Frmr. Senator Tom Daschle re-caps the S.D. Tribal leaders Meeting with Barack Obama

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD)

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) introduces presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Interview and photo by Lise Balk King

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 16, 2008

The Native VOICE:

Can you give us a wrap up about what happened in the closed-door meeting with the South Dakota tribal leaders?

Senator Tom Daschle:

Well, first of all I think it was an important opportunity for Barack to hear directly from many tribal leaders from the upper Great Plains, especially South Dakota, without interruption and without the normal throngs of outside pressures. It was a very quiet and very thoughtful discussion about issues effecting Indian Country. Secondly, it was an opportunity for the tribal chairmen and other tribal leaders to hear directly, in his own words, from Barack Obama about his vision for Indian country, about his priorities effecting the government-to-government relationship that we think is very important.

The Native VOICE:

Were there any issues that were dealt with that were specific to the tribes in South Dakota that were unique to the tribes in SD?


I don’t think that there were any specific things about South Dakota, except that Barack mentioned that South Dakota in particular is well positioned to be a significant contributor to alternative energy development and that energy for tribes in South Dakota could be as big as gaming has been for tribes in other parts of the country.

The Native VOICE:

We know this has been a major focus of yours. Would you like to touch on why you’ve been encouraging tribes to get involved in alternative energy development?


Well first of all, I think we have to be realistic in understanding that gaming won’t be as lucrative in some parts of the country as it is in others. Secondly, we also have to realize that one of our greatest assets are the natural resources that we have in Indian country. With potential for production of biofuels, solar, maybe geothermal, we have an abundance of natural resources that, if harnessed, could be extremely productive from an economic development, point of view. Third, we have a real demand for alternative energy in the country today. So given those three forces it seems to me that Indian country is very strategically located to be able to take full advantage of the effort to change our energy dependence away from foreign countries and more towards our own country.

I think that all of the Indian assets could play an important role in solving our nation’s energy and climate challenge but if that’s going to happen we have to give Indian country the tools to develop those resources, including opportunities to take full advantage of tax laws in this country that tribes can not currently avail themselves of. It’s important that they have the same opportunity to use the production tax credit, for example, that non-Indians can use today and we have to change the laws to accommodate that.

The Native VOICE:

What were some of the most important points the tribal leaders brought up? What were they most concerned with?


Well, I think mostly tribal leaders are concerned about insuring that the next President understands the importance of government-to-government relationships, that we understand the importance of tribal sovereignty, and that we understand the importance of the responsibility of the government to live up to its treaty obligations. This includes providing adequate resources, or help for infrastructure, to law enforcement, for education and for many of the other important pieces of the tribal agenda that have gone unaddressed for these last eight years, and they raised those priorities with Senator Obama.

The Native VOICE:

Do you think there was anything that was new information for him that was brought out during the tribal leaders meeting, that was sort of a surprise?


I think he might have been surprised a little bit about the depth of the concern for the bureaucracy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and how unresponsive they are oftentimes to the challenges that tribes face today.

The Native VOICE

What was his response?


His response was that we’ve got to streamline the federal bureaucracy, we’ve got to find other ways to communicate, including having an Indian Summit and having a senior policy advisor in the White House who can help augment cutting through the bureaucracy and getting the job done.

The Native VOICE:

Did the power of the Native Vote in South Dakota come up in the conversation?


Yes it came up quite a bit. We talked about the power of the Native Vote and recent elections in South Dakota and around the country, the power of the Native Vote this year in particular, and it was very important. Discussion was also focused on Native American Heritage Day and the importance of that day, and recognizing the need for continued improvement in relations between indian and non-indian people.

The Native VOICE:

There were a lot of comments made by Sen. Obama to the tribes, promises of changes and intentions. Was there anything he was asking of the tribal leaders that they offered in return?


I think that Barack Obama asked of the tribal leaders three things. First, he said was appreciative of their support for those who have already expressed it, and he was hopeful that the tribes could make a real effort in getting out the vote in this important election. Secondly, that they continued to advise him on matters of import to Indian people all over the country. Third, that we begin to build a very constructed relationship between tribes and Senator Obama that could, if he were to be elected President of the United States, that it could serve as the basis of a new relationship between the President and tribal leaders.

The Native VOICE:

Thank you so much.

Ellis Island Medal of Honor 2008 Awarded to Frmr Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO)

NEW YORK, NY – Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, of the Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma, was one of 100 people honored with the NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award at this year’s ceremonies on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The award recognizes Campbell as a powerful leader for his many years of distinguished public service to America as well as his unique position as a voice for Indian Country within the halls of Congress.

Campbell has ancestors from both Native America (Northern Cheyenne) and Immigrant America (Portuguese), and his honorable legacy is a merging of these two sometimes divergent realities. As a politician, he embodies a bridge between these two worlds. As a man, he symbolizes a powerful legacy of love and understanding for his country, and for his people.

Like all of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor awardees, Campbell is recognized for his achievements in the mainstream society, but he is also being acknowledged as a representative from Indian country, from Tribal America, and for what he represents to that vast and unique constituency. Senator Campbell has spoken out many times about the dual role he was compelled to play while serving in Congress.

On one hand, he did his job for the constituents of Colorado, those people up elected him to office. On the other hand, as the sole Native American person inside that circle of influence and power on Capitol Hill, Senator Campbell was, and still is, thought of as a voice for Indian Country at large.

Campbell was a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 until 2005 and was for some time the only Native American serving in the U.S. Congress. Campbell was a U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993, and he was sworn into office as a Senator following his election on November 3, 1992. He was only the third Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in history. Campbell also serves as one of forty four members of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

Campbell was the first person to address the Senate in full Indian regalia, white beaded buckskin, and full chiefs head dress contrasting against a sea of dark suits. His presence was a statement about the continuation of Native American tribes and their enduring cultural heritage. Campbell was instrumental in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the museum, he said, “No longer will Native American culture be bottled up in collections and hidden from so many people in the world who wish to share them.”

A New Step for NECO, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations

In keeping with their mission of holding up examples of individuals who do achieve the American Dream while maintaining their own cultural identity and heritage, NECO is including tribal America this year with their honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and have stated their intention to continue this new tradition with the honoring of a Native American every year going forward. Cherokee Principle Chief Wilma Mankiller is the only other Native American to have received this honor, in 1997.

Executive Director Rosemarie Taglione stated that NECO intends to “build a bridge of honoring, of understanding, and of healing from communities of immigrant cultures and families to communities of indigenous tribal people living in America today,” starting in 2008 with the honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Established in 1986 by NECO, the Ellis Island Medals of Honor pay tribute to the ancestry groups that “comprise America’s unique cultural mosaic.” To date, more than 1,000 American citizens have received medals, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist, Muhammad Ali; Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly; and Quincy Jones.

Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are selected each year through a national nomination process. Campbell was nominated by Kurt Luger, executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, and New York businessman Bernard “Beau” Lange. Screening committees from NECO’s member organizations select the final nominees, who are then considered by the Board of Directors. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have officially passed resolutions recognizing the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, which rank among this country’s most prestigious awards. Each year, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are listed in the Congressional Record, honoring those who have made enduring contributions to our nation and to the world.

NECO’s mission is “to create the world of the future today, by honoring our diverse past, advocating for positive change in the present, and building strong leaders for the future.” The foundation partners with a wide variety of organizations, both national and international. It supports diverse ethnic cultural events, sponsors life-saving surgery for children, assists emergency relief efforts worldwide, and produces educational materials and programs that mentor youth to become the leaders of tomorrow. NECO continues its long-standing commitment to Ellis Island, supporting the ongoing restoration of its educational facilities.

For a full list of the 2008 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awardees, go to

Frmr. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was one of the few featured speakers at the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awards event in New York City, on Ellis Island on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The evening was a very patriotic event, with all branches of the the military represented in formation, in their dress uniforms. The event paid tribute to all of the awards winners with a salute and a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”

Senator Campbell took this unique opportunity to educate the two thousand attendees, including many of New York’s elite, in a little bit of Indian history:

“As a former Air Force military man from the Korean War, I have to tell you I always have a wonderful feeling of elation and hope and pride when civic functions in America involve so much of our military men and women. Your presence is a constant reminder of how important they are to our freedom. One of my bills that I am most proud of that I passed the United States Senate was the bill that was signed by William Jefferson Clinton that authorized the black POW-MIA flag as a national symbol to be flown five times a year by all federal properties such as Ellis Island.

It was brought to my mind when Louis Zamperini (WWII veteran, Olympian, motivational speaker) came to the podium. It is extremely important that we do not forget their sacrifices.

I am delighted to be here. I might tell you since there are so many military people here tonight, that American Indian involvement in our military is almost patriotism beyond words, contrary to some of the old movies that exploited the Indian Wars of the American West in the 1800’s.

But the fact is, it was warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy who provided George Washington at Valley Forge with blankets and food, snuck them in in the middle of the night. It was American Indians who were with “Black Jack” Pershing when he chased Pancho Villa into Mexico, and with Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill.

And, who now has not heard of the celebrated Code Talkers of WWII whose own language was the only code never broken by the Axis. So, certainly we have paid our dues. We have the highest volunteer enlistment per capita of any ethnic group in America.

I’m also delighted there are so many of my tribal brothers and sisters in the audience tonight. Some of them have come an awfully long way to help me celebrate and and I really appreciate them being here.

We’re called American Indians, but it’s almost interchangeable with Native Americans now, as you probably know. We even use it in mixed circles, although in our own circles we prefer our own tribal names. But you obviously know how we got that name, because poor Christopher Columbus was totally lost and stumbled upon our shores and thought he was in India, and we’ve had that name-fiver since.

And in a way, there’s sort of a distant connection between Christopher Columbus and myself. Many of you may not know that he was taught to sail by the Portuguese, my mother’s people, in the Azore Islands. And Christopher Columbus’ wife was an Azorean, she was Portuguese.

In 1992, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the 20th descendent on Christopher Columbus, his name is Cristobal Colon, and he is helicopter pilot with the Spanish Navy. We had a chance to compare his ancestry on the Portuguese side with my ancestry on the Portuguese side. We mused that maybe I had a connection to Christopher Columbus, too.

I sometimes get teased a little bit by my Indian relatives who question the wisdom of my Portuguese ancestor’s teaching Christopher Columbus to sail, and on the other side of that coin are people who can’t believe that we sold Long Island for a handful of beads. But we’re all here and we’re all in this whole thing together now, so we certainly must make the best of it, and we do.

My grand dad on my mother’s side stowed away on a ship to get to New York when they broke a rudder and stopped in the Azore Islands. He said the hardest part was living on the three loaves of bread and one gallon of water he brought on board with him for the trip.

But he made it here, got a job, saved some money and sent for his wife and the five kids. My mother was the youngest of those five, and was six years old when we came here. I think he shared in common what I saw last night and tonight among a lot of our recipients…he was of modest means, he believed in working hard, he was raised with a work ethic as so many of our immigrants are. He knew how to share success when he gained success, and above all, he had a dream.

So it’s kind of strange, I suppose, that my mother would grow up, coming to a country where dreams could be realized, and then marrying a man who came from a people whose dreams were literally shattered by that same exodus from other parts of the world. And they were almost as you probably know, if you’ve read our history, American Indians were almost literally an endangered species by the year 1900, but we have come back.

And contrary to many of the stories that are out there now about the success of Indian tribes, I’m sure you’ve read about some of the success of what we call the casino tribes. Believe me, they are in the minority. There are very few of them making what we might call “serious money,” and some of them are in this part of the Unites States, but most American Indians still face a lifestyle of poverty that is literally a third world country.

I heard the very good words of Mr. Butler speaking about all the children of the world who need our help, and I tell you, some of those children are in this country, and they are American Indians. If you go out on what we call hardcore reservations, they still face a seventy-five percent unemployment. Nationwide, if we get to five percent they think it’s some kind of a national calamity. Try seventy five.

We still have over fifty percent our people on some reservations who suffer from diabetes, partly because they have no money to buy food, and so they live on starchy government surplus things we call commodities. Cans with no labels that have been sent to them by the federal government. No fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, low protein, you can imagine after years and years of that kind of a diet what it does.

Diabetes, of coarse, leads to bad circulation, then to gangrene, then to amputation, then to death. Over thirty percent of our teenage youngsters on some reservations have tried suicide in at one time in their life. Because too many of them feel that they live in a dead end hopeless atmosphere. Some of them we loose, unfortunately.

When I tell people that it is a matter of fact that the federal government spends more money per capita on rapists, killers and child molesters in our federal penitentiaries than we do through the Indian Health Service for our Indian kids, it’s hard to believe. But that’s a known fact. Senator Dorgan (U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee), who now chairs the committee I used to chair, is trying desperately to do something about that issue.

Well, those things are tough, but some of us are trying desperately to make things a little better. And I think we’re doing it as we kind of soldier on, and many of those Indian leaders are in the audience today. We know that if we work hard enough we will make life a little better for our grand kids, than what our grandparents faced in boarding schools, and, in fact, in the face of genocide practices that were done in California and in some of the New England states. That’s where the name “Redskin” came from. As you probably know, it is a name we do not like. It was when people would turn in, during the French and Indian Wars, a bit of black hair or red skin, they would get a bounty.

I don’t know of any other American…even though there were terrible, tragic things that happened to Japanese Americans during WWII, and to Black Americans during the slave days. And so many discriminatory things have happened to Irish Americans, and to many others. But, I don’t know of any other people, in this great nation, who had a bounty put on them. Except us. We did.

Well I am really delighted to be here in the company of so many distinguished people, who have made this great nation greater. But I would hope that they would remember that there are still people from the first Americans who have not shared in the success of our newest Americans. Somewhere along the line I hope we will begin to realize that and rectify it, and become truly one people under God. Thank you.

An Exclusive Interview with Senator Barack Obama

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

The Native VOICE:

What is your understanding of Indian Country, and what your understanding of tribes in America?

Senator Barack Obama:

Well, obviously I have enormous respect for the traditions and the history of the first people on this continent. And I think it is very important for us to make sure that we understand that there is a government-to-government relationship, that we need to fulfill our treaty obligations, that the United States government has not always fulfilled those treaty obligations – I intend to when I am president. And reflecting that government-to-government relationship, I am going to put a high priority on having a senior policy advisor, cabinet level, in the White House, who can meet with me on a regular basis. And I want to make sure that we’ve got ongoing meetings on an annual basis with tribal leaders so that they can communicate directly on issues ranging from what’s happening in health care in Indian Country to what’s needed in terms of preserving sovereignty, to our dealing with natural resource issues. I think that relationship of respect is what is most important.


How would you change the relationship in the way the tribes deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior?


Well, as I said, I want to make sure that there is a person in the White House who people can contact directly, so that they’re not just working through a bureaucracy. One of the things that I think is very important is to figure out how we can create a Bureau of Indian Affairs that is much more responsive, friendly and focused. Sometimes I think the federal government is a very distant entity, has a lot of rules and regulations, but unfortunately not the budget that’s needed to fulfill some of its missions. What I want to do is spend some time talking to tribal leaders on the ground, find out from them what would make a difference, how can we change things, how can we make sure that we’re more responsive. If we do that, then I’m confident that Indian Country can be a place of prosperity and peace, and a place where the vitality of the cultures is preserved.


Your approach seems to be one of going in and saying, How can we fix this? How can we make people’s lives better?




What would you do in Indian Country? Do you have a sense of what the real issues are on the ground?


Sure. Well, I mean there are a couple of priorities obviously. Indian Health Services is woefully inadequate, and that’s why I have consistently voted to significantly increase, and have sponsored calls to increase, health care dollars for tribal communities. I think it is very important that our education system works for Native children, and that has to be done in consultation with tribal leadership. But what is also true is that young people are going to be able to prosper in an economy that is global. They’re going to need a better education than they’re getting right now. Obviously it’s important to think about new economic development strategies. Gaming has been very important for a lot of tribes, but I think the opportunities, for example, on clean energy, like wind power, harnessing that energy, linking it to a renewed grid that can distribute that energy around the country, making sure that tribes are benefiting from these natural and renewable resources. I think that can be an incredibly powerful tool for economic development. And then obviously there are issues like substance abuse, crime, suicide, that have to do with mental health services, and those have to be provided in a way that is culturally appropriate. I think that unfortunately too often we don’t have enough sensitivity to what is going on in these communities, and we haven’t trained enough people within the communities, to provide the services that are needed.


The most important question that tribal leaders and people on the ground want to know is, can you give us some specifics about how you intend to recognize and respect sovereignty of the tribes?


I’m a big believer in abiding by past treaties and making sure that we are respecting these tribal governments. And that means that, on a whole host of issues, where there are potential conflicts between tribal decisions and U.S. policy, I think we have to understand that we can’t just run roughshod over those tribal decisions. That’s why I think it’s so important to set up an ongoing liaison within the White House to resolve these issues as they come up, and not allow them to fester, or to be decisions made at a lower level. And I don’t think that we should just have courts resolve many of these issues. I think at some point the executive branch has some responsibility to be proactive, and not passive. Because often times it might take twenty years to resolve some of these issues. And that I think is not sufficient.


The question is, as a follow-up, it’s going to take not just executive, but legislative and funding decisions and appropriations – that could be a difficult thing.


Well obviously I’m going to have to work with Congress as president. We have co-equal branches of government. I’m not going to be able to dictate my agenda. But what I can do is to be an advocate. And I intend to be an advocate for Indian Country, and for Native American people, who have for too long been forgotten.


Would you support the creation of Native American Heritage Day as a way to help educate America?


Oh yes, I am a big booster of that, the creation of Native American Heritage Day.


Thank you, Senator.


You’re welcome, and thank you.


Ward Churchill, agree with him or not, has become an internationally-known symbol of Native American protest against the United States goverament, the “establishment ” and against anyone who would challenge his right to speak freely.

Churchill’s controversial writings and speeches, and subsequent termination from his tenured position as an Ethnic Studies Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, have gotten unprecedented media coverage world-wide.

His very status as American Indian has been challenged, by Native and non-Native alike, yet he persists in current affairs as the number-one most recognized Native American voice in the mainstream media.

Churchill is representing Native America, in some respects, to the greater public and the world, with media coverage literally circling the globe. A quick Google search turns up stories from every major news agency in America, plus coverage on Al-Jazeera, the Chinese newswire, and news programs in New Zealand and India, to name only a few.

The first question a recent visitor to our offices from Germany asked was “What do you think of Ward Churchill?” Partially because of his references to Nazi’s, she said, “He really has people talking about Native Americans and what they went through historically. There is a lot of debate around this guy, even at home (in Germany).”

He is the center of a firestorm of controversy, and many Native people have become frustrated by the attention he has garnered in the name of Indian people. He has certainly been accused of making things harder for Native people in the Rocky Mountain region, as AIM support has given the impression to some that he does stand for Indian people at large.

Ward Churchill’s supporters, including Russell Means and the Denver Chapter of AIM, are fiercely loyal. They stand behind Churchill to support not only the man, but also his messages.

The day after Ward Churchill was fired by the Colorado University Board of Regents, he invited us to come out to his home in Boulder to interview him and talk about the issues. Russell Means was there, and became part of our conversation, which went long into the afternoon and covered some unexpected ground.

We look forward to your comments and feedback, some of which we will print in the upcoming editions of The Native Voice. Please send your emails to:

A Two-Part Interview

The Native Voice: A lot of people know of you from the headlines, but they don’t know you as a person, per se. You’ve become more of a symbol.

Ward Churchill: Sure.

TNV: Your work at the University of Colorado in Boulder has been presented as radical. When you first started working as a professor, as a teacher, were your goals different then, from what they became in recent years, what we see today?

Churchill: No It’s kind of like this interview. It may have been different in a sense that I may have had different points of focus because, if you work enough at a base to try to rectify the Indian-White relations, or how ever you want to frame that, there are almost an infinite number of points of focus that you have to select from, so you can move from one to another to another and basically you’re doing the same thing. It’s just that your framing is going to be different.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been standing on the same bedrock, the same foundation all my adult life. Whether in the formal academic sense or an activist sense or a combination of the two, which has usually been the case.

TNV: Can you explain where that foundation comes from?

Churchill: In a way, it’s a paraphrase: In ’74 when they convened the International Treaty Council – the meeting, not the organization – what came of that was they gave the pipe to Russ (Russell Means) and he accepted it with a responsibility to take the 1868 Treaty in front of the community of nations to get involved in that particular discourse and to be considered in that way.

From the 1868 Treaty, then, by extension, you’ve got all these other sets of treaty relations between the Feds and indigenous peoples. In the end that translates to global treaty study that was undertaken by Alphonso Martinez during the later part of the 1980’s. That’s how these things hook up, but it was to take what was known to people in a particular context and put it where it belongs, which is in the international discourse because it is an international relations issue.

My thing has always to been take “Indian affairs,” as that term is applied by a federal government, the sets of relations that are involved there and the history of that, and put it into the discourse of the consequence of people.

More broadly, it is that consideration of indigenous people – their relations, their rights, and so forth – as not some esoteric side line field, but as part of the old world flow of the whole. That doesn’t land in a standard university Indian Studies position where Indians are developing knowledge and putting it in these Western forms for their own purposes, for internal education (that’s valid for as far is it goes, and I actually participated in it, but its not my focus).

It’s also not to try to make Indians a part of the greater whole in the sense of being minorities. Indians speak from their own position with the same integrity and right to be heard and considered in connection and comparison with other minority groups as anybody else.

TNV: So, who is your audience? Indians? Non-Indians?

Churchill: I’m always talking to Indians, to White folks, and Africans, Puerto Ricans and everybody else. We’ve got points in common. For one, we’ve got a common oppressor.

TNV: White folks too?

Churchill: A lot of these groups even including some of the White groups, have our different histories. We understand our differences and our commonalities clearly among ourselves. We have a basis for interacting and respect in the real world.

How do you get to that understanding? Well, you don’t do anything without consciousness, okay? Because consciousness is not insular, nor is it homogenous, like stirring cream into coffee.

TNV: So what was the basis of the problem at CU? Why do you think, ultimately, that they built a case against you to fire you?

Churchill: I don’t strive for either of these poles, so there is this tension at CU. But that’s where Indian studies was supposed to fit in the first place. Most people have forgotten this. We’ve got so many damn people trying to be professional according to quote-un quote standards that we were supposed to transcend! Our purpose was to transcend our understanding of Indian studies, to change them, to make them other than what they were through standard education.

TNV: When I was in college taking Native American studies, the first thing the professor said on the first day of class was that “Anything you ever learned in any classroom about Native America was all wrong. For you to be successful in this class past this day with me you have to be able to forget it” and start over to build your knowledge and understanding. I thought it was brilliant.

Churchill: And you’re telling the Indian students, “Well that’s in the past now, can’t you get over it and try looking at it another way?”…

TNV: …No, the professor meant it as a “de-programming” from American public schools…

Churchill: (continuing )…well truth of the matter is they can’t. That’s what’s scary, its not like you give em a pill. But in variable degrees of openness they can unpack a lot of this stuff and they can do it in a hurry if you approach them right.

And maybe that’s what the Creator gave me was an ability to straddle those two things because I can talk to Indian students and other people. I’m consistent with Indian peoples’ understanding, but I can nail these little White buggers right there in their seat and you can almost watch them undergo transformation. It’s like the cartoon of the lightbulb going on its like, “Oh sh*t.” You know, walk em into it. Let them walk themselves into a box of an argument.

And they realize they are in a box and they have to think their way out and it scares them to death because the final product of any course that I ever teach is that you gotta sit down and tell me what was important in the subject matter, and why you thought it was important. Pick anything you want from the whole subject matter. One little point in it or something you connected to from your own experience to the subject matter. But, you gotta explain why that is and then you’re gonna tell me what you’re gonna do with that outside the goddamn classroom in the real world.

It’s traumatic. Nobody ever asked them assign a significance to things. They’re always being told what the significance is, so they memorize, they write in forms, they fill out tests, little bubble circle things, fill in the blank multiple choice. You know, all that sh*t. You’re memorizing information, you’re regurgitating it, you’re never really learning, you forget it soon as you’re out the door, once you got your ticket punched for that school credit…

It propels them to engage, you gotta think your way to a conclusion. They are terrified but ultimately most of them do pretty well

TNV: Do you think that the part of that experience that you have with the students has been the context of the a big, public, state university system that you’re teaching in? For example, different schools have different expectations for their students, how they want them to learn, what they expect them to do with the information, etc. Meaning, a large university system undergraduate college versus a private liberal arts institution?

Churchill: Yeah, and you can still do it in a big school context. But where this does start to break down is with the number of students in the classroom. I’ve taught sections of 200 students, and you can’t really do what I’m talking about with that many students.

That starts to debilitate towards these idiotic instruments where you’re assigning arbitrary scores and you end up with people who are really able to do something with the information, they’ve got a handle on the subject matter, and they get a C because they’re not good at taking tests. And you got people who are total ciphers in terms of moral implications or the ethical implications or so on but they know how to do well taking tests and they are getting A’s. I taught 100-student blocks and I could get closer to what I’m talking about.

TNV: One of the things the media has focused on is how much money you make and how much you have cost CU. It has been reported that you will be paid $96,000 in severance for this upcoming year, and that the court case cost CU $352,000.

Churchill: It takes roughly 25 students at the University of Colorado to pay for a course. Anything beyond that is excess, is profit. So, if I’m teaching a 200 student block then I’m generating three dollars in profit in the institution for every dollar I’m using to deliver the course.

One line on that is the quote that tax payers of the state of Colorado, who anti-up six cents on each dollar of the operating budget for the institution, are paying for me. In fact, they have never paid me a dime, ever.

I’ve been at CU since 1978 in different capacities. In fact, if we were to settle accounts, they could send me a few million dollars that I’ve generated in income for them.

TNV: What about the point that there are two sides to every story, or at least two perspectives.

Churchill: Yeah, that’s what the Nazis said about the Holocaust.

TNV: Well, that’s a whole other discussion.

Churchill: No, it’s not. You said “every story.” That is a story (the Holocaust). No one expects that there will be another side to that story.

TNV: I’m talking about the story of what’s happened to you at CU, that there’s…

Churchill: …That’s just another story. There’s not necessarily another side. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The other side could be absolutely fraudulent. There is no other side.

TNV: People frame the truth based upon their own perception and perspectives and justifications and agendas. Now you start with a theory of what you were saying…

Churchill: …I’m not accepting that there’s two sides to every story. I’m saying that there can be the truth and there can be bulls*** and that’s the two sides.

TNV: Interpretation can be the whole issue…

Churchill: Then what the Nazi’s said about the Holocaust. How do you interpret their “truth?”

TNV: I don’t know how to answer that question.

Churchill: Nobody does, and there’s no expectation that they should which puts the lie right off the bat to this sort of liberal. “There’s always two sides and they should be treated equitable.” When you treat the Nazis equitably, bring a Jewish survivor from a camp to talk about that experience, it’s expected that will be counterbalanced by the testimonial of one of the guards? Then you can say that, but no one ever says that. So why is it that we gotta have perpetrators’ points of view given equal weight or even superior weight in historical understandings of what happened to Native people or the political understandings or the economical understandings? “Well, there’s always another way of looking at it.” Yeah, there is. There’s the Nazi way of looking at it.

TNV: So you are using the Nazis in comparison to what happened to you at CU? Well, there are justifications, and …

Churchill: Nazis have no justifications.

TNV: Absolutely not. I’m not saying that they are correct, or that you’re accusers are correct, I’m saying that people use different interpretations to justify their positions…

Churchill: …Well what I’m saying is that there’s no expectation that the other story has the integrity to be told.

TNV: I’ve looked at all the reports in the news, and someone likened it to…it’s a bad analogy, but their analogy was that it was worth using whatever means necessary to get you fired, and they compared it to getting a mob gang leader on tax evasion,…

Churchill: …And sometimes they fabricate something.

The way that it looks is that there were lots of little pieces of evidence pulled together to create a comprehensive body of evidence against you, in terms of your scholarly work. And its seemed that they had to take a little piece from here, and a little piece from there, etc., to remove you from your tenure at the University. (Professors who have been tenured have a secure position, for life, or until they retire. It is very difficult to terminate a tenured professor.)

Churchill: They had to create a pretext and an illusion. The pretext is that they were up and concerned about my footnotes (in published writings).

That was not the issue but that’s what they needed to say the issue was in order to do what it was they wanted to do for another reason.

TNV: And you have denied all wrong doing.

Churchill: Absolutely. Yes.

TNV: There is some concern over how your firing creates an imposed threat against being radical or controversial within the university context. There are other professors, who are may or may not agree with your politics and may or may not agree with the way that you would express yourself, who are concerned with what happened to you. They say your firing is a result of people disagreeing with your politics and your platform.

Churchill: Then where are they?

TNV: They’re quoted in the local newspapers, The Boulder Daily Camera and The Rocky Mountain News.

Churchill: I’ll give credit amply due, and to I could name them all, but there’s no need to take up the tape recorder…

TNV: There were only a few willing to speak out against your firing on the record.

Churchill: There are a number who come up to me in the grocery store or at McGuckin’s Hardware or when I’m buying flowers down at Frujos. They confide to really be behind me, but what are they really saying is that “I agree with you, I value what you’re doing and I don’t really value anything about it, so why don’t you carry the weight for us.”

TNV: Why do you think that is? Because they don’t agree with your politics or don’t like your delivery style?

Churchill: Because they’re scared.

TNV: What are they scared of?

Churchill: Because they’re scared of what the implications of this are. The implications are that the academic institution, which is supposed to be a protected environment of true thought and expression, has now had the attention of the Governor to put pressure on the University to take can of removing someone who they thought was, whatever, making too much noise, getting too much press attention, making too many waves, saying things that made them look bad in some way.

For accusing the United States of genocide, for example.

TNV: You’re not the first one to do that.

Churchill: I know.

TNV: Look at Vine Deloria, for example.

Churchill: Well, you know, from their position in a weird way I’ve done that far more effectively than Vine, and Vine’s my mentor. Vine was my uncle, my friend, so I’m not dissing Vine any way at all here. He had a problem with the word “genocide.” He didn’t really understand it and he used it straight up, for example, with regard to Guatemala, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to that here. And he would do cultural critique in the sensibilities of White people, but but he falls into what I call the “opposition trap of the United States.” That there is always this cast of characters that you can name that are the “evil doers.”

TNV: What is the “opposition trap of the United States” and who are these “evil doers”?

Churchill: Okay, so now it’s Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice. Now, which one of them ever picked up a rifle and killed an Iraqi or anybody else for that matter? I mean, Bush is a draft-dodger, Cheney’s a draft-dodger…Cheney said he had other things to do.

It requires somebody besides those evil figure heads to actually do it. And who is that? That s grass roots Americans, and a lot of Indian people. I’m fairly harsh on them, and I’m one of them (who served in the military). You are accountable for your actions.

This is the Nazi defense, saying, “Well, ultimately nobody was responsible but Hitler because it was after all the fuhrer’s state, and the orders ultimately issued from Hitler so he was the ultimate responsible party and everybody else was obeying orders, even highly-placed government officials. And, of course Hitler’s dead so there’s no nobody to blame now. So, let’s revile Bush and Cheney and all of them. Let’s state our opposition. Let’s protest against them even while we benefit from it and do not come to grip with the fact that our next door neighbor and the things we even embrace go into making this process work. In that way we’re not an effective opposition, we’re chasing our tail around and around the same rock.

Like alchemist thinking, if we do the same thing often enough it’s going to come out with a different result, rather than doing what actually would be required, which is to change the nature of the system.

When you get out of ritual forms that are approved by the State, it starts to scary ‘cuz there might be consensus for the state which becomes this immoral state that s slaughtering people all over the world.

By virtue of being a pacifist they might hurt you, that’s why cops carry guns. You know that’s why they employed Delta Force at Seattle when things got unruly (at the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999). What is Delta Force? It’s a surgical elimination unit. It kills people selectively. That’s all it is for. They were prepared to do that to maintain the economic state.

Okay, we’re non-violent. We take a pledge of non-violence, so we guarantee that were gonna be goddamn ineffectual…we’re only purer to you because were risking nothing.

TNV: Who specifically are you talking about?

Churchill: Mass movements. Go over here to the Peace and Justice Center in Boulder.

TNV: So you’re encouraging…you’re saying that peaceful movements, nonviolent movements are ineffectual? What about Ghandi? Nelson Mandela?

Churchill: I’m saying that is true if you constrain the realm of your activity to things that are sanctioned by the state, like free speech zones. You have to have a permit to express yourself, to assemble, to all the rest of this. You know what I’m talking about, we’re gonna do eternal prayer vigils with individuals burning incense, change our diets, build bike paths, everything, anything and everything that the state would approve and the one thing that might be effective is just, “I’m gonna exercise my rights and get the f*ck outta my way, I don’t negotiate my rights, I don’t need your permission to exercise a right.”

My whole point is to de-stabilize your point because your process is criminal. I don’t endorse it. I, in fact, oppose it in meaningful terms am I killing people beyond that set of principles.

TNV: So what are you calling on people to do?

Churchill: Am I making some argument where the only purity is an armed struggle? No. There’s no purity in forms of struggle. There’s no purity in pacifism, there’s no purity in armed struggle, there’s no purity in any point in between. Purity is to figure out how to effectively take that which you find to be morally intolerable – morally lethal, in fact, to primarily but not exclusively brown-skinned people the world over. And, we’ve got plenty of experience of that here that’s called day-to-day life – and change it into something that does not have that effect. The current system sanctions only those things which will not disrupt its current function.

TNV: Well, of course its primary purpose is to thrive in it’s own system…Having this conversation with you it is clear that the sentiment and argument against you goes way deeper than any footnotes in any book. You are challenging “the system” at large.

Churchill: And so is the line of historical interpretation which sets things completely on their heads. Everything that was celebrated, anything that was trumped up in American History, I challenge.

An exclusive Native Voice Interview with legendary Coach Dale Brown

Best known as star coach for SHAQ (Shaqullle O’Neal) at Louisiana State University, Coach Brown was a featured guest speaker on July 10 at the 2007 Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) in Phoenix, Arizona. He came out to speak to the kids about overcoming sports (and life) hurdles, with no excuses.

When Dale Brown arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in March 1972, he arrived with a dream that was perceived by many who knew the LSU Basketball program as impossible. The dream was to make basketball a fan favorite in Tiger Country and to make it a nationally respected program as well.

Dale Brown’s straightforward, determined approach, combined with the knowledge of the game, excellent recruiting skills, and his positive philosophy made his dream a reality. Equally amazing was his 25-year career as the Tiger’s head coach, the winningest coach in LSU Basketball history. He is also the second winningest coach in SEC history, surpassed only by Kentucky’s legendary Adolph Rupp.

Brown’s LSU teams won numerous SEC titles, and advanced to four Elite Eights and two Final Fours. He was chosen twice as the National Basketball College Coach of the Year.

105 of 160 of Brown’s players received their college degrees and those that attended LSU for four years had a graduation rate of 84%.

He began his career as a high school coach in North Dakota where he coached basketball, wrestling, football and track and field. He was an assistant coach at Utah State for five years and one year at Washington State before becoming the head coach at LSU in 1972.

In high school in North Dakota, Brown was the state’s leading scorer in basketball and set the school record in the 440 yard dash.

Brown earned 12 letters in basketball, football and track at Minot State University, making him the school’s only athlete to achieve that goal. In 1957, he received a B.S. degree from Minot State University and, in 1964, he received his. M.S. degree from the University of Oregon.

Coach Brown is a member of the North Dakota and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the North Dakota and Louisiana Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The SEC honored Brown by inducting him as an SEC Living Legend.

At the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament

July 10, Phoenix, AZ

The Native Voice; How did you find out about the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) Tournament?

Coach Dale Brown: I was in Phoenix a couple of months ago and Gina Marie Scarpa-Mabry came up to me. She was so committed and personable and told me about NABI and asked, if I would speak to the young participants. And I told her to look at my web site and call my secretary and set something up. She said, “We don’t have that kind of money, what you charge.” And I said, “Listen, for the Indian kids, I’ll do it free.” I felt that if I charged, it would take away from what I feel about what needs to be done and what needs to be said. And if you are paid, then what you are is a spokesperson for the fee you get. So that’s how I came here.

TNV: What would you hope that you could impart to these young people at the NABI tournament? What would you like them to know?

Coach Brown: My main thesis is that there are 6.5 billion people on Earth right now. It’s the most in the history of the world and everybody claims that they’re looking for success. But they also want to be happy. So, how do you get that? My theory with the young generation of Native Americans is that “You’ll never get to where you want to go if you forget where you came from.”

The Trail of Tears has never ended. It is important to give them some examples without giving a crutch to lean on. From 1607 to the present time there is no question that the American Indian is the most mistreated, neglected, cheated and forgotten ethnic group in American history. For far too long, Indians in this country have survived in the White man’s shadow. They have humbled themselves, becoming invisible, learning to survive, just barely, on hand-outs form the federal government.

So, how do you change this? Well there’s no simplistic way, but the number one thing you have to do is to become educated.

Nelson Mandela said it very clear. He said, “Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.”

I talk to the youth about becoming educated, and about discipline. Discipline in our personal lives, discipline about being on time, the commitment they have to make. Commitment is the best boon to success. Stick with it. Believe in yourself and persevere.

These Indian kids have come from a pretty fantastic spot. How this race has been able to survive after all these things…centuries of oppression, harassment, thievery, cruelty, slaughter…and yet the tribal members have survived. So this is a paramount example of the strength of the American Indian.

When Columbus landed on these shores, he wrote back to the King and Queen of Spain, after first encountering Indians (and I quote him on this) “I swear to you that there is not a better nation, they are sweet, they are gentle, and there are bright.”

TNV: So where do we go from recognizing the history and knowing where you come from, and finding success now?

Coach Brown: The question becomes, “Today, where do you change the system?”

There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.

I use examples of Shaquille Q’Neal, who I coached. There is no reason for him to be where he is now. His father was a drug addict – he didn’t have a father, really. But he had a step father who stepped in and got him educated. With all of the misery that the American Indian has gotten through, you can’t continue to look for a helping hand. You want a helping hand? Look at the end of your arm. Because the government has not done it. We’ve mistreated the American Indian.

It’s so easy for these youngsters to say “How in the world can I change the system? What can I possibly do?” Well, there were two unusual men who helped me. One of them was Nelson Mandela. 27 years he was locked in a prison, and yet he had a commitment because he wanted to change the system.

And there was a second man, an Oglala Lakota, a Marine lieutenant by the name of Billy Mills. He had been so beaten down, even in college, in Kansas, that he debated committing suicide. I had breakfast with him a few months ago in Phoenix. He told me that he thought about jumping out of a dorm window because his coach kept on telling him that “You can’t do this, Indians can’t do this.” Yet he becomes the only American who has ever won the 10,000 meter race in the Olympics (1964).

TNV: These kids at NABI are all basketball players, and they all have dreams that have gotten them at least to the point where they have earned the privilege of playing in the NABI tournament. What do you tell them about a guy like Shaq? Shaquille O’Neal is such a hero. What did it take, from a coach’s perspective, for him to become “Shaq”?

Coach Brown: I met him at thirteen years of age. I was speaking to the military troops in Germany, and this young man came up to me. I did not know that he was thirteen years old. He told he would be trying but for the team, and I thought he meant the military team. He told me he couldn’t dunk the ball and he had trouble running up and down the court, could I show him exercises? I said, “Sure.” So I came out from behind the podium and spent maybe ten minutes with him I bent down to my bag to get a pen and paper to write down his name and address. I told him, “Young man, when I get back to LSU I will mail you a weight training program.” I said, “How long you been in the service, soldier?” And broke out a big smile and he said, “I’m not in the service.”

I asked him, “How tall are you?” And he said, “six eight,” and I said, What do you weigh?” and he said, “About 250.” I said, “What’s your shoe size?” and he said “Seventeen.” I said, “What are you doing here?” and he answered, “My father’s a military man.” So, I sent him the weight training program. Six weeks later I got a letter from him: “Coach, I did everything you told me to do and my high school coach cut me off the team. He told me I was too slow, clumsy, and too big of feet. He told me I could never be a basketball player, and why don’t I try to be a goalie in soccer.”

Now, what profound statement am I going to tell a thirteen-year-old child, thousands of miles across the water…? So I sat down and I wrote him the following note: “Dear Shaquille, Every time I fail, somebody told me I couldn’t do something. I got my heart broken. I tried the following and it worked for me. I’ll bet it works for you. It’s very simple: ‘Always try to do your best, never give up, and God will take care of everything else.”

TNV: We want this message to get out to those kids who didn’t get to go to NABI this year. The ones who are saying, “How can I get to play at NABI,” let alone LSU or the NBA. So talk to us about what it is like on a daily basis when you are a coach, you got somebody like Shaquille O’Neal, you’ve got all the other players there as well. You know, people have good days and bad days. What do people need to have, every day when they get up in the morning, to be successful in something like basketball.

Coach Brown: In life in general, basketball, anything, you have to recognize that if you want to be successful, you will have to negotiate, jump over four hurdles. Everybody has to jump over them.

6.5 billion people on the planet. The most ever in this world living at the same time. The four hurdles for everyone: You have to overcome “I can’t,” you have to overcome failure, you have to overcome handicaps, and you have to know yourself. We all have to jump over these four hurdles. And you can’t barter, you can’t buy, you can’t cheat, you can’t lie your way over them. You’ve got to jump over them.

Any day of your life, you have 86,400 seconds in that day. During that 86,400 seconds you are going to face somebody telling you you can’t do something, or you thinking you can’t do something. That when you try something you are going to fail. So you have to know that your “FQ” is just as important as your “IQ.” That’s your “Failure Quotient.” You’ve got to get back up. You can’t let that failure keep you down.

Then, you’re going to have a handicap: “You’re Black, you’re Jewish, you’re a woman, you’re an Indian, you’re poor, you’re an orphan, you’re an immigrant, you’re illegitimate.” You’re going to have to overcome your handicap.

Then you have the last hurdle is.. .the most profound victory there is, that you are going to have, is over yourself. You’ve eventually got to know your self, you can’t play any games with your self.

TNV: You’ve got folks who have got a lot of talent, and you’ve got folks who have got a lot of guts. In basketball it sure helps to be tall. What do you tell kids who have the heart and drive, but maybe aren’t the tallest or the fastest?

Coach Brown: It’s very simple. The decathlete is considered the finest athlete in the world. Since the decathlon was started, five of the gold medal winners in the Olympics were 5’9″ and 170 lbs. Your size is not a handicap. Your size, your color, your race, prejudice, etc. Find where it works for you. Martin Luther King summed it up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”

TNV: Talking to kids who live on the rez, who have a dream, who may not have that mentor, that role model to help them along around them. What do you tell that kid? How do you tell them to dig down deep inside? How do they make their own opportunities? It sounds really good, but what if they say, “I don’t have anybody to help me?”

Coach Brown: I tell them my own personal story.

Two days before I was ever born, my so-called father abandoned my mother, and never returned. She came off a farm in North Dakota with an eighth grade education. We had to go on welfare, $42.50 a month. She had to babysit and clean peoples’ homes. I had to go to work practically after they snipped my umbilical cord. We lived above a bar and a hardware store.

We didn’t have any television, we didn’t have any automobile, we didn’t have any anything. She finally got a radio so I could listen to that. And my dad never did come back. He never called, he never wrote, he never sent any money. He just totally disappeared in the world.

From watching my mother suffer, from having a good mother in the house…she was a catalyst for me. She was uneducated but she kept telling me that I could make something of myself. And then one day I got in trouble in school, I got kicked out of class. I got sent to the Principal. And he was the ex-coach. And he said, “Get down here. You know what your problem is? You got a chip on your shoulder.” And I’ll never forget the next thing he said to me. I think it had the most impact of anything that ever happened to me. He said, “Dale, you want to know something? You need to know this. God doesn’t make any junk. You can be or do whatever you want to do. But, you’ve got to get the chip off your shoulder.” So, that’s basically the message.

TNV: What does is it feel like to struggle and win? You’ve had some pretty big wins in your life and some pretty big struggles. What does that feel like?

Coach Brown: It’s exhilarating and humbling at the same time. Both of those emotions take you over at the same time. There isn’t an arrogance, there isn’t an “I deserve this.” I can’t explain it. There’s a feeling of just exuberance, and feeling very good. But with the exhilaration, there is just this humbling feeling saying, “Man alive, I’m so blessed that I am able to reach this pinnacle.”

TNV: And you think this pinnacle is available to anyone with the guts and the heart to make it happen.

Coach Brown: The answer is very simple. When you are 27 years in a prison cell, like Nelson Mandela, because you don’t believe in Apartheid, and you finally got out and and you become President of South Africa… It’s Shaquille O’Neal who was abandoned by his father becoming who he is…Yes. Cinderella is not just a fairy tale. There are a lot of Cinderella stories. Gina Marie Mabry (Founder of NABI) is a perfect example. She told me her life story. It’s absolutely beautiful. She should write a book.

TNV: Yes. Definitely. She has really struggled to become who she is and look what she has created here.

So what are you on to now?

Coach Brown: Well, you might be interested in this. Shaquille and I and a group of others, with ABC, we’re doing six one-hour specials on childhood obesity. Tonight is our third episode. Obesity, as you know, is a major problem now, and also on the reservations.

TNV: We’ll definitely tune in and check it out. Any last inspiring words for our readers?

Coach Brown: My attorney is a Black Muslim from LA and my business manager is a Black man who graduated number one from Yale. So we get together once a year.

Last year we were finishing dinner, and I said, “You know that I speak from my heart. Tell me if I’m wrong. In my opinion, the Klu Klux Klan, racists and bigots, they can fold up their sheets and put them in the drawer. But now Blacks do more harm to blacks them these sick individuals do, and nobody will talk about it The White politician is trying to get the Black vote and they don’t even know how to spell ‘ghetto,’ and they won’t talk about it, the people who aren’t committed won’t talk about it, and, a number of Blacks don’t want to talk about it because they’ll be called ‘Uncle Tom,’ and Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson screw things up the other way.”

“You are 100% right,” they said.

Well yesterday, I watched on national television for the first time, “Bury the ‘N’ word.” Did you see this?

They had a rally with a coffin with guys in black suits holding the coffin, and they were “Burying the ‘N’ Word.”

They said, “We’ve got to quit blaming the White man. Our rappers use the ‘N’ word more than any White man, and we’re criticizing Whites. We’ve got to quit shooting each other, we’ve got to quit having illegitimate kids… We’re going to fight racism the rest of our lives. Let’s stop doing this to each other.”

Well, that’s the same thing that has to be done for the Native American. Yes, there’s no question that 370 treaties with the United States government, signed with Indian, and they broke every dog-gone one of them. But even in today’s society, somebody’s got to be talking about being late, being obese, the suicide rate, etc., and quit soft-pedaling it.

TNV: They use the “N” word, too.

Coach Brown: Well, that’s my message to these kids. Without knocking them down, but somebody’s got to tell them the truth, what they have at them. And how to get up and change the system.

TNV: Thank you.


“Martin Luther King summed It up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”

The ICE-T Interview

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, New York City – Standing in the buffet line at the after-party for the New York premiere of HBO Films’ BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, I realized that Ice-T was right behind me in line with his wife, Coco. I smiled and said, “Of all of the people here tonight, I would like to interview you, Ice-T, because I want to talk to someone who will tell me the truth about what they thought about the film.” He answered. “You know Ice-T is goin’ to tell you the truth!” Exactly.

If there was one person I believed I could count on not to give the usual “I loved it!” premiere post-party gushing review, he was the one. That’s why I took time out to visit with the man who pioneered gangster rap, who broke out of being “a thug” (as he described himself) to craft a life as a successful film and television actor without ever compromising his hard-core politics.

Ice-T has become recognized as a role model for youth everywhere, specifically the ones facing troubles who come from a tough life. He understands the struggles of his own people and has the compassionate heart of someone who can understand the struggles of others. He’s taken actor Adam Beach under his wing to “school him” in the ways of making the power play in Hollywood and dodging the proverbial bullets in the process. If you have any doubts, read on.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Tell me, what was your understanding, did you have any knowledge of the subject matter that was portrayed in the film before tonight?

ICE-T: Nah, I didn’t have any knowledge. I think the actual whole American history of Indians and stuff is really, really a blurred vision. For kids to grow up in America, you know, this isn’t in any history books and you gotta get a little bit as you can. You know, me, trying to be someone whose about rights and things like that, I mean I’ve done a little research, but nah. That’s why I came here tonight. I was like sittin’ in school. I was trying to suck up every little bit of information I could. The question I asked myself is, you know, due to the fact that I’m not Indian, is how close it felt to the reality from an Indian perspective. I don’t know, but it’s refreshing just to see something that kinda, you know, seems like it rings like the truth.

THE NATIVE VOICE: It has it’s difficult moments, but BURY MY HEART was the first time that we’ve ever seem a film anywhere even close to this level of potential worldwide exposure that uncovers the reservation realities, the beginnings of the reservation life. What did you think about the film?

ICE-T: Well to me it’s like, you know, it’s one of those things like when Black people saw “Roots” or “Mississippi Burning” or something like that where you see…it’s almost like you say “White people made this movie?” Its like, wow. But then the reality of the thing is all White people aren’t evil, you know? And there are some people that want the truth out there, you know? So I commend Dick Wolf (Executive Producer of BURY MY HEART, and creator of the Law & Order television franchise). I commend these producers and I always knew Dick Wolf was that kinda guy, I mean, even hiring someone like me to be on his shows. He always cuts against the grain, he does what he wants to do. So I respect that. You know, it’s really refreshing to see something like this. This movie needs to be in the education system, like put into the required viewing of all children.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Let me ask you this: are you aware of the fact that hip-hop and rap is the main culture for so many young people on the reservation? These days, that’s what the kids relate to, are attracted to, and they emulate everything about it – the culture, the attitudes, the body language, the clothes, everything. What do you think about that?

ICE-T: Well you know, hip hop is kind of – especially the music that I had to do with, gangster rap – was initially meant to shock, to say “You know, this is who I am” and it comes out the gate pretty aggressive. But after we got through the door, myself and NWA (Niggas With Attitude), the objective was “Now that we got your attention and we let you know that we crazy, we’re gonna try to guide the kids and teach them a little bit about it, like, this power.” And I think that the Native American kids just like that power and they like that rebellion. The problem right now in the hip hop community is a lot of the music is kinda like, it doesn’t have any direction, so to speak. It’s just like “Party, kick it, have fun, get high” which is kinda like the basis of rock and roll. But we miss that emotion, you know, like Public Enemy, we missed that focus where “Yeah, were gonna party and have good time but were still gonna Fight The Power” so to speak. I think that’s what people like KRS want and myself would like to see back in the music. Real good hip hop has a power of like, rebellion, in it. But it’s rebellion with a focus and that’s what we need.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Can you tie that back to what you saw in the film tonight? Now that you’ve seen a little more of the history, can you see why Indian kids would be attracted to rap, to hip hop?

ICE-T: The film is so deep you can’t even tie the hip hop to it, it’s just deep on a lot of levels.

THE NATIVE VOICE: The modern reality that the kids are dealing with, have come from this reality you saw in the film. They are a product of this history.

ICE-T: I jus’ think they go after anything that’s strong and they lookin’ at Black kids as going through something similar to them, so they kinda look at the ghettos in America as being another form of a reservation. And they see us fightin’ and they’re kinda connected to our battle, but you know, the Native American… If anybody’s got more beef with the United States than Black people it would be Native Americans. To me the heaviest line in the movie was at the end where Chief Red Could said, “The last thing we fear is your gun.” Which is like, “You are so diabolical that that’s the last thing we worry about.” And just looking at Adam Beach (playing Lakota Sioux doctor Charles Eastman) in that dilemma of trying to do so much right and being used as a pawn. And like, when he told his boys that “Yo, you know you’re Christian, you don’t believe in this,” (referring to the Ghost Dance) and the guy goes, “What do we believe in?” And Adam’s face is just like…confusion. In his head he’s doin’ everything right but to them “You’re the White man now.” And I think even the colder shot in the movie is when he had to go back and work for the Senator again (Senator Henry Dawes, architect of The Dawes Act, played by Aidan Quinn). And the Senator, by everything you see on this movie, portrays himself like he’s helping them (Eastman and Indian people at large).

THE NATIVE VOICE: And he really believed he was.

ICE-T: That’s the scary part of the movie! He really, really believed he was helping and it was weird, it was a weird warp. It’s like, “Was the devil really the devil?” And I think in true life, people really believe they’re helpin’, and they’re doing harm, and that’s a cold paradox.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Part of it was that when they took the Indians onto the reservations they became wards of the United States government…

ICE-T: I mean, KRS once said it best, you know: “There will never be justice on stolen land.” The problem with the United States as a whole is there’s so much corruption, there’s so much injustice, there’s so much murder, there’s so much like, deception. And then after this has all been done, let’s lay law over the top and ask for justice and peace. It’s like, let’s hide it and have justice. So now everybody is off balance. It’s kinda like, “Okay. Peace.” But we’re at war. It’s like, you know, its such a hypocritical playing field we’re on. Where is the truth? You know? Where is the truth? And it’s a cold game. It’s a real, real cold game. You know, I learned the streets as a hustler. It’s like they say, “The higher you go up the colder it gets.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: “The higher you go the colder it gets?”

ICE-T: Yeah. And that’s like climbing a mountain. And that’s how power is: the higher up you go, the colder it gets. So, you know. I got so much out of the film. I liked when the soldier sat in front of the Indian and tried to tell him, “Well, you mother f*****s was fightin’ before we got here so we’re just joining the fight. So we’re just like a new tribe, we’re just bigger than you…you guys was fightin’ first and we fought so now we’re in… So how were we wrong?” Interesting concept, you dig? You know? “We just kinda jumped into the fight, but everybody was fightin’.” Deep, man. It’s a deep movie and that’s what’s great about a really great film, it just feeds your head. It wasn’t so one sided that there wasn’t a question.. .you know? But the end result is, you’re sad. The end result is you’re sad. And it’s very rewarding to see something versus just a movie where your gonna laugh or you see a lot of explosions, a lot of action. History, when it’s done well, is great.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So what would you tell… I mean, so many kids look up to you and if you ever come out to the reservation you’ll see that a lot of times it is a ghetto on the’ prairie because of the government policies, because of the impoverishment, because of the lack of hope. Because of all those things, that’s what it is. We have government housing out there just like you have in the projects… it’s just that they build them wherever, in the middle of no where.

ICE-T: The problem with me goin’ on the reservation and really talkin’ is that I really, really am so unfamiliar. Truthfully, since I’ve been with Adam I’ve just been sucking up information from him. But I mean it’s really – to an average person, you know, Black kid, White kid – it might as well be outer space. Because we have no concept. We don’t know about the law…I’m asking him, “Well, what do you do? Do you have a jail? Do you do this?” I mean, I’m asking him and he’s like (gestures), “Whole ‘nother world.” And you know one thing I don’t comment on are things I don’t know about.

THE NATIVE VOICE: But you know about kids and you know about giving hope to kids, so what I’m trying to ask is, what can you give these kids? You know, we have record high suicide rates on the reservations right now.

ICE-T: You know what your kids need? They need somebody to win. You know? That’s why I know a lot of people bettin’ on my guy (Adam Beach). You know, when I first took him under my arm, I was like, “Dude, you’re important.” When I came outta the hood and should have been in Pelicans Bay, and I made it to NBC…? This is a big thing. It’s more than me being like a White actor that got a job, you know, it’s like, who cares? No one’s watching them. But the kids that watch me are like.. .they see if I can do it you know it can happen. Adam’s important, more than people know. And you know, I was like tellin’ him, I was just like, “Man, you gotta stand strong. You gotta stay out of this Hollywood drama. You can’t let ’em take you down. You talk about role model? Look at all the Black people who come out successful, semi-successful, like Shaq. He’s on the team but he don’t own the team, Oprah’s on TV but she don’t own the network, so let’s get it right. Yeah, but how many Native American people are famous?

THE NATIVE VOICE: How many Native American people are even on the team? They aren’t!

ICE-T: Right. So that makes him (Adam) so much more valuable. And I was just telling him, like, you know the main thing is you don’t slip and fall on none of this Hollywood bulls*** ‘cuz they love to make you look stupid. They love to make you f*** up. You got a big, big, big thing. So fortunately, he hooked up with me and I’m a rabble rouser. So I’m trying to school him, but the thing of it is, it’s like his fight is different. I can’t fight his fight. I can maybe give him some inspiration from the fight I fought, but I can’t fight it until I get more information. Actually he and I are working on a screen play, you know, so I have an idea for something to take this to the next level.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You think the world is ready for it, finally?

ICE-T: I think that it’s long overdue. I think that people from my community will really embrace this story. They need to know. I think everybody needs to know. I used to say that the schools in the United States need a course called “Humanity,” where you teach everybody why everyone is important, right? So you take a whole semester where you teach people what Mexican people have done that is great, not just Blacks. You gotta teach. That’s the only way people will respect each other.

You gotta teach everybody why everyone is important, like, “What is a Puerto Rican? Where did they come from? How did they get on that island?” People don’t know so they don’t respect it. So when you eliminate any education of pride, there will be no pride. So you know the kids, man, they just gotta believe.

I mean unfortunately, one guy said it in the movie, he said “White man controls the world.” That happens to be the truth, you know? And you know you’re gonna have to figure out how to insert yourself into this game to achieve what you need to help your people, you know? And that’s just a game, you know what I’m saying? So you can’t work outside. It’s like, even if you set up your own Native American studios, made your own movie, it still gotta get in the theatre! So somebody has to infiltrate the same way they infiltrated in the past. Re-infiltrate that way, and get what you want done. You gotta use the same tactics

THE NATIVE VOICE: It sound like you and Adam are on your way to doing that.

ICE-T: Well you know, I’m sitting with dude…and the beauty of Adam is he’s just very nice. He’s so overwhelmed by his own juice it’s almost like he’s the kind of guy that I’m like, “Dude, you don’t even know who the f*** you are! You’re the mother f*****g man, you know? You’re f*****g Tom Cruise, dude, you don’t even know! But you know, right now you got the power if you make the right move to really make some statements and change some sh**.” So, I’m on it, don’t worry about it. (laughs)

THE NATIVE VOICE: Thank you very much.

The Adam Beach Interview

Star of HBO’s “BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE” and featured on NBC’s “LAW & ORDER: SVU”

LOS ANGELES, CA – Few people come to mind when you think of Indian actors who have become a household name in mainstream America society, Wes Studi, Graham Greene, and … well, very few. There is actor who has recently followed their lead by breaking out of the rut of playing Native roles only in Indian films, and that is Salteaux First Nation actor Adam Beach.

As the newest face on the immensely popular television franchise, “Law & Order,” Beach is virtually insured celebrity status in the coming years through his two-year contract as Mohawk Detective Chester Lake on the “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit” series. It was through his role in HBO Film’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” that Beach scored this life-altering opportunity.

Currently one of the most successful producers on television, Dick Wolf is the creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” franchise, as well as the recently broadcast HBO Films adaptation of Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” It was through the friendship formed between Beach and Wolf while filming “Bury My Heart” that the role for Beach was created on “Law & Order: SVU.”  Beach said, “He’s a very good friend to have and powerful ally in the business…Dick Wolf is singularly responsible for creating this great new Native character for me on ‘Law & Order.’ He really gets it.”

The New York premiere for “Bury My Heart” brought out a who’s who of Indian country and many celebrity faces, including several of Beach’s fellow cast members from “Law & Order.” Ice-T, who stars as Det. Odafin “Fin” Tutoula. In a recent Native Voice interview, Ice-T said of Adam Beach, “He’s important, man…He’s frickin’ Tom Cruise, he just doesn’t know it yet.” Beach and Ice-T are currently in development on a high-action dramatic film script that will reportedly cast more Native people in non- “Indian specific” roles. (for more on Ice-T, see the exclusive Native Voice interview in this issue) Beach clearly has found a family in this new show, and the next two years should prove to be stellar for him as he continues to develop a platform through success in the entertainment industry, which he plans to use to “educate people on the issues” affecting Native North America.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you like people to know about your recent experiences in big-time television?

ADAM BEACH: I’ve been just shocked at how “Law & Order” has been catering to making me come across as a very powerful character on their show. It’s cool that the character is quick witted, he’s cool, and it’s just nice to have an Indian on television like that.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So, they’re making him a very likeable character?

BEACH: Oh, dude, hell yeah man. And, it’s all because of Dick Wolf, the executive producer, He’s been extremely supportive and wants to make this character on Law & Order a strong and well-developed personality.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You’ve been on the air with the show already, but when do you start appearing regularly?

BEACH: He’s in the season finale, but starting in September my character will be on regularly. … So, what did you think of BURY MY HEART?

THE NATIVE VOICE: It was hard to watch.

BEACH: Of coarse, it is hard to even read about.

THE NATIVE VOICE: It was hard to watch… those kids being gunned down, you can’t help it, I mean, I saw my children, I saw their relatives, their grandparents….Obviously there are issues with historical events and dramatic liberties taken with historic facts, but overall I liked the film. It is the first film to show the general public the events that happened to Indian people during the reservation era, it shows what they went through.

BEACH: Ever since I started acting, I’ve always spoken to our people about identity. I’ve spoken to kids, telling them: “Where do I get my strength to push through the barriers to get me where I’m at today? It’s my culture and my traditions, you know? When things are tough I do a prayer, I smudge, I do a sweat lodge. My sweat lodge has been the saunas of hotels, you know? It’s kinda weird when people hear me singing in a sauna, too. (laughs) But this film is going to teach our people about identity, and make them understand that there’s been generations and generations…over a hundred years of being assimilated. Of somebody saying, “Stop talking your language, it’s wrong, you have to learn this.” That really shatters the Indian man or woman. And right now we are picking up our pieces and collectively putting ourselves back together. But that assimilation has affected the generation we are living in now, it has affected my generation. Like, I don’t know my language. I know a little bit. At age sixteen, I started learning traditional ways and values that I carry now. But there’s a generation that’s not connected to any of that, you know?

THE NATIVE VOICE: What do you say to those kids, this new generation? You are saying, “Rely on your culture, rely on your traditions,” and then they say, “Well, I don’t know anything, my parents didn’t teach me.” They might even be on the rez, they live in housing, but they don’t know anything about their traditional ways. What do you say to them?

BEACH: Dude, we’re living in a generation where teaching is through the television. It’s a whole different concept now. And I’m so proud of this film because HBO is of that medium. Nobody’s going to read a book about this story. People have in the 70’s, but do you think kids are going to pick up a book like this (“Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown) now? No. And what I’m proud of is that I get to perform the struggles of identity of Indian people, and that’s the greatest teaching that I could tell them. Now it’s going to open up to questions where I could talk to people about it. This has been important to me for a long time.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Are you saying that it opens the conversation to the greater public that wasn’t there before?

BEACH: Yes. Right now, this film is going to introduce generations about what happened in the past, and a lot of them are going to want to find out more about the process of “assimilating the Indian.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: So, you are talking about the Indian viewer and the non-Indian public?

BEACH: Hell yeah, the world, dude! HBO is worldwide, it’s not the United States and Canada. This teaching is going out to the world, and it’s going to send a strong message out there. And right now there are a lot of issues that are connected to our past. Like right now in Canada, the government just wishes that we would give up on our land claims. They wish that we would give up our treaty rights and become a part of their society. They don’t understand that a lot of our people have perished for standing up, for keeping a part of themselves on the land.

THE NATIVE VOICE: There are a lot of similarities between the experiences of what happens in Canada and what happens here in the Unites States.

BEACH: Definitely, dude.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you like people to know about where you are from and how you related to doing this role about a Lakota Sioux, Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)? What did you draw from your own past?

BEACH: A lot of people have to understand that the Indian tragedy is a North American experience. When it comes to Indian people, there are no borders to us. Nobody points to me and says, “Oh, you’re a Canadian Indian.” Our people don’t associate themselves that way. My people, the Salteaux, the Anishinaabe, is of the region that goes from the area around Michigan and up into Canada. And there are land claim issues in Canada that are the same as the States.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Even though the United States and Canada had different governmental systems from the beginning, you’re pointing out that Indians were treated the same. So many of the policies that affected Indian people, and still do, in Canada are very similar to the US policies and the experiences of the Indian person here as well.

BEACH: Hell yeah, dude.

THE NATIVE VOICE: As an actor, how important is being Indian in terms of being able to create a character in a role? Do you think it’s important that someone is Native?

BEACH: The old controversy of that “An Indian can’t play that role” is gone now. They used to say, “There’s not really a strong enough Indian actor or one who has experience enough to carry this role.” That’s wrong now, you can’t use that excuse. Also, when you watch a non-Indian play an Indian role, you know it. There’s something that we as Indian people bring to the screen, there’s a depth that we carry. The issue now is to create those roles. I’m taking it in my own hands now to develop more films that are going to introduce more Indian characters, and help out other people with their dreams, and take on the responsibility to use my connections now to create those roles for other people.

THE NATIVE VOICE: I heard that HBO has got at least five Native stories in development right now. That WOUNDED KNEE is just the first one.

BEACH: That’s more than any other studio. That’s good. Maybe they understand that there is strength to our stories.

THE NATIVE VOICE: How was the process of preparing for the role of Charles Eastman? You are playing a story based on an actual person, and they are also a historical figure. How was that process for you? How did you get to know this person and the story of Wounded Knee?

BEACH: I got to know Charles Eastman through Eddie Spears (who played Eastman’s medical assistant in the film). I was working with Eddie and we were doing a scene where we had to watch this child die. And when we were done with the scene, he couldn’t stop crying. It was like, “You okay, bud?” And he just basically said, “It’s hard to know that this guy (Eastman) just wanted to make things work but the other side didn’t want to work that way. They were always after something. Eddie said that working with this story was like seeing ghosts. He’s a Lakota, so in that scene where the child dies, he’s basically watching a great-great-grandmother die in front of him. And when I heard that I was like, “Okay…now I get it.” So I portrayed my character into seeing ghosts everywhere. It became an alternate reality for me.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Speaking of alternate realities, you’ve shifted into high gear in Hollywood. How has your life changed in the last year?

BEACH: What’s changed is the availability of work. There has been a real, new focus on telling Indian stories, and acting-wise, I’m in the best creative force right now. It’s just kind of perfect timing that they’ve brought out these substantial characters and I’m just the one ready for it, I guess. It’s changed my life in that I’ve accepted who I am as that actor and what I mean to a lot of fans. I’ve accepted my role-model status… I’m going to be a pipe carrier in July, so, my responsibilities in who I am has really blossomed in the last couple of years. And I think for some reason it’s connected to what’s happening now – being this one-two-three punch of “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Bury My Heart” and “Law & Order.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: We know how hard you’ve struggled and that there have been times when it was really tough, but from the outside it looks like things have moved steadily upward for you.

BEACH: I’ve always understood that nobody’s going to hand it to me, and I personally never, ever would want a hand up. But I ultimately knew that it was the creator’s force that was gonna attract people. Every day I work on my acting skills, every day I watch what I can develop. When doing Charles Eastman I had to learn the rhythm of the speech of that era, and I had to become so concentrated on how I was moving and talking. So it’s “Be the best you can be, don’t stop…” You can always resurface and find a part of your personality, a part of your history, and part of your family, that could, you know, give you more confidence and strength. People are quick to be the negative parts, like, “Oh I can’t make it to Hollywood because the percentage of Indians are 0.2 percent working, so, forget it.” You know what I mean. I’ve kind of gotten to understand that I’ve lost a lot of life, and I say that due to the death of my parents (Adam’s parents passed away when he was eight years old). Nothing can be greater a loss than that. So why not give things a chance? It so happens that every year this business grows, you grow with it. I’ve been working in this business for seventeen years so I’ve been pretty fortunate.

THE NATIVE VOICE: But you’ve also put it all on the table. It sounds like you didn’t hold anything back.

BEACH: I did, I’ve sacrificed a lot, man, and I still am, because I’m still away from my two boys, who are in Ottawa, wondering when I’ll get a break to go see them.

THE NATIVE VOICE; How old are your kids?

BEACH: They’re nine and eleven. They understand now who I am. They know what I represent for Indian people.

THE NATIVE VOICE: I’d be really curious to see whether they look like you, sound like you.

BEACH: They have a bit of Adam in ’em, they have their own personality too which is great.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So are they like, “Dad, Dude!”

BEACH: Well, they say “dude” sometimes, and they are always telling me I’m weird. But they’re weird in a way of themselves too. (laughs) Yeah life is full of experiences and you gotta experience them, man. You know? For me there’s been a couple of times where I wanted to quit acting. The movies out there didn’t really represent us the way that my last two films have done. I’m happy that I didn’t give up, because it’s hard to stay focused when other people are saying “It’s never gonna happen,” or “You can only get this far.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: Or you have those voices inside your own head saying that.

BEACH: I was so naive, dude, of course. I was happy doing just one or two films a year, but you know I had to say “no” to so many projects because it just didn’t have any value for me personally.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What do you say about doing historic dramatic films where you know there’s such a responsibility? Indian people expect films to represent them correctly, and when you’re talking about films like “Bury My Heart,” it’s something that’s written by a non-Indian and directed by someone else and it’s not a documentary to start with…and then you have all of these creative people putting their influence on the project…so in the end the story is a “creative interpretation” and not a direct representation of history or a specifically “Indian” viewpoint. Every project created like this will have criticism, of coarse. How do you reconcile that? What do you say to people who watch “Bury My Heart,” for example, and are upset by things that they believe should have been portrayed differently?

BEACH: Well, they’ve got something coming to them, and that’s my heart. They don’t realize that this character I’ve been playing has been someone I’ve been talking to kids about all my life. I’ve been learning about me, trying to understand the Charles Eastmans in my life. When I run into a doctor or a lawyer who is Indian, whose taken the route of having to spend his or her life in the education system and kind of having to put aside their culture for some time… I have a huge respect for them, because when they have finished school and gone to work, they have to come back to their culture all over again, you know?

THE NATIVE VOICE: It’s an interesting story.

BEACH: The story that we are telling is of a hundred years of a government trying to assimilate the Indian. It’s like if you take a hundred years of people saying “You are bad,” being abusive, you’re gonna have a lot of generations, including mine, struggling with identity and wondering “Who the hell am I?” I’ve excepted that I’m no longer gonna walk in the negative world that people try to bring me in, you know? I’m out there to influence now because I work passionately with my heart…the teaching that I’ve learned about our culture and traditions has said “Your heart will lead the way.” So, the issue that I want people to understand is that this assimilation has created the situation where our people are fighting with our own people.

We can’t even balance ourselves, in that way we had back in the day. You know? So it works in a way where we are struggling for our own identity. It’s like, “Oh, you’re less Indian than me! I’m more than you! I carry a feather and you don’t!” You know what I mean? That’s not what we are about, but the assimilation process over a hundred years…dude, a hundred years! It’s gonna do some damage to our people, and right now some of us are really shattered and we’re slowly picking up the pieces and we’re really vulnerable, you know? And that’s why you have all of these kids hurting themselves. The suicide rate is tremendous! The worst thing that can happen to our people is having the young kids saying, “I don’t want to live anymore.” We have to show an example for our younger generations to give them hope, and what are we doing to motivate them to not give up? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves and not point fingers at anybody. Because it’s not about flooding money at these kids. It’s not about building them a new house or giving them a new car. It’s about telling them their history, let them know who they are. Make them believe in themselves, and how we do that is by believing in ourselves. You know what I mean?

THE NATIVE VOICE: Do you think that films like this are part of the solution?

BEACH: Oh, hell yeah! This is showing an example of the history of our people, that had to “sign or perish” (the treaty agreements) They didn’t give them a choice. They said “Sign or you’re dead.” What kind of choice is that?

THE NATIVE VOICE: One that would break you. Watching that happen in “Bury My Heart,” you just watch people’s spirits being broken right in front of you.

BEACH: Yeah, but each time I watch that movie, it gives me my strength back. The life I’m leading, the life I’m teaching to kids, is to be a strong Indian, to learn your values. I’m doing what my ancestors have done, would have done. I’m going against the grain of a people that was trying to tear our culture and traditions apart. And by me living an example of it, it gave me such a strength back that I was so proud to be an Indian man.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So what do you think this film can do?

BEACH: I know people are gonna watch it and want to learn more. We’re in a time where storytelling is on the television or in the feature film. Here we have a chance to tell our story. Now, what they take from it is up to them. But I know that I’ve taken a lot of strength from it.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You’ve taken strength from creating this film?

BEACH: I’ve taken strength from watching this film.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Ah. I can’t really speak about other people in other parts of the country, but in South Dakota this film, how things are portrayed is a big deal.

BEACH: Dude, I know what goes on in South Dakota and I know what this film is gonna stir up.

THE NATIVE VOICE: What would you hope that people would ultimately get from the film? What’s the message you would like them to take away from it?

BEACH: People can know that they haven’t lost their spirit, that that’s one thing we independently own. I’ve carried this with me this whole life: you can’t tell me how I’m supposed to live my life. But if we’re not ready to collectively help each other on the inside, the outside’s not gonna be of any help to us. This film is gonna send out a huge message, but there are a lot of our people who are in such despair that they don’t even want help. How can you get them out of that, how can you give them a sense of hope? Number one is a positive influence, a role model, like myself; number two, a film that explains where it started from; and number three is changing the way that “they” treat these issues, Indian issues. Do you know what I mean?

THE NATIVE VOICE: You mean “they” is the average American, the viewer, the mainstream public?

BEACH: Yes, and HBO is the champ right now, because they understand this.