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PORTSIDE  October 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE October 2012, Week 4

Subject:

Activist Russell Means a True Native Catalyst

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Date:

Tue, 23 Oct 2012 22:25:49 -0400

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text/plain (143 lines)

Activist Russell Means a True Native Catalyst

By Kevin Abourezk
Op-Ed Column

October 22, 2012
Journal Star (Lincoln, NE)

http://journalstar.com/news/state-and-regional/kevin-abourezk-activist-russell-means-a-true-native-catalyst/article_4180487e-ac83-5bc2-9499-278198ae5894.html


Growing up in a family steeped in Native activism, I learned
at a young age about Russell Means' fight for the people. As a
college student, I learned Means wasn't the saintly folk hero
I had made him out to be. As an adult, I learned no one is
perfect, and few people have fought so hard for his people as
Means did.

In many ways, my development as a Native man has been defined
by the evolution in my thinking about Means. I can truly say
no other public figure has affected me so profoundly, and I
felt real sorrow when I learned of his death early Monday
morning.

True to himself to the end, Means didn't give up in August
2011 when he was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He
fought it using traditional Native healing remedies and prayer
and announced earlier this year that he was cancer-free. But
within the past few weeks, he had announced the cancer had
returned and spread.

A charismatic, uncompromising young activist, Means helped
lead the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee along with fellow American
Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks and Vernon Bellecourt. He
ran, unsuccessfully, for president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe
several times and appeared in movies like "The Last of the
Mohicans" and "Natural Born Killers."

He died early Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., at the
age of 72.

I first met Means as a young college student at the University
of South Dakota, where I served as president of the Native
student council. The council had invited him to speak, and I
gave myself the enviable job of spending the day with him
before his speech.

Towering over me as he stood outside his hotel room, Means
squinted his eyes and asked if I was related to former South
Dakota Sen. Jim Abourezk. I said I was, and he laughed. Jim
Abourezk, my great uncle, had served as a lead negotiator for
the government during the Wounded Knee takeover in 1973, and
he and Means became lifelong friends as a result of that
exchange.

I told Means my mother's family also was a staunch supporter
of the American Indian Movement and had invited the activists
to camp on their land in the summer of 1975, the same summer
that two FBI agents drove onto my grandparents' land and died
in a shootout with AIM.

But I couldn't help but feel disillusioned by Means' arrogance
and spite toward educated Indians. Then he stood up and spoke
to my friends, professors and fellow students at USD, and all
my fears dissipated.

In a booming, yet kind, voice, he talked about how backward
American society had become and how it had failed to
appreciate the role of women. He talked briefly about his time
at Wounded Knee and at countless other protests and answered
every question posed to him with real humility and
thoughtfulness.

What he didn't talk about was AIM's involvement in the murder
of Anna Mae Aquash, whose 1975 death resulted in the
conviction of two former AIM activists, Arlo Looking Cloud and
John Graham, decades later.

Authorities believe three AIM members shot and killed Aquash
on the Pine Ridge Reservation on the orders of someone in
AIM's leadership because they suspected she was an FBI
informant. The third AIM member has never been charged.

Means blamed Vernon Bellecourt, another AIM leader, for
ordering Aquash's killing. Bellecourt denied the allegations.

"I wanted him to live long enough to be indicted and go to
jail for Anna Mae's death," Means told me after learning about
Bellecourt's death in 2007.

Myron Long Soldier, president of the Lincoln Indian Center
board of directors, understands Means' dueling public faces.
He first met Means in the late 1970s during a protest march to
Mount Rushmore.

Means had long hair at a time when few Native men did, and he
inspired a whole generation of Native men and women to take
pride in their culture, in themselves, Long Soldier said.

"He made you proud of who you were as an Indian person," Long
Soldier said.

But Long Soldier also knew an uglier side of AIM, the distrust
its members fomented among white people living near the
reservation. Long Soldier recalls failing to get a job in the
Nebraska town of Gordon, near the reservation, because of the
anger and fear non-Native business owners felt toward AIM.

"That was a blessing," he said. "If I had stayed in Gordon, I
probably wouldn't be alive today.

"He was a catalyst in a lot of young people's lives at that
time."

A catalyst. I can't think of a better word to describe Means.

Longtime journalist on Native issues Lise Anna Balk said Means
will continue to serve as a leader for Native people.

"His passing into the spirit world marks his transition from
man into memory, and the cementing of his status as a warrior
icon, Native America's rabble-rouser-in-chief," she said.

==========

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