CIVIL WARS

THE FURY FLIES AS INDIAN ACTIVISTS TAKE AIM AT EACH OTHER.

Means defended his friend in a February 18, 1993, "communique" emphasizing that Churchill had been unanimously "reaffirmed" as Colorado AIM's co-director--for the eighth time in the last four years. "This man has proven his loyalty and dedication," wrote Means, adding--just in case there was any remaining doubt--that "Colorado AIM does not recognize the existence or authority of a national office of AIM."

In a subsequent letter penned by Churchill, Colorado AIM refused to recognize national AIM's appointment of Fern Mathias and Carole Standing Elk as its western regional directors. And in keeping with the spirit of the dispute, Mathias and Standing Elk responded with a letter of their own. "Ward Churchill, who recently has begun to describe himself as a Creek/Cherokee, is in reality a member of neither the Creek Nation nor the Cherokee Nation," they wrote. "As a white man, it is inappropriate, offensive, and a violation of AIM's fundamental principle of Indian self-determination for Ward Churchill to identify himself as a member of AIM, let alone for him to publicly assert a leadership role in the Movement."

Vernon Bellecourt says most AIM chapters--including Colorado Springs--have sided with National AIM. Churchill, Morris and Means, he says, "will be isolated."

But Colorado AIM has shown no sign of surrender. Last year the local chapter reaffirmed a set of guiding principles stressing sovereignty, support, spirituality and sobriety, says Morris, and perhaps in answer to the accomplishments of National AIM, the Colorado chapter has also vowed to strengthen its efforts on such issues as youth, the elderly, housing and employment.

The group also has not lost its penchant for more public pursuits. Last October, Means and Morris celebrated the anniversary of stopping the Columbus Day parade by berating a small group of Italian-Americans who had rallied on the Capitol steps. Morris led a group to the Columbus statue, where he attached a cardboard sign that read, "Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood." He then spit on the statue while a follower kicked over a wreath of flowers left by the Italian-Americans.

Denver's Al Bear Ribs, who used to be a member of AIM in South Dakota, says he doesn't agree with Colorado AIM's direction or with the leadership of Morris and Churchill, whom he says he considers to be white. However, he says he doesn't support the Bellecourt faction, either.

Instead Bear Ribs has formed his own organization, called the Native American Indigenous Council. "I don't really care what they do," he says of the two warring factions. "But all this arguing is getting nothing done. The Bellecourts and Means should either reconcile or get the hell out."

Judging from the "indictment" that Morris and Means helped orchestrate last December of the Bellecourts and their supporters, any such reconciliation is not close at hand. According to Means, the indictment for "high treason" and other sundry offenses was drafted only after a review of "overwhelming" evidence. Severe punishment is merited, he suggests, "but death would be too easy, and it is not the Indian way. The Indian way will be banishment."

Vernon Bellecourt, however, scoffs at what he describes as a melodramatic threat by Means, the activist movie star. "We only hope that [Russell] has just been duped by Churchill," he says. "Or that he has his head in Hollywood.

"We certainly won't be participating in that farce," Bellecourt adds. "But that's just Russell--everybody loves Russell. Hell, I love Russell. I just hate what he's doing.

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