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The Passing of Russell Means

Updated on October 24, 2012

Russell's Passing

Pencil Nebula from NASA
Pencil Nebula from NASA | Source

Russell's Passing

Russell Means the noted Lakota Sioux activist and A.I.M. leader died this week in his home town of Porcupine, South Dakota at the age of 72. The exact date of his passing was Monday October 22, 2012. The cause of death was pneumonia, which according to Dennis McLellan of the L.A. Times, was a complication and possible side effect of the esophageal cancer that was originally diagnosed in July of 2011.

Russell Means in 1987

Russell Means in 1987
Russell Means in 1987 | Source

Cancer Saga

When first examined by medical doctors in the summer of last year, Russell Means was grimly informed that the cancer in his throat was too far advanced to be surgically treated. What happened next came as no surprise to anyone, who was just in the least bit familiar with the life and times of the Native American activist. Russell said he would seek Native remedies for treatment of his throat cancer.

Native Spirituality

All throughout the heyday of the American Indian Movement, Russell Means as well as other leaders have always insisted that A.I.M. was based on a return and re-discovery of American Indian spiritual and religious values. So in effect, Russell Means and his rejection of modern medicine had its roots and precedents in previous attitudes expressed throughout his dissident years.

Arizona To the Rescue

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the medicine man. Russell discovered a place in Arizona that was willing to treat the throat cancer. Using specialized treatments at an alternative cancer treatment center in Scottsdale, Russell Means was declared cancer free in April of 2012....just five months before he died.

70s Hero

Russell Means became a household word during the seige and occupation that occurred on the Pine Ridge Reservation beginning in February of 1973.At this time a couple of hundred Sioux Indians and supporters seized Indian land in protest against the activities of the presiding tribal chairman. During the standoff Russell was one of several spokesmen that would appear before before the national press to the make statements about why the protesters were engaged in their controversial activities. By the time the protests ended, two occupiers were dead and one Federal Marshal was paralyzed from a gunshot wound. Subsequent legal action was thrown out of court because of misconduct by the prosecution.

Rise of AIM

The American Indian Movement was the most visible voice of American Indian discontent that followed the great movements against the Vietnam War and also against suppression of black Americans that were so prevalent in the 60s. It is essential to note here that the events at Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee were essentially a Lakota Sioux protest against their tribal chairman, Dick Wilson. However, outside (non-Sioux) supporters and national media attention sometimes created the impression that the occupation was a national movement of indigenous people living in the U.S. For the most part this is an incorrect assumption, for each tribal group has its own particular struggles and legal issues, not only with the U.S. government but the state and local entities as well. Still it can be said that the events at Wounded Knee did have an effect on othe Indian groups across the nation and elsewhere in the Americas.

Russell's Legacy

Since the Wounded Knee Occupation and subsequent court trial, Russell Means has continued to be involved in other political situations concerning Native Americans, but according to his own autobiography, Where White Men Fear To Tread, Russell has done so only at the invitations of other Native leaders. Besides the political activities, Russell has authored several books, appeared in many movies, including Last of the Mohicans, while also giving numerous interviews and speaking engagements. His last literary effort was co-written with.Bayard Johnson and is titled, If You've Forgotten The Names Of The Clouds, You've Lost Your Way: An Introduction to American Indian Thought and Philosophy.

In Conclusion

I never met the man, personally, but perhaps it can be said that Russell's gretest attribute was ability to inspire others to act and express themselves in a positive and constructive manner. This is an attitude developed after much reading about the activities of Russell Means and also by experiencing one situation, where a co-worker traveled a long ways to do a one-on-one interview with Russell.


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