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Russell Means: 5 Little-Known Facts About a Native American Activist
Posted By Patrick Kiger On October 23, 2012 @ 8:26 am In Legacy | Comments Disabled
The 1970s was a turbulent time of confrontation and conflict, and Russell Means perfectly fit that zeitgeist. To Native Americans who had endured centuries of oppression, the handsome, charismatic Oglala Sioux with the waist-length braids of black hair was a mash-up of Malcolm X, Abbie Hoffman and Saul Alinsky – a once-wayward soul who found a new purpose as a militant activist and who mixed physical confrontation with political theater.
As a leader of the American Indian movement, Means had a gift for forcing his cause into the headlines. In 1970 he led a band of protesters who seized a Mayflower replica during a Thanksgiving parade in Massachusetts, one of the first-ever Native American protests. He denounced the Cleveland Indians mascot as racist. But there also was a hard edge to his stridency: In 1973 he led protesters in a confrontation with federal agents at Wounded Knee, the site of an infamous 1890 massacre of Native Americans by U.S. troops. When the smoke cleared, two protesters were dead and a federal agent was left paralyzed. Means found himself on trial for conspiracy, assault and theft charges, but the case was dismissed in 1974 by a federal judge, who cited government misconduct in the trial.
All of that made him what the New York Times called “arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.” But unlike those two 19th-century leaders of his people, when Means died on Oct. 22 at age 72 in South Dakota, he died a free man, and he remained defiant to the end.
Here are five interesting facts about Means.
Photo: Marcy Nighswander/AP Images
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