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Russell Means

Russell MeansRussell Means was born on November 10, 1939, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe and emerged from an early life of truancy, crime, and drugs before finding purpose in the American Indian Movement (AIM).

He was revered by some Indians as a hero and regarded by others as an unwelcomed representative. Means spent the better part of his life fighting for the unique identity and independence of Native Americans and indigenous people around the world. He rose to national prominence as an AIM spokesperson and negotiator during the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

Extending his activism into Hollywood, Means aimed to bring popular representation to the Indian community. Acting in over 30 roles, his most notable films included “The Last of the Mohicans” in 1992, playing the role of Chingachgook; “Natural born killers” in 1994 and Disney’s “Pocahontas” in 1995. Means was featured as the voice of the title character’s father, Chief Powhatan. The film was considered “controversial” because of its depiction of Native American Indians. Means defended the film saying that the film portrayed a relationship between a father and his daughter.

In August of 2011, Means was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His doctors told him his condition was inoperable. Means had cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis stating that it was a gesture of mourning for his people. He stated the hair held memories and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world. Russell Means passed away on October 22, 2012 at the age of 72, and was cremated. His ashes were scattered among the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Russell Means1Means founded the government-funded Cleveland American Indian Center in 1969. Serving as executive director, Means met founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and joined at age 30. He was appointed AIM's first national Director in 1970.

Means is perhaps best known for leading a 71-day siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, which drew national attention to Indian-rights issues in the early 1970s.

In 1971, Means was one of the leaders of a takeover and prayer vigil atop the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It was a symbolic demonstration of Lakota claims to Black Hills land.

In 1987, Means joined the U.S. Libertarian Party and announced his candidacy for the Party’s Presidential Nomination.

Means published his autobiography “Where White Men Fear to Tread” in 1995.

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