…..Russell was an outspoken sort of guy and a good self-promoter. So, subsequent to Wounded Knee II, he got into the movie business. As an actor he may be best known for playing Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans. He also had a role in Oliver Stone‘s Natural Born Killers, and a voice appearance in Disney’s Pocahontas. He was actually a good actor, I thought. Maybe that’s because he basically played himself: a grizzled old Indian.
L: Really? I had no idea… I knew of him as a libertarian activist – somehow, it never came up that he was in the movies.
Doug: He was an activist, that’s for sure. That’s what brought him to the Eris Society meetings I hosted for 30 years, where I met him. Russell was always interesting company, but not always easy to get along with. He had what you might call an evenly balanced personality – a chip on both his shoulders. He seemed to be constantly looking for a confrontation, if not an actual fight. And he demanded to be treated with respect. I had no problem with that, because I found him worthy of respect.
L: A shining example?
Doug: He had strong points. He was definitely a guy you’d like at your side when the time came to fix bayonets. But like all of us, he had faults. The thing about Russell is that he was what I’d call a professional Indian. And I mean that with all due respect. I just think that he made too big a deal out of being part of his people. We’re all individuals, and we should be judged on our own achievements and faults, not those of whatever groups we belong to. The same goes for professional Irishmen, professional Jews, professional blacks, or what have you. Your ethnicity and racial background is definitely part of who you are, but it shouldn’t take over your personality. Making an accident of birth the centerpiece of your life makes no sense to me; I view it as a psychological failing. But it’s a common enough error, and one that’s encouraged by today’s politically correct society. Russell certainly wasn’t the only one to make it, nor the worst.
L: It seems to have worked for him. If only for the movie roles, he must have made a lot of money almost literally by being a professional Indian.
Doug: True enough. There is, however, a different sort of professional Indian that Russell despised. One of his favorite phrases for such people was: “hang around the fort Indians.” [Chuckles] I thought that was a great description.
L: Sorry – what does that mean?
Doug: Welfare Indians and Indians turned white – hanging around the fort, making supplications to their conquerors, seeking to game the system and gain advantage from the treaties and deals with the US, rather than living on their own terms. Like so many things in the political world, it’s perverse. The US government basically stole most of the Indians’ lands and destroyed their way of life. It broke absolutely every treaty it made with them. Then it turned them into welfare junkies as compensation. Some compensation…
L: It has seemed to me that many Indians, or First Nations peoples, as they call them in Canada, are caught on the horns of a real dilemma. On one hand, they want to adhere to their traditional ways. Fair enough. But on the other, their traditional ways are a Stone-Age culture with no modern medicine and absolutely no way to fight a modern aggressor. To live like that, they would have to trust in the benevolence of the more powerful cultures around them – that’s clearly no good. But they can’t attain technological, economic, and perhaps even military parity with the Western culture that surrounds them while hunting and fishing…..