Remembering Russell Means
by Stephen Lendman
Over a year ago, he knew he had inoperable esophageal cancer. It spread to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs. It was just a matter of time. On October 22, it took him. His journey to the spirit world began.
In August 2011, he said:
“I’m not going to argue with the Great Mystery. Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed.”
“When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I’ve told people after I die, I’m coming back as lightning. When it zaps the White House, they’ll know it’s me.”
Earlier he said:
“The Universe which controls all life, has a female and male balance that is prevalent throughout our Sacred Grandmother, the Earth.”
“This balance has to be acknowledged and become the determining factor in all of one’s decisions, be they spiritual, social, healthful, educational or economical.”
On October 24, he’ll be honored in Pine Ridge, SD, the Republic of Lakota. Other gatherings will also celebrate his life and work.
Speaking for herself and children, Means’ wife, Pearl Daniel Means, said the following:
“Hello our relatives. Our dad and husband, now walks among our ancestors. He began his journey to the spirit world at 4:44 am, with the Morning Star, at his home and ranch in Porcupine.”
“There will be four opportunities for the people to honor his life, to be announced at a later date. Thank you for your prayers and continued support. We love you. As our dad and husband would always say, ‘May the Great Mystery continue to guide and protect the paths of you and your loved ones.’ “
World headlines spread the news. The New York Times said “Russell Means, Who Clashed With Law as He Fought for Indians, Is Dead at 72.” He was America’s “best known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”
In 1968, he joined the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1970, he became its national director. In 1995, he published his autobiography titled, “Where White Men Fear to Tread.”
“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” author Dee Brown said “reading Means’ story is essential for any clear understanding of American Indians during the last half of the twentieth century.”
New York Times writer Robert McFadden said:
Shortly before being diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer, he “cut off his braids. (It was) a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.”
The Washington Post headlined “Russell Means dies at 72; American Indian activist helped lead uprising at Wounded Knee,” saying:
“(S)elf-styled modern Indian warrior….forced international attention on the plight of Native Americans for more than four decades.”
Reuters headlined “American Indian activist Russell Means dead at 72,” saying:
He waged a “lifelong campaign (struggling for) the rights and dignity of his people….”
AP called him “a modern Indian warrior. He railed against broken treaties, fought for the return of stolen land, and even took up arms against the federal government.”
The Los Angeles Times said “he helped thrust the plight of Native Americans into the national spotlight.”
Press TV called him “an outspoken champion of American Indian rights.”
Means once said, “Every policy now the Palestinians are enduring was practiced on the American Indians.”
“What the American Indian Movement says is that the American Indians are the Palestinians of the United States, and the Palestinians are the American Indians of Europe.”
He called Indian lands open air concentration camps, saying:
“If you chose to stay on the reservation, you are guaranteed to be poor, unless you are part of the colonial apparatus set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, set up the United States.”
Prisoner of conscience Leonard Peltier issued a statement, saying in part:
“I wish I was there to talk with you in person and share with you the sorrow that I feel with the passing of Russell Means, my brother, my friend, and inspiration on many levels.”
“Russell Means will always be an icon whenever the American Indian Movement is spoken of and whenever people talk about the changes that took place, the changes that are taking place now for Indian people.”
“We’ll see you again my brother Russell, in some other time and in some other place, we will always be your friend, and we will always look forward to seeing your face. Mitakuye Oyasin (All Are Related from a traditional Lakota Sioux prayer).”
Russell Means.com said he “lived a life like few others in this century…” He disliked being called a Native American. “The one thing I’ve always maintained is that I’m an American Indian.”
“Everyone who’s born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American. We are all Native Americans.”
He also said he put “American” before ethnicity. “I’m not a hyphenated African-American or Irish-American or Jewish-American or Mexican-American.”
Means was born on November 10, 1939 in Wanblee, SD, on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation. With Dennis Banks and Leonard Peltier, he participated in the 1973 Wounded Knee siege and tragedy.
For 71 days, they and other AIM activists held off hundreds off FBI thugs, federal marshals, National Guard troops, and complicit Indian vigilantes. They were called “GOONS (Guardians of Our Oglala Nation).” They sold out for whatever benefits they got in return.
On February 27, Oglala Sioux activists reclaimed Wounded Knee. They wanted their 1868 treaty rights honored.
It stated that “(t)he government of the United States desires peace, and its honor is hereby pledged to keep it.” It also reaffirmed all Indian rights granted under the 1851 Treaty.
From 1778 – 1871, Washington negotiated 372 treaties. All were systematically spurned.
At Wounded Knee, AIM represented over 75 Indian Nations. For nearly two and a half months, they held on. They were free. It wasn’t easy. Washington cut off electricity. Food and other essential deliveries were blocked.
Activists were shot and killed. When it ended, hundreds of arrests followed. An FBI/Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) reign of terror began. It lasted three years.
Roving death squads murdered at least 342 AIM members and supporters. Hundreds more were harassed and beaten. Many more were arrested. Their crime was wanting to live free on their own land.
Leonard Peltier was victimized. He was wrongfully convicted on two first-degree murder counts. On June 1, 1977, he got two consecutive life sentences.
Despite bogus charges and prosecutorial injustice, he’s been denied parole, retrial, clemency, or a pardon. Other nations, past and present congressional members, and hundreds of world dignitaries say he should be unconditionally released.
Means was more fortunate. He stayed free to remain active. In 1978, he joined The Longest Walk. Participants protested racist anti-Indian legislation at that time. It included forced sterilization of Indian women.
Earlier in 1964, Means, his father, and others occupied Alcatraz. They did so peacefully in accordance with their rights. According to broken treaty obligations, abandoned prison property belongs to Indian tribes.
On December 17, 2007, Means and other Lakota people went to Washington. They declared independence. They called it “the latest step in the longest running legal battle” in history.
It’s not a cessation, they said. It’s a lawful “unilateral withdrawal” from treaty obligations permitted under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
“We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us.”
“We offer citizenship to anyone provided they renounce their US citizenship.”
“United States colonial rule is at an end.”
Signed documents were delivered to the State Department. Sovereignty was declared. The Republic of Lakota was established. It’s based on the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. It created the Great Lakota (Sioux) Nation. It states in part:
“The territory of the Sioux or Dahcotah Nation, commencing the mouth of the White Earth River, on the Missouri River; thence in a southwesterly direction to the forks of the Platte River; thence up the north fork of the Platte River to a point known as the Red Buts, or where the road leaves the river; thence along the range of mountains known as the Black Hills, to the head-waters of Heart River; thence down Heart River to its mouth; and thence down the Missouri River to the place of beginning.”
It gave Lakota people portions of northern Nebraska, half of South Dakota, one-fourth of North Dakota, one-fifth of Montana, and 20% of Wyoming.
It didn’t matter. Unilateral withdrawal from all treaties and agreements became policy. America never honored its own.
On September 29, 2012 Means reiterated what he and others declared in December 2007, saying:
“We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five state area that encompasses our country are free to join us.”
He cited longstanding problems and grievances. They include land theft, resource plunder, poverty, unemployment, repression, and overall human deprivation. All of it remains out of sight and mind.
Means had three weeks to live. Lakota spokesman Salomon called his death a “great loss.” It came a day after former Senator George McGovern died. He and former Senator James Abourezk tried to negotiate an equitable Wounded Knee settlement.
Commenting on Means and McGovern, Abourezk said he “lost two good friends in a matter of two to three days. I don’t pretend to understand it.”
Death, of course, has final say. What matters most is showing up every day and working for right over wrong. Means said he wants to be remembered as an American Indian patriot. He spent most of his adult life proving it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.