Russell Means, in your face business and politics

Chris Graef
News From Indian Country 2-08

Russell Means
Russell Means, Lakota, an early leader of the American Indian Movement, said that he would visit John Graham in early December 2007 where he’s imprisoned in Rapid City, South Dakota, on charges of executing Annie Mae Pictou in December 1975.

“I’m telling him to tell all,” said Means. “It’s the only right thing to do. She didn’t deserve to die. She especially didn’t deserve to die at the hands of AIM.”

Called back a week later to see how the meeting went, Means said he did not visit Graham. “I didn’t have the time.” But Means noted that charges from his trial in Denver, Colorado, levied last Columbus Day were dismissed.”

A lot of people died because they believed in AIM, he said, and that doesn’t deserve to be ruined because Vernon Bellecourt ordered Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud to kill Pictou in response to rumors that she may be a government informant.

"I’m telling him (Looking Cloud) to tell all"
''It’s the only right thing to do"

“AIM was the spark that lit the flame that lit the fire,” said Means. “I’m proud to be a part of AIM. I don’t want this to besmirch the good that we did.”

Means was an accountant in Cleveland at the time he first encountered AIM in 1969.

He attended a meeting in San Francisco that challenged Lutheran churches to help the Indians when he first met AIM members, he said.


Russell Means
1973 mug shot

“I was on the opposite side,” said Means. “I stood up and spoke against them. I was on the side of (a local Indian group) because they had helped us in Cleveland to get money from the city and be included in affairs of the city, because of problems from the Relocation Act. Cleveland was one of the seven cities. We were given menial jobs. It was an atrocious experience.”

AIM was there at the first meeting, attacking the effort in Cleveland as being bureaucratic, he said.

After returning to Cleveland, Dennis Banks called Means to invite him to Denver, Colo., where the Lutheran churches were holding a conference with about 20,000 people.

With AIM was a Lutheran minister named Paul Boe from Wisconsin, who was helping them with challenging the churches. They also had a lawyer with them, said Means.

They also had a book with Chief Joseph’s quote that became AIM’s credo: “Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself – and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.”

“When I read that, right then I became AIM,” said Means. “I wrote my resignation on the 20-minute plane ride back to Clevelend. From then on, I was AIM.”

AIM’s Indian Desk was created by appointing a board comprised of a majority of Indians to dispense millions of dollars for Indians, said Means. It started locally with offices in Minneapolis for “drinking Indians” to come in, he said.

“They’d ask for money for food on a pretense for getting money to drink,” he said. “So AIM devised a program with local restaurants and pre-paid so there would be tickets and Indians could come, get a ticket, and go in and get a meal.”

You’d be surprised how many Indians refused, he said.

“Or they’d go out on the street and sell the ticket,” he said. “So AIM made a decision – no more tickets. What they did was phone the restaurants ahead when someone came in asking.”

AIM began on the southside of Minneapolis. At the time, Indians comprised 10 percent of Minneapolis yet 40 percent of the jail population. They got a grant from a Lutheran church for a neighborhood watch, the AIM patrol, used two-way radios and wore red jackets and red berets.

“Within six months of this, they brought down inmate population to less than 10 percent,” Means said. “At the same time, they were monitoring police brutality.”

Out of that came the Legal Defense Center where local lawyers would volunteer time for poor people, he said.

At the time, there were books in the second, third and fourth grades, picturing settlers sitting in cabins in front of a cozy fire, Indians at the window ready to attack them and the white children deathly afraid of the savages. “So they got that removed,” said Means.

AIM was the first Indian rights organization to go national, he said. It went worldwide for all Indigenous people.

One of the actions that grew out of the movement was the International Treaty Council.

At a 1974 conference at Standing Rock, elders convened who Means said, “were raised by people who were free. There was a purity of culture that those elders represented.”

The elders issued two mandates for AIM. One was to get recognition for the Red People and the other was to regain their freedom.

“My people, the Lakota, now regain our total sovereignty by unilaterally withdrawing from treaties with the United States, which puts us back to our freedom,” he said.

“We did that at the United Nations conference,” said Means. “In the 1983 United Nations conference in Geneva we got recognition for Indigenous people of the world.”

From that the Indigenous Rights Statement passed in September 2007.

“If it hadn’t been for AIM, none of this would’ve happened,” Means said.

The elder’s second mandate has now been met too, said Means.

“My people, the Lakota, now regain our total sovereignty by unilaterally withdrawing from treaties with the United States, which puts us back to our freedom,” he said.

Means said that when he speaks with the young people on Pine Ridge, they say “oh man, we wish another Wounded Knee would happen. We’d be free.”

“So I said, OK, what’s your definition of freedom,” he said. “They didn’t have an answer. So I sat down so they could stand above me. They started talking then, but not one could define freedom.”

Last winter, Means and others talked about how to be free again. The United States is deceitful, double-dealing, he said.

“They will never live up to the treaties, so we withdraw,” said Means. “Tribal councils will never argue for this,” he said. “They are the colonists now. All they do is go to D.C. and beg for money or we wouldn’t be losing our language, our culture, our youth.”

Today’s youth look upon AIM and Wounded Knee the way he looked at Indian heroes of the 1800s who fought and died defending their lands, he said.

“They’re doing what we did – a romantic vision of warriors,” Means said. “The word was not even in our language. It wasn’t our concept.”

Wounded Knee is ancient. Oka is ancient, he said.

“That was last century,” said Means. “People 25 years old or younger don’t remember it. That’s how dangerous it is not to include us in history.”

The American Indian Movement was the American Indian Movement, said Means.

“Nothing is perfect,” he said. “But if you’re culturally together as an Indian, you’ll have less problems.”

Means and Pictou’s cousin, Robert Branscombe, held a 1999 press conference in Denver, Colo., to accuse Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt of being responsible for Pictou’s execution.

Means said he found out then that the house of his brother, Bill Means’s, was the last place Pictou had been seen. “That was devastating to learn,” he said. “But he said don’t worry, he was asleep when the call came.

Twenty-four years after her death and three Grand Jury hearings (to 1999) later, Means, announced that, “I’ve never known anything until this April when the Denver police started their investigation and I started talking with people involved, both in Oglala and here in Denver and in Rapid City, where Annie Mae was taken also. But my suspicions, of course, were during the AIM tribunal when we banned the Bellecourts from the movement in 1995.”

“At the conference, Branscombe asked me if it was ok that he mentioned my brother’s name,” he said. “I said, hey, we’re after the truth here, yes.”

Means said he found out then that the house of his brother, Bill Means’s, was the last place Pictou had been seen.

“That was devastating to learn,” he said. “But he said don’t worry, he was asleep when the call came.”

Testimony from the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud stated that Pictou was taken to the home of Bill Means in the early morning hours of Dec. 12, 1975. AIM and investigative sources with knowledge of the case and history of AIM have said that Bill Means and his wife, Dolly Means, twin brother Ted Means, David Hill, Clyde Bellecourt and at least one other person were at Bill Means house when Pictou was brought there.

Bill Means had stated to the press in 1999 that he didn’t remember if he even had a phone at the time.


Vernon Bellecourt

In 1999 Vernon Bellecourt told members of the Native American Journalists Association in Minneapolis, that he called the home of Bill Means on a daily basis at that time as part of AIM business. He also said he could produced the stub of a plane ticket to prove he was in California at the time of Pictou’s murder.

Russell Means was on trial in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for charges from a riot in Custer, South Dakota. Means, who was out on bond, allegedly traveled back and forth from the trial to stay at a residence in Wambli, a few miles from where Pictou’s body was later found.

Means said that was the second time Bellecourt ordered Pictou’s execution. Bob Robideau, Leonard Peltier and Dino Butler were ordered to kill her at the Farmington, New Mexico, AIM convention in June 1975, he said.

“They took her out and came back and reported to Vernon there was nothing there, no reason,” he said.

“What would have happened had I known about it in the ‘70s, we would have taken care of it internally,” Means said in 1999. “In, other words, we’d probably have offed them within the movement ourselves. But that is no longer even plausible. Even if it did happen and we took care of it internally, they would die as martyrs.

“They’re definitely not martyrs. They’re murderers and conspirators. They just believe in mob violence. I knew Annie Mae. And I know Bob Robideau and Dino and Peltier and I know they cleared her. That’s good enough for me.”

Means said he began finding out in 1999 that AIM was involved with Pictou’s murder.

Bellecourt did not want Graham extradited from Canada, he said.“He moved heaven and earth to keep him from being extradited,” Means said.“Well, now these people can talk about it, they won’t feel afraid now, because he’s gone,” he said.

“Up until then, I always thought the FBI had killed her,” he said. “A lot of the women in the Movement knew about her murder. They were afraid to talk about it. As they began telling me different things, I put two and two together.”

Vernon Bellecourt threatened to sue Means for the allegations, he said, but never took action to file any lawsuit.

Bellecourt did not want Graham extradited from Canada, he said.

“He moved heaven and earth to keep him from being extradited,” Means said.

“Well, now these people can talk about it, they won’t feel afraid now, because he’s gone,” he said.

When Means was asked how he felt after Vernon Bellecourt died in October 2007, Means said, “I said I was saddened for his passing, but I’d wanted him arrested, in prison, held responsible, and then he can die.”

Means said three computers are on as he works to liberate his nation from treaties and the phone is ringing through the night at Phyllis Young’s home. It’s now the headquarters of the nation, he said, and non-Indians are coming out of the wood with incredible expertise.

“When we do Indian things together, we begin to be unified and see the beauty of it,” he said. “Any time we try to do things in the white world, there’s problems, backstabbing, violence. Any time we just work from our own culture, we become unified.”

Means said that he and Young contacted a bank in Ireland to help with international transactions and created their own gold currency.

“We have land in the United States, have liens in local cities, counties and states,” he said. “Liens can cloud a title and prevent a sale. We’ve now put liens on our properties in the five-state area, so titles are now clouded. Timber and resources are protected. It’s logical, using the Constitution to file liens.”

So far, no liens have been placed on private property, he said, because he’s willing to “work out an understanding, so that life can continue, especially for free Indians.”

“That’s the first action of freedom – free to be responsible,” he said. “When you’re responsible, you’re too busy to complain.”

“My mother did not want her sons, at the time two of them, to be snatched away to boarding schools the way they were. My father was a master mechanic. There was no work in South Dakota, a lot of racism, so he heard there were jobs in the west and they headed out there.”

People don’t want to remember the pain of this. That’s why they drink and use meth.

“I came from a different time. I never thought I’d see the day any Indians are homeless. But they are. I see it in the cities. I see it on the rez.

“We’re losing our distinctness as a people. The average age of a Lakota fluent speaker is 65. Once we forget how to call insects, plants, clouds and all the zodiac by their names, we won’t be Indian anymore. That’s genocide.

“I know its importance because I’m not a fluent speaker.

“I don’t care what the tribal leaders say. Things are getting worse. When I was growing up, we didn’t have children being born deformed. We didn’t have spontaneous abortions from water. In the mid-’70s, I saw Indian children born crippled. We have cerebral palsy. Polio and Tuberculosis are back. Here’s the sad part about their (tribal leaders) collaboration with their own genocide.

“I don’t care if they have multi-million dollar casinos. That’s still welfare. They just moved the decimal point. But they still don’t have businesses or independence. They have a police force, a clinic, and it’s still welfare. People don’t realize the taxpayer dollars that go into this. The Indians don’t even get to touch it. The dollars fly through the rez and go back to the white man. It’s a vicious circle.

“The only way to take our voices back is to be free. The only thing they have now is the right to complain and that's become a real art.

“Freedom is going to interrupt it.”