In Memoriam: Russell Means 1939 – 2012

Native American activist, Russell Means, 72, died early yesterday of advanced esophageal cancer at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Means, an Oglala Sioux, was born in Pine Ridge and raised in the San Francisco bay area where his family relocated to escape the poverty of the reservation when he was three. He was a troubled youth, graduating high school but never finishing college. After his father’s death, he returned to living on reservations and found his niche in the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis. In his 1995 autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, Mr. Means recounts his journey from rage to healing.

He had become active for Native American rights in California where in 1964 he participated, along with his father, in the occupation of Alcatraz, reclaiming the abandoned island for the Sioux nation. He rose to national attention in 1970 with the occupation of the Mayflower II replica in Boston Harbor and a year later, he was one of the leaders of the take over of Mount Rushmore.

But it was in 1973, along with Dennis Banks and Charles Camp, that Mr. Means got the most national attention when he became the spokesman for the 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 armed occupation by Native Americans and white sympathizers, lasted 71 days with thousands of shots fired, two deaths and a federal agent left 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 was also an active politician, running for nomination of President of the United States under the Libertarian Party in 1987, losing to Ron Paul, whom he endorsed this year for president. He became involved in the international movement to protect the rights of indigenous people, working  with the United Nations to establish the offices of the International Indian Treaty Council in 1977. 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.

Starting in 1992, Mr. Means, a ruggedly handsome man with a scarred face, dark eyes and raven braids that fell ti his waist, turned to acting. In his most famous roles, he played chief “Chingachgook” in The Last of the Mohicans, and in Natural Born Killers, among others for television and videos.

A few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis, in a gesture of what he called mourning for the Lakota nation, Mr. Means cut off his braids explaining “the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.”

Russell Means on Reservation Life and Dying Languages from WildHeart Vision on Vimeo.

Mr. 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 and adopted many others in the Lakota tradition.

In their statement announcing Mr. Means’ passage to the spirit world his family extended an invitation to honor his life:

October 22, 2012…Porcupine, SD USA

Honoring the Life of Russell Means

The family of Russell Means invites you to join us in “Honoring the Life of Russell Means”.  The honoring will highlight his life, leadership and the eternal fire that he re-ignited throughout Indian Country.

October 24, 2012, begins at 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. MST, at Little Wound High School Gymnasium in Kyle, South Dakota USA, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Russell Means, a self-described “Oglala Freedom Fighter”, began his journey to the spirit world at 4:44 am, with the Morning Star, at his home and ranch in Porcupine.

This Honoring will be the first of four opportunities for the people to honor his life.  The next three Honorings are tentatively scheduled as follows:  2nd Honoring at Wounded Knee ’73 Occupation Memorial (Feb 2013); 3rd Honoring at Wind Cave State Park, SD (June 2013); 4th Honoring on Russell’s birthday (Nov 10, 2013) at location to be determined. [..]

Contributions of star quilts, blankets and food to feed the people will be appreciated, and may be brought on Wednesday, October 22, directly to Little Wound High School, Kyle, South Dakota.

Financial contributions to advance the visionary work of Russell Means can be sent to:

TREATY Total Immersion Educational Endowment Fund

Administrative Office

P.O. Box 110

San José, NM 87565

Paypal contributions can be made at:



  1. May the Goddess guide him on his journey to the Summerlands. May his family and friends and the world find Peace.

    The Wheel Turns

    Blessed Be

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