I had the pleasure of meeting Russell Means, America’s most revolutionary Indian leader as part of the “Lunch on the Frontier” series organized by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Now you might wonder why a revolutionary would agree to speak at what some consider to be a right wing ‘think tank’? Well, in a personal discussion with Russell Means I discovered that he’s a Libertarian – more precisely a populist Libertarian, not an intellectual Libertarian. In fact, although he’d run for President on the Libertarian ticket in the 1980’s, he made it clear that he was no longer a member of the party. When I asked him why, he answered that Libertarians are afraid of the “a” word (anarchism).
No question, his whole talk on Why Freedom Matters was based on Libertarian, anarchist principles which, not so surprisingly, led him to denounce both the Republican and the Democrats and support Ralph Nader as the alternative in this upcoming election. He clearly enunciated the notion of an ‘evil American empire’ built on a war economy from the time that the United States was created. He personally participated in an arms struggle against the United States as part of the Indian Movement in the 1960s, the arms struggle against the Sandinistas in the 1970s, and has survived nine assassination attempts.
His whole philosophy is based on individual liberty through representative government.
The notion of the empowerment of First Nations has been fundamentally shaped by residential schools. The experience of the residential schools has been passed down through the generations creating low self-esteem, and the belief that white people are superior. Aboriginals, he said, were never given the choice to fail on their own as individuals. Reserves were designed to fail.
Somewhat surprisingly, Means argued that communism is alive and well on reserves today – an imposed system without values, creating total dependency, emotionally, spiritually and physically. To be honest, I question whether reserves are communist, based on the fact that Communists have never been in power in Canada. While it is true that reserves tend to be collectivist rather than individualist (no private ownership of land) reserves do not, in my opinion, even come close to operating in a communist fashion – in fact they are both hierarchical and patriarchal. But I fundamentally agree with Means that we need to get rid of the Department of Indian Affairs which perpetuates dependency rather than independence. Russell Means believes that choice and individual responsibility of First Nations, working together with whites, is the key to empowering the Aboriginal people.
His anarchist thoughts comes through loud and clear when he said that government is “force” and nothing else (meaning that the best political system is one without government). He is infuriated by the political amnesia that Americans display from one election to another, and he attacked corporatism as part of patriarchy and hierarchy where only one person can reach the top. The most interesting perspective was his intertwining corporate capitalism with corporate socialism, saying both are the same, implying both are dangerous because they believe in the elimination of competition. The United States is the only country in the world where the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. The other side of the argument, in my opinion, is the notion that there is socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor in this country (there is competition among the poor for the smallest resources that are available).
He believes that every human being is good and decent – we are not evil (thus rejecting Christianity) Life, in his opinion, is an exercise in morality. We live, he said, “in times of absurdity”.