Russell Means

Andy Warhol’s “The American Indian (Russell Means)”
Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz

On October 22, 2012 Russell Means passed away at the age of seventy-two. Referred to as the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse by the LA Times, Means was an Oglala Sioux activist who fought for the rights of Native Americans. In addition, Means is known for being a libertarian political activist. Means published his autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread in 1995, appeared in numerous films, including The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and released his own music CD. Russell Means will forever be remembered as a triumphant representative and political activist for Native Americans and other minorities.

Russell Means was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota located in an Indian Reservation. Very fittingly, he was baptized Oyate Wacinyapin, which means “works for the people” in the Lakota language.

It is important to remember the many accomplishments of activists—especially Russell Means. As the leader of the American Indian Movement, which started in 1968, Means called national attention to the plight of impoverished tribes by fighting against the federal government, denouncing broken treaties with the U.S. government, and fighting for the return of stolen land. In the late 1970s, Means became active in international issues of indigenous peoples, including working with groups in Central and South America, and with the United Nations for recognition of their rights. He helped establish the offices of the International Indian Treaty Council in 1977.

Russell Means lost his battle with throat (esophageal) cancer, which spread to his tongue, lymph nodes, and lungs. Though he lost this battle, his activist efforts won many larger battles for the rights of Native American people in the United States and indigenous peoples in South America.

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