Born on November 10, 1939, Russell Means was a member of the American Oglala Sioux tribe and longtime Native American activist. He was also an early leader of the American Indian Movement, which formed in the late 1960s with the goal of establishing sovereignty for indigenous American tribes. In 1973, Means helped lead an armed takeover of Wounded Knee, a small town on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. In 1987, he turned his focus toward U.S. politics and made a run for the presidency, but lost the Libertarian nomination to Ron Paul. Means later worked as an actor, appearing in films like The Last of the Mohicans. In 2007, he spearheaded a proposal to create a new nation for the North American Lakota tribe. Means died on October 22, 2012.
Early Political Activism
Longtime Native American activist Russell Means, of the North American Oglala Sioux tribe, was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on November 10, 1939, to father Harold and mother Theodora Feather Means. His family moved west to California when Means was a toddler.
At age 25, Means and his father participated in a rally held on Alcatraz Island, located in California's San Francisco Bay, where dozens of Native Americans gathered to speak out against the U.S. government for violating a treaty that any unused government land would be returned to its previous occupants. Means was forever changed by the event, focusing his efforts thereafter and throughout the rest of his life on the rights of Native Americans.
Means was an early member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which formed in the late 1960s in Minnesota with the goal of establishing sovereignty for indigenous American tribes. With other AIM leaders in 1973, Means led an armed takeover of Wounded Knee, a small town on sacred Indian ground, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Means resigned from the AIM the following year to run for the presidency of the Oglala Sioux tribe, but lost and quickly rejoined the AIM (he officially left the group in 1988).
In 1987, Means set his sights on the U.S. presidency, hoping to win the Libertarian Party's candidacy, but lost the nomination to Ron Paul. Means later worked as an actor, appearing in films like The Last of the Mohicans (1992) with Daniel Day-Lewis, before turning his focus back to full-time political activism in the mid-1990s.
Murder of Annie Mae Aquash
Means became involved in the legal proceedings of the 1975 murder of Annie Mae Aquash as the case continued into the 1990s without producing any indictments. An AIM activist and educator born into the Mi'kmaq tribe of Nova Scotia, Aquash had been killed on Pine Ridge during a three-year period of social unrest and violence that stemmed from the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation. She had reportedly been suspected of being an FBI informant prior to her death.
In late 1999, Means arranged a press conference to explain his knowledge of the incident as a former AIM leader and to call for more investigations into the case. Two AIM members, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham, were eventually indicted and convicted of the murder.
In 2007, Means spearheaded a proposal to create a new nation for Lakota Indians in North America, called the Republic of Lakotah.
Following a battle with esophageal cancer, Means died at his ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation on October 22, 2012.
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