Activists Hall of Fame: Russell Means

Activist, actor, humanitarian Russell Means (L) Died October 22, 2012
Activist, actor, humanitarian Russell Means (L) Died October 22, 2012

“Everyone who’s born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American. We are all Native Americans.” Russell Means

Minagahet Russell Means, who died on Tuesday, kept a place here in Santa Monica in recent years, with his wife, Pearl. Once my wife Barbara and I took our son Liam for a visit to meet this man we described as having fought a real war against the government. Still in good health a couple of years ago, Russell took great interest in our 10-year-old, as he did in all kids trying to understand the actual history of our country….

…Russell was a strong, imposing figure. It wasn’t only his braided hair or the beads around his neck; his clear eyes gazed as if it was 1873. He had Liam’s attention. When they shook hands, Russell told Liam that his grip needed to be firmer, he should stand up straight, and that he always should look the other person straight in the eye. Our son will not forget the quiet authority this man quietly commanded. Read more.

NY Times Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was 72. Read more.

IMDB Russell Means was born an Oglala/Lakota Sioux Indian. He was the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in which role he became prominent during the 1973 standoff with the U.S. government at Wounded Knee. In 1987, he joined the U.S. Libertarian Party and announced his candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination… Read more.

Born: in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, USA

Died: (age 72) in Porcupine, South Dakota, USA

The Nation Russell Means, internationally known Lakota activist, died of cancer at the age of 72 at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Monday.

Fighter and Patriot Russell Means
Fighter and Patriot Russell Means

A powerful figure committed to the struggle against colonialism, Means was a relentless advocate of American Indian rights and of indigenous people worldwide. He first came to national prominence on Thanksgiving in 1970, when he led the American Indian Movement (AIM) in a day of national mourning at Plymouth Rock. “Today you will see the Indian reclaim the Mayflower in a symbolic gesture to reclaim our rights in this country,” Means announced at the time. Means became the first national director of AIM that year and continued what would become a lifetime commitment to activism. He was shot on several occasions and served prison time over the course of his life of protest.

In 1973, Means led the seventy-one-day standoff with federal agents at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation, demanding federal inquiries into broken treaties. Two members of the community were killed and one federal officer was paralyzed in the numerous shootouts that occurred over the ten-week period. But the occupation was empowering for Means and brought attention to the conditions on the reservation. “We were surrounded by the armed might of the United States of America, the most militarily powerful country in the world, but we were free,” Means remembered in 1995. “For seventy-one days we walked in freedom, without a white man’s rules or regulations.”

Russell Means also sought to combat racist mascots in sports. As director of Cleveland’s chapter of AIM, he brought suit (which was eventually settled out of court) against the Cleveland Indians for the team’s stereotypical, dehumanizing mascot, which Means saw as an attack on American Indians’ cultural heritage. The fight to rid the team of its racist mascot continues to this day, and Cleveland’s AIM chapter has now been protesting the team for almost forty years.

While Means was committed to fighting colonialism at home and abroad, he was often critical of the left and its approach to revolutionary struggles. In one of his most famous speeches at the Black Hills International Survival Gathering in 1980, he reflected on Marxism and anarchism. “You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society,” he said. “You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself.”

“There is another way,” Means said in the speech. “There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony.”

Diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2011, and given only a short time to live, Means used native treatments and remedies and opted out of chemotherapy and radiation. He died on his ranch this week and is survived by his wife, Pearl Daniels, and his nine children.

“I hope to be remembered as a fighter and as a patriot who never feared controversy—and not just for Indians,” Means wrote in his autobiography. “When I fight for my people’s rights, when I stand up for our treaties, when I protest government lies and illegal seizures and unlawful acts, I defend all Americans, even the bigoted and misguided.” Read more.

BIO Born on November 10, 1939, Russell Means was a member of the American Oglala Sioux tribe and longtime Native American activist. He was also an early leader of the American Indian Movement, which formed in the late 1960s with the goal of establishing sovereignty for indigenous American tribes. In 1973, Means helped lead an armed takeover of Wounded Knee, a small town on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. In 1987, he turned his focus toward U.S. politics and made a run for the presidency, but lost the Libertarian nomination to Ron Paul. Means later worked as an actor, appearing in films like The Last of the Mohicans. In 2007, he spearheaded a proposal to create a new nation for the North American Lakota tribe. Means died on October 22, 2012…..

In 2007, Means spearheaded a proposal to create a new nation for Lakota Indians in North America, called the Republic of Lakotah. Read more.

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