Russell Means…America Loses A Leader
By Mike A. Bozarth
Actor and American Indian activist Russell Means died Monday at the age of 72.
Means was best known for his role in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” and also sought the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination in 1988–the year Ron Paul was nominated.
Means announced in August 2011 that he had developed inoperable throat cancer but skipped mainstream medical treatments in favor of traditional American Indian remedies, died at his ranch in in Porcupine, S.D., an Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman said
In 2000 I was a delegate to the Libertarian Party’s National Convention in Anaheim,CA. Several celebrities were on hand for the convention. While there I got to meet David Ruprecht of “Supermarket Sweep” and Melanie, of Woodstock fame (“I’ve got a brand new pair of rollerskates, you’ve got a brand new key”). I was also covering the convention for The Telegraph.
But the time I got to spend with actor Russell Means was special. Since I had news media credentials, three of us went to his room and got to spend almost two hours with just him and his wife.
He was soft-spoken and somewhat reserved, but I feel like I got to know him in those two hours. He seemed to take a special liking to me when I told him I was part American Indian.
I was stuck by his strong devotion to his American Indian heritage. And no, I did not misspeak. He prefered to be called American Indian over Native American.
I still get goosebumps when I remember his dramatic entrance with traditional drums to deliver the keynote speech to the convention. I later became a member of his charitable group, T.R.E.A.T.Y. and in 2006 I founded a social networking Russell Means Fan Club.
He was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and grew up in the San Francisco area before becoming an early leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He often was controversial, partly because of AIM’s alleged involvement in the 1975 slaying of Annie Mae Aquash.
Means was critical of the mainstream media, and the onetime leader of AIM often refused interviews and verbally blasted journalists who showed up to cover his public appearances. Instead, he chose to speak to his fan base through YouTube videos and blog posts on his personal website.
When he did speak out publicly, he always defended AIM. He found himself dogged for decades by questions about the group’s alleged involvement in the slaying of a tribal member and the several gun battles with federal officers during the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, but denied the group ever promoted violence.
Russell Means always considered himself a Libertarian and couldn’t believe that anyone would want to call themselves either a Republican or a Democrat. “It’s just unconscionable that America has become so stupid,” he said.
He began his acting career in 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis’ Hawkeye in “The Last of the Mohicans.” He also appeared in the 1994 film “Natural Born Killers,” voiced Chief Powhatan in the 1995 animated film “Pocahontas” and guest starred in 2004 on the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He made guest appearances in Walker, Texas Ranger, Nash Bridges and a host of television shows.
Means recounted his life in the book “Where White Men Fear to Tread” in an interview. He said he pulled no punches in his autobiography, admitting to his frailties and evils but also acknowledging his successes. “I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be,” he said.
A tribal spokeswoman, called Means’ death a “great loss” for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
I too, will miss this great man. I had hoped he would be the first American Indian president.