Monday, October 22, 2012

Russell Means and Self-Perception

Russell Means, formerly of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a fighter at Wounded Knee SD. in 1973, died today.  A report is available at listing what are considered his good points and failings.  I'm in no position to judge.

But I remember listening to him and to other AIM members throughout the 1970's.

I was still in high school and was deeply impressed by some of the things I learned from his speeches.  1.  Neither capitalism nor communism have respect for the Earth as a living being without whom we either never would have been on this world or we would all be dead.  They both see the Earth as a non-living resource to exploit.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans understand this.  The major difference is how many pieces the economic pie is divided into.

2.  Communal action is usually Deliberately broken up by the US. Government, especially if it is economic in nature.  Union busting, anti-WTO demonstrations when they were allowed to take place, the African American civil rights movement, these are examples of what he was saying.  But his own example was simpler.  Stores at the reservation boundary had a relatively captive audience, as the people had no money to drive long distances for groceries.  So a group went to merchants and asked for lower prices if it could be guaranteed that at least 250 Native families a month would shop at the store.  A merchant agreed, but in came officialdom, calling it "communism" and saying it was not legal as it violated the Free Enterprise System.  Its "communism" for families to shop together to better feed their children but the largest of the Wallstreet banks can manipulate interest rates with lies and That doesn't violate the "free?" Enterprise system?  Monopolies are cool, even if we DO have to bail them out with tax payer money, but families making a deal with a grocery supplier are Wrong?

Russell Means was a fine orator, with a sense of humor and timing.  He was a person who included all kinds and colors of people in his worldview.  I never met him but he was one of my teachers.  I am sad he is gone and I wish him and his people well!

Books about the American Indian Movement were one of the things I looked for and "The Life and Death of Anna May Aquash" by Johanna Brand was one of the creepiest books I have ever read.

One Lakota contemporary of Mr. Means said today that without him there would have been no Rigoberta Menchu winning a Nobel Peace Prize, and no President Morales, the first Native American President of Bolivia.  Others such as authors  Leslie Marmon Silko, Vine DeLoria, Jr.,  poet Joy Harjo, singer and musician  John Two Hawks, and many, many more helped.  But the American Indian Movement was another new beginning for Native American Nations.

Personal:  When I was a kid we lived so far out in the sticks that we could run around in just our underwear during the day.  Youcould hear a car coming from a long way off.  One day I remember my mother, in an odd mixture of approval and disgust saying, "You're as brown as a tree!"  Was she envious, mad, pleased, I couldn't figure it out.

Until I had cancer my hair was always brown-black, Summer gave me a tan, and my hair was nearly straight. 

After my first round of cancer surgeries and chemotherapy I got a Gorgeous Afro of very black hair which I would love to have kept.  Once I sprayed it dark gold to cheer up someone in the hospital and Ann said I looked like someone from Central America, a mix.

But as my hair grew out it gradually straightened and the sun returned it to brack.  After my second round of cancer surgeries and chemo. I got wispy gray straw which I shaved off.  Then the brack returned.

But the chemo. did something to my skin.  I became alergic to many things, Very alergic, which had never bothered me before.  For a few years if I sweated much in the sun I'd break out in a rash wherever I was sweating, including arms, face, etc.  So I learned to stay oyut of the sun.  I got paler.  Ann said after my second chemo. I began looking almost Irish, dark hair and eyes and pale skin.  I am mostly white, European American.  But always before people have thought I might be Latina, Eastern European, etc. 

Finally this Summer my hair has changed to very dark brown with red highlights where the sun always touches it.  And I have made an embarrassing discovery.  I am vain.  I don't wear make up, don't bother with jewelry around the house and garden, dress like a clean bum around here. I don't shave my legs, but DO take showers, (what a relief!)  When I go somewhere I dress between casual and dressy, depending on where I'm going. I have always been about 20 to 25 pounds too heavy, since I quit using speed during college.  If I maintain my weight and don't gain more, I'm fine with that.

But I do miss my old looks, brack hair, a tan.  That is vanity and insecurity on my part.  My older relatives didn't always like my looks and got upset if I braided my hair, even in the Summer I heard "squaw" a few times from them and from strangers.  I was mad, not hurt by this as the relatives who called me this, or the few strangers, were not people I cared about pleasing.

Now there are warnings about being out in the Sun too much.  When I knew I would lose all of my hair I went and had it all cut off at once.  It was surprisingly unemotional for me, humm, my hair or my life, which do I Really want?  The second time was the same.

But without Ann around I'm not sure what I'd choose now, not my hair, certainly, but maybe not chemo. either.  I thank ALL who have helped me remain cancer free since 2005!

Guess I won't be going to a tanning booth, not after two rounds with cancer.  And if I dye my hair darker I'll have to ask someone I trust what my more pale coloring can tollerate, dark brown, which it mostly still is, or soft black, brown-black?  Vanity.  I have to laugh at myself.  And to feel sad.  I grew up being told I was stupid, lazy, fat, ugly, ungrateful, you get the picture.  But I always Liked my hair.  It was the One thing nobody found fault with, even if I was pulled backwards down the street by it, etc. 

In light of the death of Russell Means and what he meant to the Native peoples of the Americas, along with many other leaders and writers of the '70's, my recollections are foolish.  And yet, because I am the only blind person in my family and because I was, even beyond this, always Different, I was glad there was a physical sign of my difference, to some people anyway..  In St. Louis I looked Italian American, in Fort Wayne, Ind. I just looked Different, to other European Americans.  In Oklahoma I looked part Indian.

And it was there that my land lady thought I was drunk when I sprained my ankle too badly to stand and sat on a curb with my white cane calling for help.  That and a few ignorant remarks are all I've had to put up with, nothing in comparison to a person who Always looks out of place (is made to feel this by residents) in a white community.

So maybe it's just a personal thing, I want to look different because I Feel so alienated from society's "mainstream" whatever that is, and so isolated.

Sorry to bore you with more than Anyone would want to know about a stranger.  I began a blog to deal with Ann's loss and at times it's still the only way I have of expressing my feelings.

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