Russell Means: Wikis


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Russell Means

Means speaking at a press conference
Washington, D.C., December 19, 2007
Born Russell Charles Means
November 10, 1939 (1939-11-10) (age 70)
Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, United States
Occupation Actor, Activist, Writer
Years active 1992 – present

Russell Charles Means (Lakota: Oyate Wacinyapin (Works for the People); born November 10, 1939, is an activist for the rights of American Indians. Means has also had notable careers in politics, acting, and music.




Early life

Means, an Oglala Sioux, was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. His parents Theodora (née Feather) and Harold "Hank" Means had been educated at Indian boarding schools.[1]

In 1942, Means moved with his parents to the San Francisco Bay Area. Means attended San Leandro High School, graduating in 1958.[2]

With AIM

In 1968, Means joined the American Indian Movement and quickly became one of its most prominent leaders. In 1969, Means was part of a group of Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz Island for a period of 19 months. The takeover of federal property was a dramatic protest to highlight issues of American Indian rights.[3] He was appointed the group's first national director in 1970, at a period of protests and activism. Later that year, Means was one of the leaders of AIM's takeover of Mount Rushmore, a federal monument. On thanksgiving day in 1970, a group of Native Americans including Means seized the Mayflower II, a replica ship of the Mayflower. In 1972, he participated in AIM's occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, D.C.. In 1973 he led AIM's occupation of Wounded Knee, which became the group's most well-known action after armed conflict with Federal and state law enforcement.

In 1974, Means ran for the presidency of his native Oglala Sioux nation against the incumbent Dick Wilson. Although the official vote count showed Wilson winning by two hundred votes, Means charged vote fraud and intimidation by Wilson's agents. An investigation by a federal court concluded there had been fraud and ordered a new election. Wilson's government refused to carry this out, and the court declined to enforce the ruling.[citation needed]

Turning to international issues of rights for indigenous peoples, Means worked with the United Nations to establish the offices of the International Indian Treaty Council in 1977. At the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he helped create community institutions, such as KILI radio station and the Porcupine Health Clinic.

In the 1980s, AIM split into several competing factions. The split occurred in part over differences about support for the prosecuted Native Americans in socialist Nicaragua. Means announced his support for the Miskito Indian group MISURASATA (later known as YATAMA), which was allied with the Contras. He traveled to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua in 1985 and 1986 on fact-finding tours. Some members of AIM, and many leftists in the US, supported the Sandinistas, despite their removal of thousands of Miskito from their territory. At that time the Grand Governing Council of the American Indian Movement of Minnesota asked Means to cease representing himself as a leader of AIM,[citation needed] but other chapters of AIM continued to support Means.

In 1988, the faction headed by the Bellecourt brothers released a statement saying that Means had publicly resigned from AIM on no less than six occasions, first in 1974.[4] As of 2004, Means's website states that he was a board member of the Colorado AIM chapter,[5] which is associated with the competing faction.

In 1993, the organization split into two main factions: AIM- Grand Governing Council, based in Minnesota, and AIM-Autonomous Chapters, allied around Means.

Other political involvement

Since the late 1970s, Means has often supported libertarian political causes, putting him at odds with several of the other leaders of AIM. In 1986 Means traveled to Nicaragua to express his support for Miskito Indians who were allied with the US-funded Contra guerrillas against the Nicaraguan government.

In 1987, Means sought the nomination of the Libertarian Party for president and attracted considerable support within the party (finishing 2nd with 31.41%),[6] but eventually lost the nomination to Congressman Ron Paul.[7]

Russell Means speaks at a DC Anti-War Network's anti-war protest on November 11, 2001.

In 2001, Means began an independent candidacy for Governor of New Mexico. His campaign failed to satisfy procedural requirements and did not get on the ballot. Nearly 30 years after his first candidacy, he ran for president of the Oglala Sioux with the help of Twila Lebeaux, narrowly losing to incumbent John Yellow Bird Steele. In the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Means supported independent Ralph Nader.

In the debate over what to call indigenous peoples of the United States, Means has publicly stated his preference for "American Indian", rather than "Native American", a later term. He has argued that American Indian derives, not from a confusion with India, but from the Italian expression in Dio, meaning "in God".[8][9] In addition, Means notes that since treaties and other legal documents in relation to the US government use "Indian", continuing use of the term can help today's American Indian people forestall any attempts by others to use legal loopholes in the struggle over land and treaty rights.

Following the non-binding UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, a group of American Indian activists presented a letter to the US State Department indicating they were withdrawing from all treaties with the US Government. In December, they began contacting foreign governments to solicit support for energy projects on the territory.

On December 20, 2007, Means announced the withdrawal by a small group of Lakota Sioux from all treaties with the United States government.[10] Means and a delegation of activists declared the Lakotah a sovereign nation with property rights over thousands of square miles in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.[11] The Republic of Lakota website asserts that their group met with what they termed "traditional treaty councils" in eight communities. But, they acknowledge their delegation does not act for elected tribal governments. At a presentation in Washington, Means also stated that his group does not "represent collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those tribal governments set up by the United States of America".[12]

On January 8, 2008 elected leaders President Rodney Bordeaux of the 25,000-member Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Chairman Joseph Brings Plenty of the 8500-member Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said that Means did not speak for their members or any elected Lakota tribal governments. While acknowledging problems with the federal government's implementation of treaties, they opposed his plan to renounce treaties with the United States. They said the issue instead was to enforce existing treaties.[13] [14]

Acting career

Means began an acting career in 1992, appearing as the Chief Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans. He appeared in Natural Born Killers and Into the West. He was a voice actor in the animated film Pocahontas (1995), playing the title character's father, Chief Powhatan. He also appears as a character in the Access Adventure Game Under a Killing Moon.[15] Means starred in Pathfinder, a 2007 movie about Vikings' battling Native Americans in the New World. Recently Means co-starred in Rez Bomb from director Steven Lewis Simpson, the first feature filmed on his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He stars with Tamara Feldman and Trent Ford and Chris Robinson.

In 1997, Means published an autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread.

Means played 'Billy Twofeathers' in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. In 2004 Means made a guest appearance on the HBO program Curb Your Enthusiasm. Means played Wandering Bear, a calm and resolute American Indian with skills in landscaping and herbal medicine.

Musical career

Russell Means recorded a CD entitled Electric Warrior under indie lable SOAR.[16] Songs include "Une Gente Indio", "Hey You, Hey Indian"; "Wounded Knee Set Us Free", "Indian Cars Go Far".

Warhol portrait

The American pop artist Andy Warhol painted 18 individual portraits of Russell Means in his 1976 American Indian Series. The Dayton Art Institute includes a Warhol portrait of Means in their collection.[17]


  1. ^ Russell Means Biography (1939-)
  2. ^ Stark, Jessica. "Colonialism perfected on the American Indian: Activist Russell Means to offer insight, experience", Rice University press release dated November 14, 2007. Accessed November 20, 2007.
  3. ^ "Alcatraz is Not an Island.Indian Activism". PBS. 2002. Retrieved 2009-03-17.  (Doesn't explicitly say Mr. Means was present.)
  4. ^ AIM on Russell Means
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Freedom is for Everyone: Seattle Story; Mike Acree, Convention Reflections, Golden Gate Libertarian Newsletter, July 2000.
  7. ^ Caldwell, Christopher (2007-07-22). "The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  8. ^ Means, Russell. ""Speech: For America to Live, Europe Must Die."". "In dio" not found at this site.
  9. ^ "I detest writing.". Black Hills International Survival Gathering,. First Nations Issues of Consequence. July 1980. Retrieved 2009-03-17. "Columbus called the tribal people he met "Indio," from the Italian in dio , meaning "in God."" 
  10. ^ Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US, Agence France-Presse news
  11. ^ Bill Harlan, Lakota group secedes from U.S., Rapid City Journal, December 20, 2007
  12. ^ Faith Bremner, "Lakota group pushes for new nation", Argus Leader, Washington Bureau, December 20, 2007
  13. ^ Bill Harlan, "Two tribal leaders reject secession, Rosebud and Cheyenne River tribes don't support Russell Means' plan", Rapid City Journal, 7 January 2008
  14. ^ Gale Courey Toensing, "Withdrawal from US treaties enjoys little support from tribal leaders", Indian Country Today, January 04, 2008.
  15. ^ Tex Murphy series:Under a Killing MoonMicrosoft Game Studios
  16. ^
  17. ^ "AMERICAN INDIAN SERIES (RUSSELL MEANS), 1976". The Dayton Art Institute. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 

External links


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