I first saw Russell Means in the movie named The Last of the Mohicans, he played Chingachgook. Chingachgook was the last Mohican chief. His son was killed by a Huron. Therefore he outlived his son and was known as last Mohican. I must say that the aura of the movie itself was remarkable and so were those people who played those characters. His appearance kind of made me think more about Native Americans. The movie itself was my second introductory movie into Native American culture after “The Legends of the falls”. Internet or more importantly Google came as a big help in finding more about him. It was reported that his life was dedicated to the Native American people’s plight. He was a member of American Indian Movement (AIM) and played an active role in civil rights campaign.
As per the website http://www.thenewamerican.com which seems to be anti- Russell Means
In 1972, Means and his AIM cohorts occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington. They ransacked its headquarters causing $3 million in damages but were given $66,000 by federal officials when they were forced out. The federal Office of Economic Opportunity awarded AIM $400,000, and funds were given to the group by the World Council of Churches and other “religious” groups. In 1973, Means and his AIM cronies led hundreds of other recruits in a takeover of the village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They occupied the area for more than two months and were eventually forced out after a small war was waged in which several Indians were killed and a federal official was severely wounded.
To be noted: nearly 80 years earlier, Wounded Knee was the site of an 1890 massacre of scores of Lakota men, women and children by U.S. cavalry troops in what was the final major clash of the American Indian wars.Russell Means was there to protest against that massacre.
I also read different side of him in many articles which call him a spiritual leader for his people and someone who gave Native Americans their PRIDE back. He was born into Oglala Sioux (or Lakota as he was known internationally) community on November 10, 1939 Wanblee, South Dakota, U.S. Undoubtedly anyone who fights a system which criminalizes their community and more importantly takes away their land, will also be branded criminal as they are “trouble” creators.
On September 25, 1973, Means spelled out his and AIM’s revolutionary plan during an AIM rally at the University of Minnesota. Appearing with professed communist Angela Davis at his side, he announced that his goal included separating from the United States and building a new nation within our country’s borders. He stated:
If I become president of the Oglala Sioux tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we will take the first steps to eradicate the United States of America’s influence from our land. The methods, of course, depend on the cooperation of various countries that we are already in the process of talking to; various countries who will recognize our sovereignty and deal with us as international partners.
If their cooperation is assured, then when I become president [of the new country], I will abolish that office. I will abolish the Tribal Council, the Tribal Constitution, and the Indian Reorganization Act, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Public Health Service, the white ranchers and farmers of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Then we will sit down in diplomatic negotiation with the United States of America to settle up for the western half of South Dakota.
The website http://www.thenewamerican.com goes onto say that Mr. Russell Means never “apologized” for his actions against the country. Wow.
Going by what he did back then was quite revolutionary, I as an Indian (South Asian) was certainly not aware of the plights of Native Americans or as Mr. Russell Means liked to call his fellow people “American-Indians”. The world usually sees what the American media tells us to see and more importantly things which Hollywood wants us to see. Mr. Russell Means might be radical (violent too for that matter) to some but his actions were to raise awareness about his people that was HIS greater massage.
His fellow Native American friends remember him more generously:
He’s a leader of all tribes—a spiritual leader—and a warrior. He was not originally a warrior, but all the injustice that happened to the American Indians and Canadian Indians—the system made him into a warrior just like Crazy Horse, Sundance Chief Leonard Crow Dog, AIM’s spiritual leader, told Indian Country Today.
Those of us who grew in 1990s and watched Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and its sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998). These were the major introductory anime films in native american culture for kids of the decade and those to come. Here too he played a major part, giving voice for the part of Pocahonta’s father, Chief Powhatan.
He died on October 22, 2012, aged 72 at Porcupine, South Dakota, United States. His death was due to esophageal cancer. Many Americans will remember him as a man who was able to polarize their world on Native American issue and I would remember him as the man who was instrumental in introducing the real Native American culture to me, through his movies, speeches and writings.