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Russell Means Speaks

Heard Russell Means speak in LA the other day. He was there to promote his new autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread. He read from it and talked of his life from his Lakota perspective.

He was entertaining as you might expect. Some highlights:

1) He prefers the term "Indian" to "Native American" for two reasons:

"Native American" is an artificial classification made up by the US government and meant to cover Inuits, Aleutians, Hawaiians, and other non-Indians as well as Indians. Means doesn't want anyone telling him who he is.

On the other hand, Means claims "Indian" comes from the phrase "in Deo" ("in God"). He likes the idea of someone pointing to an Indian and saying, "There goes someone 'in God.'" (See Yeagley:  Liberals Deceive Indians About Name, Spirituality for more on the subject.)

2) He talked about how Indian cultures are mostly matriarchal and how this influences them. Not only do Lakota women's periods become synchronized with each other, as they do elsewhere, said Means, but they become synchronized with the full moon. From new moon to full moon, women's power is ascendant, and medicine men forbear from exercising their male power. After the full moon, when women are "purified," the medicine men may practice their arts.

Indian children are raised by women the first six or seven years, said Means, and have contact with men only after that. This teaches them a respectful, female-oriented view of the world. He also said the Sun Dance is not a macho rite of endurance as many think, but an attempt by men to know women's pain and suffering. The famous piercing of the flesh is supposed to represent the tearing of flesh occuring during childbirth. He said this is part of the balancing of the male and female sides that Indian cultures attempt.

3) He called the academics interested in Indians "anthros," "hissies," and "archies" (pronounced "arkies").

4) Means is happy the BIA funding is being cut and wishes it an early death. On the other hand, he was thankful for the Great Society programs and what they did for Indians, especially the legal aid programs filing class-action suits.

5) He spoke of AIM having outlived or outgrown its purpose. This, according to Means, was to foster Indians' self-respect and desire for autonomy, which didn't exist before AIM took action in the '60s. He was proud that AIM was a harbinger of indigenous movements around the world, that now indigenous people everywhere at least know they have the right to stand up for themselves.

6) Means spoke of the Indian's three LsóListen, Look, and Learnóas opposed to the white man's 3 Rs, which provide knowledge but not insight into how to relate to the world, life, and people.

7) Someone quoted a passage in his book about how Indians and non-Indians are like different breeds of animals and shouldn't marry. Means affirmed this and said mixing the races weakens their purity and strength. (Afterward, some of the Jewish people in the audience noted DNA studies saying there are no significant differences between the races, and thought Means was misguided.)

8) Means talked about how Rev. Louis Farrakhan had supported him at his Yellow Thunder spiritual camp, and how he had found Farrakhan quiet, humble, and supportive. Farrakhan had simply joined him there without demanding anything or trying to convert anyone. Means also said he disagreed with the ACLU's defense of the First Amendment when it came to "hate speech," which he denounced. Some in the Jewish audience wondered about this apparent contradiction.

9) Means spoke about how the white man or Westerner has a worldview based on beliefs. The Indian also has beliefs, but sees the world in terms of feelings. The Indian feels the world and its creatures around him, and so treats it with respect, while the white man has become alienated from his feelings and thus from the world.

10) Perhaps proving his point, he read the conclusion to his book, in which he acknowledged the people in his life. When he got to the part saying, "My dad...," he choked up and couldn't continue for several seconds. This seems remarkable when you consider he must have read the same passage many times while proofreading the manuscript. (His co-writer, Marvin Wolf, must have been pleased at that moment.)

Thought vs. feeling
Here follows a brief soliloquy (mine) on thought vs. feeling. This is one issue where I might differ with Means. Well, okay, I differ with him on several issues. I think raising children is as much a female task in our society as it is Indian society. (Of course, American tots start watching men asserting, demanding, and shooting each on TV from infancy, so....) I think different races should intermarry, just as their cultures should mix, while still retaining their individuality. I think one can cry as much over a book or movie (i.e., a work of two of the Rs, 'riting and reading) as over a sunset or babbling brook. (Means proved that himself.) And I think the ACLU should defend free speech without exception.

But let's look at Mr. Spock's Vulcan society. Although fictional, it's relevant to consider because it's based on logic. By definition, it should be the extreme opposite of Means's Indian culture.

Yet Vulcans, as portrayed on Star Trek, are also in perfect harmony with their bodies, their environment, and their universe. They respect and appreciate the beauty of art, music, and nature. With their philosophy of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations," they are multicultural in the extreme. If they feel alienated at all, it's only in places that are ugly or contrary to human potential.

I imagine Vulcans would claim the universe acts according to logical rules and they, as logical beings, can be one with it. If so, they would argue people can be in tune with their environment intellectually as well as emotionally. That is, they can think it harmonious and beautiful as well as feel it. They can cherish the world because it feels right and because it is right.

For example, a tree exists and grows because of its own logic. Cutting it down for no reason is inherently illogical. I don't know if a Eurocentric person would agree with this, but it's a Vulcan-type thought, not a Meansian feeling.

In short, Vulcans are in tune with universe's logic and Indians are in tune with its emotions, and only us poor Westerners, too rational but not rational enough, are screwed up. <g>

More on Russell Means
Russell Means for OST president?
The rock star of aboriginal rights
The Republic of Lakotah

Related links
Yeagley:  "Communism" rules over freedom on reservations
Another posting that manages to link Indians and Star Trek

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