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“I Am Not a Leader”: Russell Means’ 1980 Mother Jones Cover Story

In a provocative piece, the American Indian Movement activist lashed out at European “death culture” and the left.

—By

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Editor’s note: This article originated as a controversial speech given at the Black Hills International Survival Gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation in July 1980. A member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, Russell Means was perhaps the most outsized personality in the American Indian Movement, beginning with the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. He also had an acting career beginning with his role as Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans. He died Monday morning at age 72.

The only possible opening for a statement like this is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate thinking”: what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.

So what you read here is not what I’ve written. It’s what I’ve said and someone else has written down. I will allow this because it seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not. They have already demonstrated through their history that they cannot hear, cannot see; they can only read (of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only prove the rule). I’m more concerned with American Indian people, students and others, who have begun to be absorbed into the white world through universities and other institutions. But even then it’s a marginal sort of concern. It’s very possible to grow into a red face with a white mind; and if that’s a person’s individual choice, so be it, but I have no use for them. This is part of the process of cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples today. My concern is with those American Indians who choose to resist this genocide, but who may be confused as to how to proceed. (You notice I use the term American Indian rather than Native American or Native indigenous people or Amerindian when referring to my people. There has been some controversy about such terms, and frankly, at this point, I find it absurd. Primarily it seems that American Indian is being rejected as European in origin—which is true. But all the above terms are European in origin; the only non-European way is to speak of Lakota—or, more precisely, of Oglala, Bruleě, etc.—and of the Dine, the Miccosukee, and all the rest of the several hundred correct tribal names.

(There is also some confusion about the word Indian, a mistaken belief that it refers somehow to the country, India. When Columbus washed up on the beach in the Caribbean, he was not looking for a country called India. Europeans were calling that country Hindustan in 1492. Look it up on the old maps. Columbus called the tribal people he met “Indio,” from the Italian in dio, meaning “in God.”)

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Note from Trace: The adoption of American Indian and First Nations children would be part of this expansion of the European mindset via assimilation via adoption by non-Indians. The cultural genocide was intended to wipe out our thinking and make us white. But the Indians I know who were adopted have said “Our Blood is Loud” no matter who adopted us…

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