Russell Means, Who Clashed With Law as He Fought for Indians, Is Dead at 72 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. The cause was esophageal cancer, which had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, said Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative. Told in the summer of 2011 that the cancer was inoperable, Mr. Means had already resolved to shun mainstream medical treatments in favor of herbal and other native remedies. Strapping, and ruggedly handsome in buckskins, with a scarred face, piercing dark eyes and raven braids that dangled to the waist, Mr. Means was, by his own account, a magnet for trouble — addicted to drugs and alcohol in his early years and later arrested repeatedly in violent clashes with rivals and the law. He was tried for abetting a murder, shot several times, stabbed once and imprisoned for a year for rioting. He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. But critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety by running quixotic races for the presidency and the governorship of New Mexico, by acting in dozens of movies — notably in a principal role in “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) — and by writing and recording music commercially with Indian warrior and heritage themes. He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites. Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used. And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments. In the ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents, thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Mr. Means and his fellow protest leader Dennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny and conspiracy. But after a long federal trial in Minnesota in 1974, with the defense raising current and historic Indian grievances, the case was dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Means later faced other legal battles. In 1976, he was acquitted in a jury trial in Rapid City, S.D., of abetting a murder in a barroom brawl. Wanted on six warrants in two states, he was convicted of involvement in a 1974 riot during a clash between the police and Indian activists outside a Sioux Falls, S.D., courthouse. He served a year in a state prison, where he was stabbed by another inmate. Mr. Means also survived several gunshots — one in the abdomen fired during a scuffle with an Indian Affairs police officer in North Dakota in 1975, one that grazed his forehead in what he called a drive-by assassination attempt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, and one in the chest fired by another would-be assassin on another South Dakota reservation in 1976. Undeterred, he led a caravan of Sioux and Cheyenne into a gathering of 500 people commemorating the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, the nation’s most famous defeat of the Indian wars. To pounding drums, Mr. Means and his followers mounted a speaker’s platform, joined hands and did a victory dance, sung in Sioux Lakota, titled “Custer Died for Your Sins.” Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge reservation on Nov. 10, 1939, the oldest of four sons of Harold and Theodora Feather Means. The Anglo-Saxon surname was that of a great-grandfather. When he was 3, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, a welder and auto mechanic, worked in wartime shipyards. Russell attended public schools in Vallejo and San Leandro High School, where he faced racial taunts, had poor grades and barely graduated in 1958. He drifted into delinquency, drugs, alcoholism and street fights. He also attended four colleges, including Arizona State at Tempe, but did not earn a degree. For much of the 1960s he rambled about the West, working as a janitor, printer, cowboy and dance instructor. In 1969, he took a job with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Within months he moved to Cleveland and became founding director of a government-financed center helping Indians adapt to urban life. He also met Mr. Banks, who had recently co-founded the American Indian Movement. In 1970, Mr. Means became the movement’s national director, and over the next decade his actions made him a household name. In 1985 and 1986, he went to Nicaragua to support indigenous Miskito Indians whose autonomy was threatened by the leftist Sandinista government. He reported Sandinista atrocities against the Indians and urged the Reagan administration to aid the victims. Millions in aid went to some anti-Sandinista groups, but a leader of the Miskito Indian rebels, Brooklyn Rivera, said his followers had not received any of that aid. In 1987, Mr. Means ran for president. He sought the Libertarian Party nomination but lost to Ron Paul, a former and future congressman from Texas. In 2002, Mr. Means campaigned independently for the New Mexico governorship but was barred procedurally from the ballot. Mr. Means retired from the American Indian Movement in 1988, but its leaders, with whom he had feuded for years, scoffed, saying he had “retired” six times previously. They generally disowned him and his work, calling him an opportunist out for political and financial gain. In 1989, he told Congress that there was “rampant graft and corruption” in tribal governments and federal programs assisting American Indians. Mr. Means began his acting career in 1992 with “The Last of the Mohicans,” Michael Mann’s adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, in which he played Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Over two decades he appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Pathfinder” (2007). He also recorded CDs, including “Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America” (1993), and wrote a memoir, “Where White Men Fear to Tread” (1995, with Marvin J. Wolf). He was married and divorced four times and had nine children. He also adopted many others following Lakota tradition. His fifth marriage, to Pearl Daniels, was in 1999, and she survives him. Mr. Means cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis. It was, he said in an interview last October, a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world. Russell Means dies at 72; American Indian rights activist, actor One of the leaders of the famed 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, he helped thrust the plight of Native Americans into the national spotlight. Among the films he was in were 'The Last of the Mohicans' and 'Natural Born Killers.' Russell Means, who gained international notoriety as one of the leaders of the 71-day armed occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1973 and continued to be an outspoken champion of American Indian rights after launching a career as an actor in films and television in the 1990s, has died. He was 72. Means died Monday at his home in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said Glenn Morris, his legal representative. Diagnosed with esophageal cancer in July 2011 and told that it had spread too far for surgery, Means refused to undergo heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy. Instead, he reportedly battled the disease with traditional native remedies and received treatments at an alternative cancer center in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'm not going to argue with the Great Mystery," he told the Rapid City Journal in August 2011. "Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed. When it's my time to go, it's my time to go." Means had been declared cancer-free in April but suffered a recurrence of the disease in his lungs and died after contracting pneumonia, Morris said. The nation's most visible American Indian activist, Means was a passionate militant leader who helped thrust the historic and ongoing plight of Native Americans into the national spotlight. In joining the fledgling American Indian Movement in 1969, Means later wrote, he had found a new purpose in life and vowed to "get in the white man's face until he gave me and my people our just due." An Oglala Sioux born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Means in his activist prime was called strident, defiant, volatile, arrogant and aggressive. He was frequently arrested and claimed to have been the target of numerous assassination attempts. A onetime con artist, dance-school instructor and computer programmer, Means was executive director of the government-funded Cleveland American Indian Center when he met Dennis Banks and other AIM founders in 1969. In joining the American Indian Movement at age 30, Means later wrote in his autobiography, he had found "a way to be a real Indian." In Cleveland, he founded the first AIM chapter outside Minneapolis, and he became the organization's first national coordinator in 1971. In 1970, he was among a group of American Indian activists who occupied Mount Rushmore, where he infamously urinated on the top of the stone head of George Washington — an act he later said symbolized "how most Indians feel about the faces chiseled out of our holy land." That November, he joined fellow AIM members and other Native Americans in taking over a replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth, Mass. And in 1972 he participated in the seven-day occupation and trashing of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C. But the controversial and flamboyant activist with the trademark long braids gained his greatest notoriety at the trading post hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The occupation of Wounded Knee by more than 200 AIM-led activists began in late February 1973 in the wake of a failed attempt to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, whose Oglala critics accused him of corruption and abuse of power and said his private militia suppressed political opponents. After the takeover of Wounded Knee, the historic site of the 7th Cavalry's large-scale massacre of Sioux men, women and children in 1890, the area was cordoned off by about 300 U.S. marshals and FBI agents, who were armed with automatic weapons and aided by nine armored personnel carriers. Among the occupiers' demands were that congressional hearings be held to protect historical benefits held in trust by the U.S. government. Before the occupation ended peacefully in May, two occupiers were dead and a U.S. marshal, who was paralyzed from the waist down, was among the wounded. A federal grand jury reportedly indicted 89 people, including several AIM leaders, for federal crimes in connection with the seizure and occupation of Wounded Knee. That included Means and Banks, who emerged, as a 1986 story in The Times put it, as "the two most famous Indians since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse wiped out Custer nearly a century earlier." Their widely publicized trial in 1974 on a variety of felony charges ended after eight months when a federal judge threw out the case on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. On the 20th anniversary of the occupation in 1993, former South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow told the Associated Press that the fighting intensified racism, bitterness and fear in the state. Means saw it differently, saying it was the Indians' "finest hour." "Wounded Knee restored our dignity and pride as a people," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2002. "It sparked a cultural renaissance, a spiritual revolution that grounded us." Tim Giago, the retired editor and publisher of the Native Sun News in Rapid City, S.D., takes a critical view of Means' militant methods as an activist. "I think he could have accomplished 10 times what he did eventually accomplish, which was to bring focus on Native American issues, if he had followed the path of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi instead of turning to violence and guns," Giago, who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation, told The Times last year. "If he had followed a peaceful demonstration like those two great leaders did, I think he would have had much more support from the American people that I think he lost when he turned to violence," Giago said. "As a matter of fact, he lost the support of a lot of Native Americans when he resorted to violence." Historian Herbert T. Hoover, a professor emeritus at the University of South Dakota whose specialties include the history of American Indian-white relations in Sioux Country, described Means as "a force for good during the civil rights movement on behalf of American Indians." "I don't think Russell should be remembered as a radical," Hoover told The Times in 2011. "Russell was somebody who simply wanted Indians to get their due in the civil rights period." Means' 1974 trial wasn't the end of his legal troubles. In 1976, he was acquitted of a charge of murder in the 1975 shooting death of a 28-year-old man at a bar in Scenic, S.D. He had been accused of aiding and abetting in the shooting for which another man was convicted of murder. And in 1978, Means began a one-year prison term after being convicted of an obstruction of justice charge related to a 1974 riot between American Indian Movement supporters and police at the courthouse in Sioux Falls, S.D. Through it all, he continued his high-profile activism. In Geneva in 1977, he was a delegate to the "Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations of the Americas." As one of the main speakers, he urged the conference to recommend Indian participation in the United Nations and attacked the U.S. government. "We live in the belly of the monster," he said, "and the monster is the United States of America." In the mid-1980s, Means spent several weeks in the jungles of Nicaragua with the Miskito Indians in an attempt save them from what he said was "an extermination order" issued by Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government. Means also tried his hand at national politics in the '80s. In an attempt to bring the "world view of the Indian" to the American people, he agreed in 1983 to be Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt's running mate in Flynt's unsuccessful campaign for the presidency of the United States. And in 1987, Means sought the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party but lost to former Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Means' acting career began after he was approached by a casting director to play Chingachgook in the 1992 movie "The Last of the Mohicans." A string of more than 30 other roles in films and television followed, including playing a shaman in "Natural Born Killers" and providing the voice of the title character's father in "Pocahontas." Means' transition from activist to actor was deemed a natural one. "Russell has always been very mediagenic," Hanay Geiogamah, who joined AIM in 1971 and co-produced a series of Native American TV movies on TNT, told The Times in 1995. "He was eloquent, capable of synthesizing complex political ideas for the press and, with his long black braids and statuesque physique, the image the media wanted to see. "Russell was smart enough to realize that when you've got it, you've got it. He used the system … and used it well." Oliver Stone, who directed Means in "Natural Born Killers," described him as "a renegade with one foot in both corrals, someone who has walked a crooked and strange life." "He's a very authoritative presence with his own brand of magic," Stone told The Times in 1995. "Whether he's acting or not is hard to say." Of his career as an actor, Means told The Times in 1995: "I haven't abandoned the movement for Hollywood. … I've just added Hollywood to the movement." As he told the Washington Post a year later, "My life has been a life of passion, and I'm still a voice for traditional Indian people, for freedom-seeking Indian people." Means was born Nov. 10, 1939, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. After his father landed a job in a Navy shipyard during World War II, the family moved to Vallejo, Calif., in 1942. Summers, Means would return to South Dakota to visit relatives on the reservations. Means, who chronicled his life in the 1995 book "Where White Men Fear to Tread" (written with Marvin J. Wolf), continued his activism in old age. In 2007, he was among some 80 protesters who were arrested after blocking Denver's Columbus Day parade honoring Christopher Columbus, an event they condemned for being a "celebration of genocide." Asked if he was still active in the American Indian Movement in an interview in the Progressive in 2001, Means said, "As far as I'm concerned, as long as I'm alive, I'm AIM. "We were a revolutionary, militant organization whose purpose was spirituality first, and that's how I want to be remembered. I don't want to be remembered as an activist; I want to be remembered as an American Indian patriot." Means is survived by his fifth wife, Pearl Daniels Means, and several children. Russell Means' ashes to be scattered in private Black Hills ceremony The ashes of Russell Means were to be scattered in a private ceremony in western South Dakota's Black Hills, a day after the former American Indian Movement activist was remembered in a ceremony on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Hundreds of people gathered at the high school in Kyle to pay their respects. Means' ashes were brought from his ranch near Porcupine in a horseback procession that included a rider-less horse said to carry his spirit. Younger brother Bill Means spoke at the service. "Our mother had faced discrimination throughout her life, and she was a not a woman to compromise - particularly when it came to discrimination," he said, reports Reuters. "Russell saw that and become much the same way." More than 1,000 people came out to Wednesday's 12-hour memorial in South Dakota. Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Tom Poor Bear said Means "gave us courage to stand up for what we believe in and to be proud of who you are." Means died Monday at his ranch after battling cancer. He was 72. Three other ceremonies are planned next year to honor him. Russell Means, Indian activist and actor, dies at 72 Russell Means, the American Indian activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee and who later became a Hollywood actor, has died. He was 72. Means died Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Salomon said. The firebrand former leader of the American Indian Movement and one-time Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president had been battling advanced esophageal cancer. Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Means joined the American Indian Movement in 1968 and soon became one of the group's prominent leaders. He took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington in 1972, and helped lead the 71-day standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973. He found himself dogged for decades by questions about AIM’s alleged involvement in the slaying of a tribe member and the several gun battles with federal officers during the occupation of Wounded Knee, but denied the group ever promoted violence. "You people who want to continue to put AIM in this certain pocket of illegality, I can't stand you people," Means said, lashing out an at audience member question during an April gathering commemorating the uprising's 40th anniversary. "I wish I was a little bit healthier and a little bit younger, because I wouldn't just talk." Means told The Associated Press in 2011 that before AIM, there had been no advocate on a national or international scale for American Indians, and that Native Americans were ashamed of their heritage. "No one except Hollywood stars and very rich Texans wore Indian jewelry," Means said. "And there was a plethora of dozens if not hundreds of athletic teams that in essence were insulting us, from grade schools to college. That's all changed." The movement eventually faded away, the result of Native Americans becoming self-aware and self-determined, Means said. Means had fought for Native American rights since the 1960s, when he first protested college and professional sports teams' use of Indian images as mascots, which he said were demeaning caricatures of his people. Means was arrested numerous times during his long career of protest and spent several periods in jail. He ran unsuccessfully for president of his tribe and sought the Libertarian nomination for U.S. president, losing to Congressman Ron Paul at the party's 1987 national convention. Means’ acting career began in 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis' Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans." He also appeared in the 1994 film "Natural Born Killers," voiced Chief Powhatan in the 1995 animated film "Pocahontas" and guest-starred in 2004 on the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Means kept busy with his Hollywood career even as he battled the cancer that finally took his life. The Internet Movie Database reports that Means had recently completed projects, and had more in the works. Means appeared in a film called "Tiger Eyes," which was based on a Judy Blume novel. Means' son, Tatanka Means, starred. The film screened Sunday at the Sante Fe Independent Film Festival. The Means duo also are credited in "Winnetou: The Beginning," set for a 2013 release. Means recounted his life in the book "Where White Men Fear to Tread." He said he pulled no punches in his autobiography, admitting to his frailties and evils but also acknowledging his successes. "I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be," he said. Salomon, the tribal spokeswoman, called Means' death a "great loss" for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
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