Expressing the desire to return to a “matriarchal society” on the reservation where he lives, Russell Means, a political activist, spoke at a benefit to raise funds for a new school on the Pineridge, Porcupine Reservation in South Dakota, Sunday.
The benefit was hosted by Albert and Patricia Stern at their Malibu estate overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and Zuma Beach.
Means, who is also an actor, artist, singer and author of his autobiography, “Where White Men Fear To Tread,” was one of the orchestrators and leaders of the 71-day armed siege in 1973 of Wounded Knee, S.D., which protested abuses against Indians.
He is also one of the founders of the T.R.E.A.T.Y Total Immersion School, an institution that will base its teachings on the cultural heritage of the Sioux Indians.
While educating children, from kindergarten through third grade, in general courses, a main part of the school’s curriculum would be in the traditional manner– “in our own language,” said Means.
“[It is] the ultimate expression of sovereignty,” he said.
The idea of the school is based on the success of the Total Immersion School of the Maori Peoples in New Zealand, said Means. The Maori’s schools focus education in “total immersion into the root cultures language, art, dance, music, science and oral tradition grounded in the children in their identity and rich heritage.”
Means, who has 15 children, said that this is the first fund-raising effort for the school in California. He started raising funds through his Internet site, www.russellmeans.com, at $10 a donation. As announced at the benefit, the T.R.E.A.T.Y. Total Immersion Educational Endowment Fund has $992, 000 in assets, including land of 160 acres that Means and his brother donated to the cause. An additional 85-acre ranch was purchased by the fund, which will serve as headquarters for the school and house a community center for Lakota youth. Training begins this summer for five teachers who will be in charge of the education of 20 students in the fall.
The 160 acres that the Means’ donated will be used to created a self-sufficient community, or Village, that “will reinstate the matriarchal way of life,” said Means.
“It is the only way Indian people can retain their identity,” he said.
“Our language uses the feminine and the masculine [gender],” Means said. “When we talk about the ‘Great Mystery’ we are referring to the feminine.”
Stern, who has known Means for two years, met him through the efforts of Stern’s son, Shawn.
In high school, Shawn, interested in American Indian culture, picked up Means’ book by chance, he said.
At the same time, Stern, a violinist, was recording the album “Spirit of the Nation” and he needed someone to sing or perform a “spoken word message” for the album, said Shawn.
Shawn suggested Means for the job and they invited him over.
“They struck up an instant friendship,” said Shawn.
“Right from the first meeting he talked about the T.R.E.A.T.Y program,” he said. “He has a real pride in his culture.”
There are future plans to involve Means in a film that Shawn has written, which he will act in also.
As part of the entertainment for the benefit, Stern performed pieces from his recently released album “The Road To Love,” a compilation of pop songs ranging from “Send in the Clowns” to the famous Beatles tune, “The Long and Winding Road,” on his 300-year-old Stradivarius.
Kristin Burns, a 16-year-old vocalist and daughter of Dr. Steve and Jo Burns, who specialize in equine reproduction, sang several love ballads, ending her performance with a slightly bluesy tune that fully demonstrated the maturity of her voice.
In contrast to the contemporary performances of Stern and Burns, was the performance of a mini-powwow.
Andy Torres along with The Bluestone, an American Indian singing and drumming group, filled the cavernous living room of the Sterns’ home with pulsing energy during the powwow. Three dancers performed in full-Indian regalia.
Means took part in the powwow by speaking prose or “word messages.”
Means, when posed with the question of why is it difficult, when a person moves outside of a reservation, to put their energy into creating a movement or schools, or anything, that would benefit their lives and their heritage, said, “[They’ve] bought into the patriarchal consumerism society, [therefore, diverting energy from any cause,]” he answered.