Russell Means, 72, Indian Movement Activist

Russell Means

Russell Means, the Oglala Sioux activist who revived indigenous pride as a leader of the American Indian Movement and appeared in Hollywood movies later in life, has died. He was 72. Means died early Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The cause of death was esophageal cancer. “Our dad and hus¬band now walks among our ances¬tors,” a fam¬ily state¬ment said. Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Nov. 10, 1939, and raised in Oakland, where his parents moved during World War II. Means rose to national prominence as the first national director of the American Indian Movement, staging a number of high-profile protests in the 1960s and early 1970s that called attention to the conditions facing Native Americans. Among their actions, the group took over Mount Rushmore and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. But AIM’s best-known and most controversial action occurred on Feb. 27, 1973, when Means and his group of 200 Oglala Lakota followers took control of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee to demonstrate against the U.S. government’s failure to honor its treaties with various Indian tribes. An armed standoff with federal authorities ensued that saw an exchange gunfire, costing the lives of two activists and one FBI agent. Means later faced assault and conspiracy charges that were dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct. Means made his big-screen debut as chief Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” Two years later, he appeared in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” following up with roles as Jim Thorpe in “Windrunner: A Spirited Journey” and Sitting Bull in “Buffalo Girls.”
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