Russell Charles Means (November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012) was an Oglala Sioux activist for the rights of Native American people and libertarian political activist. He became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) after joining the organization in 1968, and helped organize notable events that attracted national and international media coverage. Means was active in international issues of indigenous peoples, including working with groups in Central and South America, and with the United Nations for recognition of their rights. He was active in politics at his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and at the state and national level. Beginning an acting career in 1992, he appeared in numerous films, including The Last of the Mohicans and released his own music CD. He published his autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread in 1995. Early life Means was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to Theodora Louise Feather and Walter "Hank" Means. His mother was a Yankton Sioux from Greenwood, South Dakota and his father, a Oglala Sioux. He was given the name Wanbli Ohitika by his mother — which means Brave Eagle in the Lakota language. In 1942, when Russell was three, the Means family resettled in the San Francisco Bay Area, seeking to escape the poverty and problems of the reservation. His father worked at the shipyard. Means grew up in the Bay area, graduating in 1958 from San Leandro High School in San Leandro, California. He attended four colleges but did not graduate from any of them. In his 1995 autobiography, Means recounted a harsh childhood; his father was alcoholic and he himself fell into years of "truancy, crime and drugs" before finding purpose in the American Indian Movement in Minneapolis. His father died in 1967, and in his 20's, Means lived in several Indian reservations throughout the United States while searching for work. While at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota, he developed severe vertigo. Physicians at the reservation clinic believed that he had been brought in inebriated. After they refused to examine him for several days, Means was finally diagnosed with a concussion due to a presumed fist fight in a saloon. A visiting specialist later discovered that the reservation doctors had overlooked a common ear infection, which cost Means the hearing in one ear. After recovering from the infection, Means worked for a year in the Office of Economic Opportunity, where he came to know several legal activists who were managing legal action on behalf of the Lakota people. After a dispute with his supervisor, Means left Rosebud for Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland, he worked with Native American community leaders against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights Movement. Involvement with the American Indian Movement In 1968, Means joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), where he rose to become a prominent leader. In 1970, Means was appointed AIM's first national director, and the organization began a period of increasing protests and activism. Occupations Means participated in the 1969 Alcatraz occupation. He had been there once before, to occupy it for 24 hours under the lead of his father, Walter "Hank" Means, and a few other Sioux men in March 1964 (Means' father died in January 1967). On Thanksgiving Day 1970, Means and other AIM activists staged their first protest in Boston: they seized the Mayflower II, a replica ship of the Mayflower, to protest the Puritans' and United States' mistreatment of Native Americans. In 1971 Means was one of the leaders of AIM's takeover of Mount Rushmore, a federal monument. Rushmore is within the Black Hills, an area sacred to the Lakota tribe. In November 1972, he participated in AIM's occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, D.C. to protest abuses. Many records were taken or destroyed, and more than $2 million in damages was done to the building. In 1973, Dennis Banks and Carter Camp led AIM's occupation of Wounded Knee, which became the group's most well-known action. Means appeared as a spokesman and prominent leader as well. The armed standoff of more than 300 Lakota and AIM activists with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state law enforcement lasted for 71 days. A visiting Cherokee from North Carolina and an Oglala Lakota activist from Pine Ridge Reservation were killed in April 1973. Earlier an FBI agent was shot and became paralyzed from his wounds. Indian politics In 1974, Means resigned from AIM to run for the presidency of his native Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) against the incumbent Richard Wilson. The official vote count showed Wilson winning by more than 200 votes. Residents complained of intimidation by Wilson's private militia. The report of a government investigation confirmed problems in the election, but in a related court challenge to the results of the election, a federal court upheld the results. In the late 1970s, Means turned to an international forum on issues of rights for indigenous peoples. He worked with the United Nations to establish the offices of the International Indian Treaty Council in 1977. At the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he assisted in the organization of community institutions, such as the KILI radio station and the Porcupine Health Clinic in Porcupine, South Dakota. Splits in AIM In the 1980s, AIM divided into several competing factions. The division was in part over differences among members regarding support for the indigenous peoples in Nicaragua. Means announced his support for the Miskito group MISURASATA (later known as YATAMA), which was allied with the Contras. He traveled to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua in 1985 and 1986 on fact-finding tours. Means came to believe that the Miskito as a people were being targeted for elimination. Some members of AIM supported the Sandinistas of the national government, although they had forced removal of thousands of Miskito from their traditional territory. At that time, the Grand Governing Council of AIM, based in Minnesota, asked Means to cease representing himself as a leader of AIM. Other chapters of AIM continued to support Means. On January 8, 1988, Means held a press conference to announce his retirement from AIM (for the sixth time), saying it had achieved its goals. That January, the AIM Grand Governing Council, headed by the Bellecourt brothers, released a press release noting this was the sixth resignation by Means since 1974, and asking the press to "never again report either that he is a founder of the American Indian Movement, or [that] he is a leader of the American Indian Movement". The AIM General Governing Council noted there were many open issues and legislation regarding Native Americans for which they were continuing to work. In 1993, the organization divided officially into two main factions: AIM Grand Governing Council, based in Minnesota, which has the legal right to use the name; and American Indian Movement of Colorado, based in Colorado and allied with Means. Anna Mae Aquash On November 3, 1999, Means and Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a maternal cousin of Aquash from Canada, held a press conference in Denver at the Federal Building to discuss the slow progress of the government's investigation into Aquash's murder. It had been under investigation both by the Denver police, as Aquash had been kidnapped from there, and by the FBI, as she had been taken across state lines and killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Both Branscombe and Means accused Vernon Bellecourt, a high-ranking leader of AIM, of having ordered the execution of Aquash. Means said that Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of AIM, had ensured that it was carried out at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Means said that an AIM tribunal had banned the Bellecourt brothers but tried to keep the reason for the dissension internal to protect AIM. The Associated Press (AP) reporter Robert Weller noted that this was the first time that an AIM leader active at the time of Aquash's death had publicly implicated AIM in her murder. There had long been rumors. Means and Branscombe accused three indigenous people: Arlo Looking Cloud, Theda Nelson Clark and John Graham, of having been directly involved in the kidnapping and murder of Aquash. The two men were indicted in 2003 and convicted in separate trials in 2004 and 2010, respectively. By then in a nursing home, Clark was not indicted. As of 2004, Means' website states that he was a board member of the Colorado AIM chapter, which is affiliated with AIM-Autonomous Chapters. Other political involvement Since the late 1970s, Means often supported libertarian political causes, in contrast with several of the other leaders of AIM. In 1983 he agreed to become running mate to Larry Flynt in his unsuccessful run for U.S. President. In 1987, Means ran for nomination of President of the United States under the Libertarian Party, and attracted considerable support within the party, finishing 2nd (31.41%) at the 1987 Libertarian National Convention. He lost the nomination to Congressman Ron Paul. In 2001, Means began an independent candidacy for Governor of New Mexico. His campaign failed to satisfy procedural requirements and he was not selected for the ballot. In the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Means supported independent Ralph Nader. Nearly thirty years after his first candidacy, Means ran for president of the Oglala Sioux in 2004 with the help of Twila Lebeaux, losing to Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman elected president of the tribe. She also defeated the incumbent John Yellow Bird Steele. Since the late 20th century, there has been a debate in the United States over the appropriate term for the indigenous peoples of North America. Some want to be called Native American; others prefer American Indian. Means said that he preferred "American Indian", arguing that it derives not from explorers' confusion of the people with those of India, but from the Italian expression in Dio, meaning "in God". In addition, Means noted that since treaties and other legal documents in relation to the United States government use "Indian", continuing use of the term could help today's American Indian people forestall any attempts by others to use legal loopholes in the struggle over land and treaty rights. In 2007, Means and 80 other protesters were arrested in Denver during a parade for Columbus Day which they thought was a "celebration of genocide". Following the non-binding United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, a group of American Indian activists presented a letter to the U.S. State Department, indicating they were withdrawing from all treaties with the U.S. Government on December 20. Means announced the withdrawal by a small group of Lakota Sioux. That same month, they began contacting foreign governments to solicit support for energy projects on the territory. Means and a delegation of activists declared the Republic of Lakotah a sovereign nation, with property rights over thousands of square miles in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. Means said that his group does not "represent collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those tribal governments set up by the United States of America". On January 8, 2008 tribal leaders in the northern Great Plains, Rodney Bordeaux of the 25,000-member Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Joseph Brings Plenty of the 8,500-member Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said that Means and the group of his fellow activists would not speak for their members or for any elected Lakota tribal government. While acknowledging that Means has accurately portrayed the federal government’s broken promises to and treaties with America’s indigenous peoples, they opposed his plan to renounce treaties with the United States and proclaim independence. They said the issue instead was to enforce existing treaties. In January 2012, he announced his endorsement of Ron Paul in his bid for President. Other activities Acting Since 1992, Means appeared as an actor in numerous films and television movies, first as the chief Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans. He appeared as Arrowhead in the made-for-TV movie The Pathfinder (1996), his second appearance in a movie adapted from a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. He appeared in Natural Born Killers (1994), as Jim Thorpe in Windrunner: A Spirited Journey, as Sitting Bull in Buffalo Girls (1995), and had a cameo in the miniseries Into the West (2005). He was a voice actor in Disney's third highest-selling feature film Pocahontas (1995) and its sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998), playing the title character's father, Chief Powhatan. Means was a guest actor in the 1997 Duckman episode “Role With It,” in which Duckman takes his family on an educational trip to a “genuine Indian reservation” — which turns out to be a casino. Means appeared as Billy Twofeathers in Thomas & the Magic Railroad (2000). Means starred in Pathfinder, a 2007 movie about Vikings' battling Native Americans in the New World. Recently Means co-starred in Rez Bomb from director Steven Lewis Simpson, the first feature filmed on his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He stars with Tamara Feldman and Trent Ford and Chris Robinson. He also appeared as a character in the Access Software adventure game Under a Killing Moon. In 2004 Means made a guest appearance on the HBO program Curb Your Enthusiasm. Means played Wandering Bear, an American Indian with skills in landscaping and herbal medicine. Writing In 1995, Means published an autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, written with Marvin J. Wolf. He recounted his own family's problems: his alcoholic father, and his own "fall into truancy, crime and drugs" before he discovered the American Indian Movement. The book drew criticism from a number of reviewers. While Patricia Holt, book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book, "It's American history – warts, wounds and all." In speaking about Means in a review of his autobiography, writer Mari Wadsworth of the Tucson Weekly wrote: "Critical readers do well to remain skeptical of any individual, however charismatic, who claims to be the voice of authority and authenticity for any population, let alone one as diverse as the native tribes of the Americas. But whatever conclusions one makes of Means' actions and intentions, his unremitting presence and undaunted outspokeness opened a dialogue that changed the course of American history." Music Russell Means recorded a CD entitled Electric Warrior under indie label SOAR. Songs include "Une Gente Indio", "Hey You, Hey Indian", "Wounded Knee Set Us Free", and "Indian Cars Go Far". Art Means was an avid painter, showing his work at various galleries around the country and the world. Representation in other media The American pop artist Andy Warhol painted 18 individual portraits of Russell Means in his 1976 American Indian Series. The Dayton Art Institute holds one of the Warhol portraits of Means in its collection. Personal life Means was married five times; the first four marriages ended in divorce. He was married to his fifth wife, Pearl Means until his death. He had a total of ten children. On December 29, 1997, Means was arrested for assault and battery of his 56-year-old (then) father-in-law Leon Grant, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation. AIM Governing General Council issued a press release to reiterate its separation from Means. Final years and death In August 2011, Means was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His doctors told him his condition was inoperable. He told the Associated Press that he was rejecting "mainstream medical treatments in favor of traditional American Indian remedies and alternative treatments away from his home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation". In late September, Means reported that through tomotherapy, the tumor had diminished greatly. Later he said that his tumor was "95% gone." On December 5 of that year, Means stated that he "beat cancer," that he had beat "the death penalty." The following year, however, his health continued to decline and he died on October 22, 2012, less than a month before his 73rd birthday. A family statement said, "Our dad and husband now walks among our ancestors." ABC News said Means "spent a lifetime as a modern American Indian warrior [...] railed against broken treaties, fought for the return of stolen land and even took up arms against the federal government [...] called national attention to the plight of impoverished tribes and often lamented the waning of Indian culture." Among the tributes were calls for "his face [to] have been on Mt. Rushmore." The Times said Means "became as well-known a Native American as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse." DRIVING one day through the Diné lands in New Mexico—not “Navajo”, a white man’s word—Russell Means suddenly stopped the car. His wife wondered why. He had stopped to look at a shepherd among the scrubby hills, walking with his flock. No one told that man where to go or what to do. He was living with the land. Even better, he was praying, for that was what Indians did when they listened. And best of all, he was a free man. Silently, fervently, Mr Means saluted him. His own God-given sovereignty blazed inside him, igniting the Indian-rights movement he led for several decades. He was pure Oglala Lakota, born in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and with the build of a chief, strapping and tall. His hard, dark eyes seemed to stare from another century, re-running ancient battles; his handsome face was crossed with scars, though these were less ritual marks than the souvenirs of bar-room brawls in Sioux Falls or San Francisco. The long braids (never cut, for hair carried memories), the beads, the leather: everything cried out his heritage. But being Indian, he fiercely said, didn’t mean dressing in feathers like a bird and going to a pow-wow for a couple of hours. No Indian was authentic if he wasn’t as free as his ancestors had been. He was far, very far, from that. The ramshackle Pine Ridge reservation, his birthplace, was still “prisoner-of-war camp 344” in Pentagon records. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which oversaw such slums, was a den of corruption and incompetence. The modern tribal governments were mere puppets and collaborators. Indians everywhere (never “Native Americans”, another colonisers’ word) had been robbed, corralled and turned into cowed, self-loathing lemmings in white schools. Every treaty made by the white man with the Indians had been broken. America was “the biggest liar in the world”. He defied the lies in small ways and large. Not for him a driving licence or a fishing permit; the land he drove on, the river he fished in, belonged to his people anyway. For 21 years he paid no income tax. He refused to carry an Indian ID card. He ran on an activist platform for tribal, state and national office (for the Libertarian Party, in 1987), though never successfully. All this time he was the leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), as charismatic as he was divisive. The movement had turned him, at 29, away from a drifter’s life and towards a cause. At AIM he organised a succession of publicity stunts, including the occupation of Alcatraz Island; the seizing of a replica Mayflower in Boston Harbour on Thanksgiving Day, 1970; a prayer-vigil on top of Mount Rushmore, on Lakota holy land; and the occupation and trashing of the BIA’s Washington offices in 1972. All were tasters for the most daring stunt of all, the occupation in 1973 of the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, where in 1890 around 300 Lakota had been killed by the American army. Chilled and starving, but steeled by the free-walking spirits of the dead, Mr Means and 200 others held out, through blizzards and machinegun fire, against massed federal guardsmen for 71 days. He tried to dictate the terms of the surrender; the Nixon administration naturally reneged on them. An arrow to the sun Most of the time he was angry, an anger so intense that it was almost uncontrollable. His drinking did not help. Violence dogged him. Enemies, probably agents of the BIA, tried to shoot him. He got into fights, had spells in jail, married and then neglected several women in the style of the head-buck wandering male. His years in AIM were chaotic; he resigned six times before the movement split. While other groups, blacks and women, surged ahead, America’s Indians went nowhere much. In 2007 Mr Means and several others withdrew from the United States to form the Republic of Lakota, covering thousands of square miles in five states. Not even brother-Sioux would recognise it; but their freedom was too firmly mortgaged to white men. He lamented that his people had no natural allies: not Marxists, for they were rationalists who reduced men to machines; not Christians, for their notion of God was incompatible; not even blacks, for their experiences of repression were too different. The revolution he wanted was unlike anyone else’s. It was the revolution of the medicine wheel, the sacred hoop of life, in which all things ended as they began: in which the world was turned slowly but beautifully backwards, towards the freedom in Nature the ancestors knew. He himself, though, went westwards, to Hollywood. In “The Last of the Mohicans” and Disney’s “Pocahontas” in the 1990s he played the sort of wise, far-seeing chief he should have been, had everything been different. He became the standard Indian, sympathetic enough, but speaking the white man’s script under the white man’s direction. Whenever his pride galled too much, he walked out. As Chief Chingachgook in “Mohicans”, standing on a mountain top, he commended his dead son to the ancestors, crying that he would fly towards them like a swift arrow into the sun. All dead warriors went that way. So, in time, would he. But loudly and often he vowed to return as lightning, zapping to ashes in a wild, free blaze the White House and all it stood for. WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - When a group of 79 American Indians set out to seize the abandoned federal prison fortress at Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay on Nov. 20, 1969, local media outlets dubbed them the “Red Muslims,” comparing their bold, militant action claiming that land for their people to the “Black Muslims” of the Nation of Islam and its longstanding demand for a separate homeland for Black descendants of slaves. The Alcatraz Red Power Movement (ARPM) grew out of that takeover and spawned a new era of social protests—from the “Trail of Broken Treaties” in 1972, to the 72-day stand-off at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973, to the “Longest Walk” in 1978—among Indians of All Tribes (IAT) demanding that the U.S. government honor its treaty obligations by providing resources, education, housing, and healthcare, and to alleviate poverty among the tribes. Activist and actor Russell Means, the former leader and co-founder with Dennis Banks of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who participated in that Alcatraz takeover, succumbed to throat cancer. He made his transition on Oct. 22 at his ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was 72. “Our dad and husband now walks among our ancestors,” his family said in a statement. Days later, more than 1,000 people attended a 12-hour memorial service featuring a tribute in his native Lakota, delivered against the backdrop of the harsh prairie where he was born. The funeral began with a procession led by 21 horses—one without a rider, said to be carrying his spirit. His ashes were later scattered in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, according to published reports. Mr. Means was a prominent leader. He was one of the participants in that struggle at Alcatraz which continued for 19 months until June 1971. His roles as a featured actor in more than 30 films including: “Last of the Mohicans,” and “Natural Born Killers,” as the voice of Chief Powhatan in the Disney animated feature “Pocahontas,” Disney’s third most popular animated video; and his campaign for the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nomination made him possibly the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. “He will be replaced by thousands,” Bill Means, Russell Means’s only surviving brother told a reporter. “One person is not going to replace him, but through his work, through his family, he will be replaced 1,000 times over.” “He never backed down from addressing the issues of treaty rights that were not lived up to, how Indian people have been treated since the Europeans invaded the Americas. He never wavered or quivered when it came to defending AIM—the American Indian Movement,” Jay Winter Nightwolf, host of “The Nightwolf Show: American Indian Truths” on Pacifica Radio station WPFW-FM in Washington, told The Final Call. The problem that we have had as Native American people is that the United States government will not listen to what we have to say, and that’s been historical,” Mr. Nightwolf continued. “So, my friend decided to take it upon himself—along with some other Native American people, John Trudell, Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon Bellecourt, and quite a few others, and they went to Alcatraz and they took over Alcatraz. It was an armed takeover,” Mr. Nightwolf continued. “From there they came to Washington, D.C., they brought thousands of Native people here in the ‘70s where they took control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Department of Interior. That was a seven day standoff. It got to the point that the White House, (President) Nixon had to deal with the ‘Indian problem.’ “He made a statement, in his words he said, ‘It’s just unconscionable that America has become so stupid.’ Well, that was Russell Means. He wrote a book, ‘Where White Men Fear to Tread.’ It was his autobiography. “He did a lot of good. He did a lot of good for Indian people all over the Americas. If I had to place Russell Means in history somewhere, I would place him right beside Chief Sitting Bull, Chief Fools Crow, and Chief Crazy Horse, because he never gave up on his people and he never, ever gave up on an opportunity to speak for his people,” Mr. Nightwolf concluded. Now, every November since 1975, Indian people have gathered on Alcatraz Island on what is called “Un-Thanksgiving Day” to honor the occupation and those who continue to fight for Native American rights today.
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