Russell Means - "love is just fucking." And I leave him, honorably and confronting him, listening to him say, "I love you." And I love him, too - unconditionally. Yet, the People need to know these things, I believe, from someone who has been there. My commitment to the People takes priority over my commitment to Russell Means. I will stand with him if and when he faces the People on these matters and many others known to others.
1996 - Present
I devote myself to rebuilding my own extended family nation, with great success; to develop avenues of publishing on the internet and dovetailing with old technologies/ strategies "on the ground," with great success and wait for "original AIM" to surface.
Original AIM resurfaces on the Net. I make contact. Serle Chapman comes in to interview me for a book on AIM to be published in 2003, he says. I send a statement about Russell Means/AIM to him, TREATY, and AIM GGC. AIM GGC sends me invitation to come to the 32nd Anniversary Conference in Hayward, WI. Mary and I attend. They were drafting a Manifesto when we left. We talked with Clyde Bellecourt and Dennis Banks, two of the original founders of AIM. We also said a few words to the assembly. As far as I am concerned, this is the AIM I joined or thought I was joining, as an ally, at 444 Crazy Horse Drive, Porcupine, SD in the early 80s, the sponsor of Yellow Thunder Camp(Bill Means founded it, I understand; Russell just ripped it off). And, by the way, I understand that Russell moved in to exploit two more murders in SD/NEB in the Camp Justice action, stealing thunder and heart from Tom Poor Bear and destroying the public perception of what is going on there via another Russell Means publicity stunt.
Stephen E. W. Savage
Clarifying my thoughts regarding Russell Means
American Indian MovementFirst Nations