Russell Means Addresses Arapahoe Community College
by Severin Schneider, April 14, 2004
I went to see Russell Means speak at the Waring Theater at the Arapahoe Community College in Littleton on April 7. This event was sponsored by ACC's distinguished lecture series and by the diversity council. Neither of these groups commonly brings in a libertarian to speak, but then again there are not many libertarians quite like Russell Means.
To acquaint you with this man, he started the American Indian Movement (AIM), and he is an actor in such films as Last of the Mohicans and Natural Born Killers. He ran for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination in 1988 (Ron Paul beat him for the nomination that year). He has been a leader in the Indian movement for 30+years and has been instrumental in helping American Indians gain independence, including building the first Indian-owned radio station and the first independently owned health clinic on an Indian reservation.
The hall was packed. I would say there were around 150-200 people there. He was introduced as a libertarian by a UCD [University of Colorado, Denver] professor of Indian studies (who said at first he thought Russell was crazy for it, but later understood what libertarianism means to him and now understands the logic and why the Indian movement and the libertarian movement are compatible in the eyes of Russell Means).
Russell started off with a bang discussing individual liberty and the U.S. Constitution, which he claimed was written to be similar to the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. He spoke very favorably about the Constitution, but reiterated what Thomas Jefferson had said about needing to reevaluate all laws and programs every 20 years, and thought we were overdue. He also stated that the first documented example of U.S. federal government corruption occurred, interestingly enough, in the bureau of Indian affairs. He then went on to talk about the relationship between American Indians and slaves and stated that prior to 1715 all slaves in the U.S. were American Indians or European "indentured servants" and that blacks were not brought in from Africa to be used as slaves until 1715.
This lead him into a discussion of "civil rights" and how the black freedom movement was hijacked when it changed into the "civil rights" movement. He pointed out that rights cannot be granted by the government, and that asking for a "civil right" means you are asking the government to grant you a right. The black freedom movement started out as a revolt against government oppression, but it was hijacked at some points and became the civil rights movement. Russell is not in favor of the civil rights movement, even though he was in favor of the original black freedom movement.
At this point he started to lose my enthusiasm, because he went into a long rant about matriarchy vs. patriarchy, and how matriarchy is a preferable system. He had said that in old Indian tribes it was the women who would choose the male chief and if he was not performing well enough it would be the women who would remove him from his position. He cited his reasons for believing that women should be the ones to choose our leaders because women are "purified" monthly, that they are the only "irreplaceable" members of a family, that they live longer, etc. I thought his logic was the weakest on this point.
He said that he did not believe a matriarchal society would be any better as long as the women of this country continue to try to be just like men. If men and women are two sides of the same coin it won't help, but if women were to embrace femininity and then take over, the world would be more in touch with peace and the earth. This whole part of his speech seemed to be the least well conceived. It was also the part that he had the least factual data to back up his hypothesis. He ended this tangent with the statement that for 10,000 years, throughout the histories of patriarchal empires, from Egypt to Rome to the British, they have not collapsed from outside forces as much as from within.
He then answered some questions before signing books and speaking with people one on one. He was asked how he would improve education. He stated that, first off, he did not believe that kids should be forced into "the white man's" schools for indoctrination at 6 years old. He also cited his personal history and said that when he was a kid the federal government was not involved in any way with the local schools and that the literacy rate at that time was over 90%. Since the federal government has became involved, the literacy rate has fallen to around 70%.
He also talked about the decline of power that groups like the PTA now are able to exert. The clear message was that the only way to fix education is to get the federal government out of it and to give local control back, to give power back to groups like the PTA.
He was also asked about abortion. I thought this question was really out of the blue and not relevant to any of the rest of his conversation. He basically said that he would not presume to tell a woman how she should handle the conception of a child. He ended by speaking about his adopted brother who had just came back from Iraq and how, from the stories his brother relayed to him, he felt that we are committing atrocities over there that will have repercussions for a long time to come.
Overall, the event was enjoyable and educational. The crowd was good and they were generally receptive of his message. Unlike other political speeches I have seen by other libertarians, this one attracted a crowd that generally did not strike me as your typical libertarian crowd.