Vernon Bellecourt sought to distance the American Indian Movement from Russell Means and his legal problems [recently].
"I've been getting calls from the Dine' people who know about our movement. They express real concern about this latest incident," Bellecourt, a founder and long-time member of AIM, said. "It's one in a series, we understand."
Means was arrested in Chinle on Dec. 29, charged with battery against Leon Grant, his father-in-law. Bellecourt, a national representative to AIM's grand governing council, said the alleged battery showed disrespect for elders. AIM is a spiritual movement, working for a rebirth of traditional Indian spiritualism, teaching and values. As such, "...We highly revere and respect our elders," Bellecourt said. "People that connect this act with the American Indian Movement would be misled if they didn't understand that those are some very serious concerns."
Bellecourt learned of the arrest when a long-standing AIM member in the Navajo Department of Behavioral Health faxed him a copy of the article in Friday's MDUL Independent.
"We just wanted to make clear that Russell Means has resigned from the American Indian Movement on at least six occasions," said Bellecourt, a member of the Anishinabe (Chippewa) tribe, Ojibwe Nation. He spoke by phone from his residence in Minneapolis.
"We just want to make sure that it's very clear to the Dine' nation and to your readers that this man is no longer, and hasn't been by his own actions, associated with the American Indian Movement."
In 1995, Means challenged the authority of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court when it ruled against him in a dispute over the paternity of Tatunka Means, who Means claims is his son.
"It concerns us that whenever somebody who's a past personality in our movement runs into difficulty, the first thing they start doing is challenging the sovereignty, the very thing we stand for, the right of tribes to control their own destiny," Bellecourt said.
In his "real life" _ before leaving AIM _ Means condemned James Fennimore Cooper's novel "Last of the Mohicans." Since starring in the 1994 remake and Disney's "Pocahontas," Means now claims those are the two greatest films ever made about Indian people, Bellecourt said. Bellecourt was also concerned that many Dine' people were upset by Means' portrayal of a Navajo medicine man in Oliver Stone's movie "Natural Born Killers." Means was shown handling rattlesnakes in the film, but snakes are considered unwholesome creatures by the Dine'.
Means once told areporter that snakes had been taboo among the Navajo only since they were introduced to Christianity and the myth of the Garden of Eden.
Bellecourt also criticized Means' 1995 autobiography, "Where White Men Fear To Tread," in regard to its history of AIM. Not one of the people in the movement was asked by Means' co-author, Marvin J. Wolf, to confirm Means' version of events, Bellecourt said.
"It's a very reckless book. It puts out a lot of inaccuracies and petty attacks on people that are seen as very divisive."
Bellecourt also sought to distance AIM from what he described as Means' recent forays into conservative politics. In the 1980s, Means traveled to Nicaragua to help rebel bands of Meskito Indians who were allied with the antirevolutionary Contras.
Means was being manipulated by reactionary elements under the guise of patriotism, Bellecourt said. He believes Means has allied himself with reactionary elements who seek to discredit AIM _ a campaign which goes back, in one form or another, to the Nixon administration.
"We don't take any joy in seeing this happen to a man who at one time was very active in the movement, but obviously whose vision has taken him on in another direction," Bellecourt said. "We have to disassociate ourselves from this kind of behavior... A lot of people feel at this point that Russell Means really needs some help."