- Russell Means InterviewNovember 30, 2011, Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona
What role has tribal governance played in preserving and destroying the tribal government of Indian people?
It started out with, as I mentioned in my talk, the five acts of genocide as defined by the international community.1 The United States literally and figuratively holds us as prisoners. What no one realizes is that federally recognized reservations are considered prisoner of war camps, and that is a fact. In order for the trust status2 to continue, the United States has to legally take the position that a condition of war exists with Indians. The only time when the war ceases is when we leave the confines of the prisoner of war camp. That’s why the Constitution of the United States of America does not apply to Indian people on a federally recognized reservation or on federal trust land. We have no protections, zero protections, and tribal governments are the wardens and gatekeepers. These governments are not charged by the U.S. Constitution to rule, but by a congressional mandate, guided by Supreme Court decisions, to do so. On reservations, we have no protections against illegal search and seizure or any U.S. constitutional rights whatsoever. We have tribal constitutions that mean nothing in law. You cannot take that tribal constitution to a federal court and have it ruled on whether it has been delegated to the tribal government by the U.S. government. I found out through my own cases that federal courts have two avenues of law. One is that Indians are a political entity [End Page 47] and not a race. If that doesn’t suffice in the matter at hand, a federal court may then say you are a race, not a political entity. So the courts have you coming and going, it’s the classic catch-22. That’s why it is futile to enter into the so-called area of Indian law.
How do we as tribal members get accountability over our resources when some of our tribal governments are building relationships with former U.S. generals and admirals associated with the U.S. Department of Defense?
OK, first of all, we need an understanding of Indian government within the colonial structure, where graft and corruption becomes more rampant with each succeeding year. I will give you an example of where Indian patriots who entered into the tribal governance system to accomplish something for the people were immediately ham-strung by rules and regulations. Suffice it to say that Peter McDonnell3 was one of those patriots, and in my mind he was the finest tribal leader ever created. He started the [Council of] Energy Resource Tribes (CERT).4 That was his baby. CERT unfortunately hired a CIA lackey who used to be with the Shah of Iran, heading up his natural resources. Of course, he [the lackey] destroyed whatever sovereignty [Indian nations] might have had in that context. At one time a glimmer of hope existed when it was first formed that tribes could become major players in the international natural resource community. Indian nations control 40 percent of the natural resource wealth of this country. That is powerful. Hell with casinos, we should all be Saudi rich! This is a perfect example of a lack of tribal governance because the U.S. government and corporations have all the power and Indians are prisoners of war and, all the while, they are mouthing that Indians have a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. government. Well, a water district has government-to-government relations with Washington, D.C. It is the same status, which means we are impotent. We don’t have a nation-to-nation status under U.S. policy. If we did then we would at least be observers at the United Nations.
When I was a young man we contested tribal governments. We called Wendell Chino at Mescalero and Roger Jourdain of Red Lake5 sellouts. Compared to today’s leaders, however, they were patriots. They had a grasp of what sovereignty is. Jourdain closed his rez,6...