Frank Lamere Remembers 1999 Whiteclay Protest While Honoring Russell Means
On February 27, Frank Lamere gave the following speech during an honoring celebration of Russell Means coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement. The celebration was held at the Pine Ridge School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Lamere shared a story about a 1999 protest of Whiteclay, Nebraska and the sale of alcohol to tribal members. A fight that continues to this day and has been seen in protests that have spanned the past two days as another protest and round dance is scheduled for the border separating the reservation from the town of Whiteclay today.
Relatives, I am Frank Lamere, a member of the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, the Ho-chunk Nation. I greet all of you and I send good wishes to the means family and to all those families gathered here. I beg your indulgence and I ask that you hear me. It is good to see so many of you!
We gather here to honor the life of Russell Means and we do so on the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Wounded Knee. It is fitting and appropriate that we do this as every Indian man, woman and child on this continent has been impacted by what began here and by the man for whom we gather in remembrance. There are those who would argue this and who would say that any change that has come about for the people was inevitable and that in time all things must pass. I disagree! If this were so why did Mao-una, your Tunkasila send the American Indian movement here and why did Tunkasila tell this man, Russell Means, to walk among all of you, to tell all of you to stand tall, to raise your fists and to say “we are not going to take this anymore.” all Indian people stand on the shoulders of Russell Means and the American Indian movement. Who would argue this other than white historians who would craft our history or some of our own people who would stand in denial for some unworthy purpose?
It is still a hard road that all of the Indian nations travel but who can deny that a foundation of strength for all of the Indian nations to build from was laid at Wounded Knee forty years ago by all of you here and by this man that we have come here to talk of and whose life we come to celebrate.
Russell Means met many on that road to Wounded Knee and on that road from Wounded Knee to the other side of Tunkasila’s creation.
Like most gathered here I walked with him for some time and though my walks with him were short and infrequent they were meaningful, they were good and they were pre-ordained! There is no coincidence! Tunkasila does not allow for coincidence in our lives! He brings us together tonight as he brought you all together four decades ago! Let there be no question about that. It has been a long time and it has been a long road!
On July 3, 1999 I joined over 2,000 of the Lakota relatives, many of you here, who left Pine Ridge for Whiteclay protesting the sale of alcohol, wanting to sober the people up and wanting a better way of life for the generations to come. I went with you that day and when we got to that border just south of here 130 of Nebraska’s finest were there to meet us. They came with batons and shields, dogs, guns, and tear gas. They had snipers who they called armed observers on rooftops and they had an airplane to watch the peaceful marchers. I do not know why! I have always thought that they should have given all of the Lakota’s awards and acknowledgments for wanting to better their community and for wanting to give the children a chance. Instead they arrested nine of us that hot July day, Russell and I being the first two. They handcuffed Russell and myself, and marched us to a staging area where a group of state troopers circled us and told us how disappointed they were in us. We told them that they had a lot of damn gall preparing to battle women, children and elders and we did it with no fear that I remember.
The dissertation they were giving us soon turned into a tutorial we were giving them, so much so that Sheridan county marshals led us away shaking their heads because we were not listening and because we had no respect for them!
They put us in a secure state patrol truck that day and left for a moment. I told Russell that it was an honor to be arrested with him that day and he answered by saying, “it was an honor to be arrested with you my brother.” Later, Dennis Banks secured the release of those arrested at Whiteclay and all of the relatives, angry and frustrated for the way we were treated went to Billy Mills hall to regroup, to rally and to talk of the need to stay united.
It was there that Russell Means defined the whole history and issue of Whiteclay, Nebraska better than anyone has defined it in the 14 years that I have spent in the struggle to shut it down.
I remember him saying to all of you that day, “Look around you. You are Crazy Horse’s people. You are the descendants of the people who took the greatest army that this country could put into the field at the Little Bighorn and you defeated them to the last man.” “Now look at you,” he admonished. “They have you on your knees up there at Whiteclay and they did not have to fire one shot.” I remember that. He said so much with those few words.
I learned much that day about Russell, about Nebraska, about the federal government and the Lakota people. I remember that as we approached the border that Russell ahead of me and to my left walked alone into the troopers. I remember the fear in their eyes even today. Sadly, Whiteclay is still there. I remember one other thing Russell told me as we sat cuffed in that police truck that I would tell you, as he would wish me to. He looked at the police line, which was holding the Lakota people out preventing them from crossing the border, and said, “Look at them. Those are AIM people. Those are my Lakota people. They should have all come across that line.” There is no coincidence. All has been foretold. Russell Means told me that in 1999 so I could come tell you that tonight. All of you will cross that line. That too is pre-ordained.
I had a stroke one year ago. As Russell spent his last months on this creation I spent most of the year in rehabilitation. I learned how to walk again. It was the worst year of my life and it was the best year of my life I have said. The Creator let me see things I had never seen before. He let me see all who suffer. I share with all of us and the family that the creator takes care of us like that.
When Russell was healthy, when I was healthy a couple of years ago, we found ourselves in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Testifying before the U.S. State Department on what I characterize as the state of the Indian Nations listening tour. Russell had asked that I come to speak there and having respect for this man I prepared remarks about injustices that I had witnessed as a Native social and political activist. I talked of Indian child welfare, alcohol and other issues and I did the best I could. I was firm, forthright and objective. Russell’s testimony was also firm, forthright and objective but to his testimony he added the truth about the U.S. Government, about racism, about genocide, and the taking of Indian lands. All were stunned, all were uneasy. Many looked down and all were troubled, as they were only there to hear and to help us they said. Russell made reference to the confab as a dog and pony show. He told the truth that day and he told the bitter truth. I do not know if I will ever again hear the truth spoken more clearly about Indian people and this country than on that day! Russell asked my thoughts on his testimony later. I jokingly said that he should not be afraid to say what was on his mind. He smiled and shook his head.
I have heard many over the years say that Russell was impatient, that he was impulsive and even reckless.
I opine that he probably was impatient when having to see the children and the elders go without when others had much, that he probably was impulsive when he saw the people and the leaders being taken advantage of and not resisting because they had no voice and no fight left and, that he probably was reckless while trying to put himself between the people and those who would prey on them. He was impatient, he was impulsive and he was reckless in the manner of great leaders, great chiefs, and free men.
Russell means was a free man! He was more free than all of us! For that he is maligned. We should all be maligned if that means that we will fight to be free, and that we will fight to regain a way of life that was lost when invaders came here with a better way, a way that included the desecration of Mother Earth and the destruction of our families. Russell is free! Let him intercede with Tunkasila for those still here and for the generations to come.
Our elders have told us that great civilizations fall to ruin when we forget how to greet our elders, that cultures are lost when we neglect to tell our children why we do the things that we do and that great movements falter and die when we forget the sacrifice of those who brought us to where we are today. Let us be mindful of these things as we stand on the shoulders of Russell Means and the American Indian Movement this day. Let us resolve to make sure that those young relatives who come seven generations from now know of this man and this movement and that when they hear and read of it that they smile and feel proud if even for one second. That will be good. It will have all been worth it! Pilamaye. Pi-nah-gi-gi. Thank you.