South Dakota Native American activist Russell Means died Monday morning at the age of 72.
According to the New York Times, Means, who is best remembered for leading a 71-day uprising on the sacred grounds of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1973, passed away at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The cause was throat cancer that had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative, told the Times.
“Means has devoted his life to eliminating racism of any kind, and in so doing he leaves a historical imprint as the most revolutionary Indian leader of the late twentieth century,” his website said. “An inspirational visionary, Russell Means remains one of the most magnetic voices in America today. Whether leading a protest, fighting for constitutional rights, starring in a motion picture, or performing his rap-ajo music, the message he delivers is consistent with the philosophy he lives by.”
Born South Dakota in the late 1930s, Means took to the front lines of the majority of the protests by the American Indian Movement (AIM) at an early age.
CNN notes that AIM, an organization founded in the late 1960s to stand against the United States government’s treatment of Native Americans and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes, was oft embroiled in controversy, partly because of its alleged involvement in the 1975 murder of Annie Mae Aquash.
Prior to withdrawing from a leadership role in the AIM in the late 1980s, Means jumped into politics, becoming involved with the Libertarian Party in 1983 and seeking its nomination for president in 1987. He said all Americans needed to reassert their self-determination.
“I now realize that all Americans, not just Indians, desperately need to regain control of their own lives,” Means told the party’s delegates.
Besides his prominent role in the fight for Indian rights, Means was also an accomplished actor, and, over two decades, appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including , The Last of the Mohicans, Natural Born Killers and Pathfinder. He also recorded CDs, including Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America, and wrote a memoir, Where White Men Fear to Tread.
“My dad now walks among our ancestors,” his son Scott Means was quoted as saying. “As our dad and husband would say, ‘May the Great Mystery continue to guide and protect the paths of you and your loved ones.’”
Image: Indian Country Today