Early this morning, after a long struggle with cancer, Russell Means went to join his ancestors from his family’s ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota. Russell was an inspirational leader, not just for Native Americans but for those of all races and backgrounds who believe that life demands that we be free. As a writer, an activist and as an performer Russell touched many people and leaves behind a unique legacy in those he inspired to live free. His message that what government has done to his people would one day be the fate of all people if government was not checked was prophetic and must be remembered.
“Increment by increment…you have allowed your country to implement Indian law in the United States of America. American government since the inception of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824 has been busy practicing and perfecting its policies on us and then exporting them to the world and bringing them home to roost ont he backs of the American people.”
Russell Means was born on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in 1939. His family moved to California where he graduated from San Leandro High School. He then attended Oakland City College and Arizona State. Russell became involved with the American Indian Movement after meeting co-founder Dennis Banks while working as the Director of Cleveland’s American Indian Center. During the early 1970s he led AIM to stage many protests, the most prominent of which was the 71 day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. He also took part in “The Longest Walk” march in 1978 to protest anti-Indian legislation including the forced sterilization of Indian women. This lead to the passage of a resolution in Congress declaring that Indians had the right “to believe, express and exercise their traditional religions, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”
Russell went on to write inspirational books, record two collections of protest songs, speak all over the country and appear in a number of movies including Last of the Mohicans and Pocahontas. He was active in the Libertarian Party and served as South Dakota coordinator for the Republican Liberty Caucus. Russell became the face of the Indian rights movement in America and an advocate for liberty for all peoples of all nations. The Los Angeles Times described him as the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
His spirit will stalk the land like a giant so long as we remain strong in our belief in liberty and continue to take the fight he championed to the halls of power in every state and in the nation’s capital.