Remembering AIM Activist and Prophet Russell Means

Funeral procession for AIM activist and Spiritual Leader Russell Means

Russell Means was an Oglala Sioux activist for the rights of Native American people, a political activist, and a keeper of memories for his people. He was highly confrontational and therefore highly controversial. He became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and helped organize notable events that attracted national and international media coverage.

Means was active in the anti-nuclear movement, prison reform movements, and international issues of indigenous peoples, including working with groups in Central and South America, and with the United Nations for recognition of their rights. He raised the desperate conditions at his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to national prominence.

Kiowa Robert Chanante asked Means several years ago how one overcomes anger and hatred when violence is inflicted on a person for seeking justice for Indigenous Peoples. After listening and thinking about it for a bit this is what Means said: “The way I’ve seen it is that every injury I took, every sacrifice I made and every personal cost I paid has been done on behalf of our people and ancestors. So I take these things as a badge of honor and they are things that I am proud of.”

Thank you, fierce warrior and wise elder, Russell Means.

From Russell Means remembered as man of inspiration by Aaron Orlowski, Rapid City Journal:

Russell Means, left, gets an application of war paint from Sioux Medicine man Crow Dog in 1973 just prior to a cease fire agreement between federal forces and AIM leaders occupying Wounded Knee.

“KYLE, S.D. (AP) – No single individual likely will ever fill Russell Means’ shoes, but his legacy likely will be multiplied many times over by the Native Americans he inspired, his brother said at the Native American activist’s funeral service in Kyle. Means died Monday of throat cancer at the age of 72. On Wednesday, more than 300 people attended the funeral service on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“He will be replaced by thousands,” said Bill Means, Russell Means’ only surviving brother. “One person is not going to replace him, but through his work, through his family, he will be replaced 1,000 times over.” Those attending the service said Means made them feel proud to be a Native American by encouraging them to take pride in their heritage and challenging them to live it. Means himself never shied away from confrontation. As a young American Indian Movement leader, he spearheaded the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, which grabbed the attention of the entire nation.

But Means was never meant to be a warrior, said Chief Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota medicine man who participated in the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973. Means, he said, was first and foremost a spiritual leader, but the times called for a warrior, and like Crazy Horse, that is what he transformed into. …”

Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) who has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities, wrote about Means:

“In 1972, Oglala Raymond Yellow Thunder was beaten and then stripped naked, paraded in the American Legion in Gordon, Nebraska. He was stuffed in a car trunk, and a few days later died of injuries sustained in his beating. South Dakota and Nebraska were perhaps the most racist states in the country, barring perhaps, Mississippi. But that depends on if you were a Native or a black person. People had to stand up to that. Oglala Lakota elders asked for help and American Indians from the Twin Cities, from urban areas or reservations came. Russell Means came. He was one of many. That was the beginning of the American Indian Movement.

The passing of Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means to the Spirit World marked the end of an era, and hopefully, it marks the beginning of a new one. Means was a leader, and an Ogichidaa, one who stood for the people. He joined with hundreds of other Native people in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, a 71 day occupation, which came to symbolize the renaissance of the dignity of Native people. It was a time when a people said, “This is enough.” The Native occupation of our own lands, was met with the largest military force response of the federal government. (According to Pentagon documents uncovered later, the government deployed 17 armored personnel carriers, 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-40 high explosives for grenade launchers as well as helicopters and other aircraft.)

… There are fewer Raymond Yellow Thunders, but there are still Native people being killed for their land in the western hemisphere, particularly on the front lines of hydro-electric dams , mining and oil projects in the Amazon. And, there is still an absolute need for people to be treated with dignity.

Russell Means lived a life proudly as an Oglala man. He lived fully and left us much to be thankful for. We honor him by continuing this work.”–Winona LaDuke (A Hero Moves On)

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