HARTFORD, Conn. – In the mid-1970s, at the height of the American Indian Movement, Russell Means came to Connecticut to support the late Golden Hill Paugussett Chief Aurelius Piper Sr. in his fight to protect the tribe’s half-acre reservation in Trumbull, which was being encroached upon by a non-Indian neighbor.
Now some 40 years later, Means, who is perhaps the most famous Indian activist in the world, will travel to Connecticut to support Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky in his struggle to protect the tribe’s 400-acre reservation in Kent, which is being bulldozed and desecrating by a non-Indian intruder.
The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation will rally at the state capitol from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 29, the fifth anniversary of its reversed federal acknowledgement to protest the state’s refusal to intervene on its behalf to stop the destruction of land on the reservation.
“Russell Means has responded to our request and said he will be there in support in Hartford of our tribe. He’s very concerned with the inaction on the part of the state. That the state is allowing the destruction of our reservation by someone who is not even a tribal member is a disgrace. To have the remains of our ancestors and our relations disturbed is unheard of. To allow someone to disturb our artifacts and take them off our land and sold along with our timber and our rocks is unprecedented, and there’s no stopping this in sight,” Velky said.
Means, an Oglala Lakota Sioux, is a controversial figure who has pursued careers in politics, acting, music and writing. He is probably best known for his involvement in the AIM, an Indian rights organization that took direct action in the 1960s and 1970s. With AIM in 1973, Means led a 71-day armed takeover of the sacred ground at Wounded Knee, a small part of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where the U.S. 7th Cavalry slaughtered 200 men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux in 1890.
In a phone interview with Indian Country Today, Means was asked if he would speak and participate in a press conference at the rally.
“All of the above. My intention is to do anything and everything that’s asked of me by the tribe. I intend to give support and continuous support and to give whatever directions the Schaghticoke want to listen to. I’m 71 years old. I have a lot of experience up to and including tomorrow. I’ve been at this since 1967.”
Means recalled his earlier visit to Connecticut.
“I and AIM were at the Golden Hill Paugussett (event) way back in the 1970s. We were the ones who got Chief Piper and his people re-recognized and honored.
“And I know these Connecticut people – well, white people in general – they just never stop. They’re land-grabbing thieves whatever section of the world they come from and they’re not satisfied leaving us with a half an acre – they’ve got to try to take that. That’s what they were trying to do to Chief Piper. They were trying to take half of his land for a driveway, and then a group of motorcycle guys were terrorizing him. He called me and we came in and we had a press conference and got on statewide television,” Means said.
The BIA federally acknowledged STN in 2004, and then reversed its decision 18 months later after a campaign of political influence coordinated among the state’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Jodi Rell, the congressional delegation, John McCain’s office, the powerful lobbyist Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, and others.
For more than a year, the state has refused requests from a number of STN members to stop Michael Rost, a non-Schaghticoke trespasser, from cutting down trees, bulldozing roads and threatening the habitat of the state listed endangered rattlesnake. Rost was arrested on the reservation in 2004 for similar activities, convicted of risk of injury and told not to go onto the reservation for 18 months. When the 18 months were up, he returned and began more destruction.
The state claims it cannot act because of a leadership conflict, but Velky said – and state documents confirm – there has been no legitimate challenge to his leadership.
The tribe is seeking widespread support, Velky said.
“The tribe is reaching out for all the support we can get right now. We’ve reached out to Al Sharpton’s group and Jesse Jackson’s and a number of Native American groups and now we’re taking it up to the capitol so all legislators will be aware of what’s happening.”
Tribal member Katherine Saunders, who organized the rally, posted a petition online, which garnered almost 900 signatures in one week and she produced and posted a video of the reservation destruction.
“I am hopeful that with my video that the petition will begin its summit and our protest will be filled with people who will support us in our fight for justice from the State of Connecticut,” Saunders said. Tribal members intend to present the petition to the governor during the rally.
Means and his wife Pearl will arrive in Connecticut the night before the rally.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Means said.