Russell Means, fish-in activist, asserts treaty rights and discounts both the DNC and RNC
DENVER—Six trout were caught – one over the legal limit of five – and some license plate numbers were recorded by law enforcement during a recent fish-in at a lake in South Dakota, according to a long-time Native activist.
This was no ordinary fishing trip, and Russell Means, the head angler, was out for a different kind of catch – an affirmation that treaty rights are still in force and that the U.S. is ignoring its own laws in failing to enforce them.
Such impediments as fishing permits and license tags would disappear altogether in the society envisioned by Means, who was in Denver during the Democratic National Convention – which he dismisses as irrelevant, along with the Republican Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Means was matter-of-fact about the outcome of the fish-in Aug. 25 at Sheridan Lake in the Black Hills, where he and others celebrated Lakotah Freedom Fishing Day by casting out their lines without paying fishing license or park admission fees: “You only have treaty rights if you exercise them.”
The fishing action was part of a campaign by Means to discredit the governance imposed by the U.S. on Native peoples and to create a Republic of Lakotah, which would include part of the territories of present-day Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota that he said are reserved to the Lakota in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
Means issued a “Notice of Intent to Fish” to Larry Long, attorney general of South Dakota, which said either the Indians must be allowed to enter and fish freely under treaty, or federal law enforcement should arrest any state officials hindering the anglers.
As Means passed through Denver, he was asked about the fish-in, the Republic of Lakotah, and the way the DNC, RNC, the two-party system, and existing tribal governments do or do not figure in his scheme of things.
Indian Country Today: Would you clarify the purpose of the fish-in? I notice you weren’t arrested, and I wonder if law enforcement wanted to avoid adverse publicity.
Russell Means: To make it clear we have the right to fish, hunt, and travel under the 1851 treaty and Article VI of the (U.S.) Constitution. He (Long) had no choice but to allow us to enjoy our right to fish. He lived up to his Constitutional oath of office. If they were going to do anything, they would have ticketed us and we would have gone to court – they didn’t do that. He had no choice; he had to obey the law – we could have sued him for violating our rights. And, believe me, the police don’t care about adverse publicity.
ICT: You appear to have made your point. Does that mean an end to fish-ins?
Means: As soon as I return home, I’m putting out a letter to each of the other four attorney generals in the states in the Republic of Lakotah (parts of which he includes under the 1851 treaty) to tell them we also expect them to live up to the Constitution and our treaties. We do not have to have license plates and drivers’ licenses or insurance in the Republic of Lakotah.
ICT: Is there anything in the Democratic or Republican National Conventions that addresses treaty rights, or other issues you feel are relevant?
Means: It’s idiotic for any American to be a part of either one of these parties—Democrat or Republican. This country was designed so that the individual is sovereign—you cannot protect individual rights in a two-party system. Obama and the others talk about government-to-government (relationship between the federal and tribal entities), not nation-to-nation, and that’s just more of the same. No one is talking about rescinding laws that violate our rights.
ICT: You’ve mentioned fishing and hunting laws that can work against the 1851 treaty. Are there any laws that, in your opinion, protect indigenous rights?
Means: The Democrats and Republicans are not talking about their objection to a nonbinding resolution in the U.N. that recognizes that Indian people have human rights (the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). This country and Australia, New Zealand and Canada were the only ones to vote against it, and that is the most public insult anyone can give against any people anywhere—that we don’t exist, we don’t have recognition as human beings. They told the world we don’t exist. They purposefully insulted us—there’s no other reason—except to get across to us that we do not matter. It’s worse than any totalitarian state.
ICT: No other protections?
Means: “Any time we need protection we have to get a Congressional action. The Indian Civil Rights Act is weak and full of loopholes. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to us and there isn’t any Constitutional protection whatsoever. The Freedom of Religion Act is weak. So, no.
ICT: You’ve been a candidate for tribal president (of the Oglala Lakota, Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D.). So has the Republic of Lakotah approached tribal councils for support?
Means: The Republic of Lakotah has not appealed to any tribal government for recognition. They are part and parcel of oppression, suppression, and repression. They are a corporate tool of a corporation called the United States.
ICT: Anything else that you feel is important to get across?
Means: We have waited 155 years for the United States of America to live up to its own laws. Genocide is almost complete, and we are what’s left. The majority of my people are colonized—they’re brown Americans.