RUSSELL MEANS Biography - Activists, Revolutionaries and other freedom fighters


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Name: Russell Means                                                                     
Born: 10 November 1939 Pine Ridge Reservation                                           
Russell Means (Lakota: Oyate Wacinyapin; born November 10, 1939) is one of             
contemporary America's best-known and prolific activists for the rights of             
American Indians. Means has also pursued careers in politics, acting, and music.       
Means, an Oglala Sioux, was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation; both of his             
parents had been educated at Indian boarding schools. In 1942, Means's family           
moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Means attended San Leandro High School,           
graduating in 1958.                                                                     
In 1968, Means joined the American Indian Movement and quickly became one of its       
most prominent leaders. In 1969, Means was part of a group of Native Americans         
that occupied Alcatraz Island for a period of 19 months. He was appointed the           
group's first national director in 1970. Later that year, Means was one of the         
leaders of AIM's takeover of Mount Rushmore. In 1972, he participated in AIM's         
takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Washington, D.C., and in 1973       
he led AIM's occupation of Wounded Knee, which became the group's most well-known       
In 1974, Means first ran for the presidency of his native Oglala Sioux tribe           
against the incumbent Dick Wilson. Although the official vote count showed             
Wilson winning by two hundred votes, Means charged that this was due to                 
pervasive vote fraud and intimidation by Wilson's agents. An investigation by a         
federal court agreed with Means and ordered a new election. However, Wilson's           
government refused to carry this out, and the court declined to enforce the             
In the 1980s, AIM split into several competing factions. In 1988, the faction           
headed by the Bellecourt brothers released a statement stating that Means had           
publicly resigned from AIM on no less than six occasions, first in 1974. As             
of 2004, Means's website states that he was a board member of the Colorado AIM         
chapter, which is associated with the competing faction. Means in the past was         
associated with the controversial activist Ward Churchill. He has since                 
disassociated himself from Churchill, who had given the                                 
nominating speech for Means in 1987 when he sought the presidential nomination         
of the Libertarian Party in a heated race against Representative Ron Paul.             
He was defeated by Paul, who later returned to the Republican Party.                   
Since the late 1970s, Means has often supported libertarian political causes,           
putting him at odds with several of the other leaders of AIM. In 1986 Means             
traveled to Nicaragua to express his support for Miskito Indians who were allied       
with the US-funded contra guerillas against the Nicaraguan government. In 1987,         
Means sought the nomination of the Libertarian Party for president and attracted       
considerable support within the party, but eventually lost the nomination to           
Congressman Ron Paul.                                                                   
Russell Means speaks at a DC Anti-War Network's anti-war protest on November 11,       
In 2001, Means began an independent candidacy for Governor of New Mexico, but           
was kept off the ballot because of procedural problems. Instead, he again ran           
for president of the Oglala Sioux with the help of Twila Lebeaux, this time             
narrowly losing to incumbent John Yellow Bird Steele. Means has argued against         
the use of the term "Native American" and in favor of "American Indian". He             
argues that this use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India         
but from an Italian expression indios, meaning "in God" or "as God made them".         
He also states that since treaties and other legal documents say "Indian" on           
them, and not "Native American", use of the term Indian can help today's Indian         
people forestall any attempts at loopholes as they engage in legal proceedings         
to regain their land.                                                                   
On December 20, 2007, Means announced the withdrawal of a small group of Lakota         
Sioux from all treaties with the United States government. Means and a                 
delegation of activists declared the Lakota a sovereign nation with property           
rights over thousands of square miles in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska,         
Wyoming and Montana. The Republic of Lakota website asserts that their group           
met with what they termed "traditional treaty councils" in eight communities.           
However, they admit their delegation does not act for elected tribal governments,       
or as they described them "IRA Indians, 'stay by the fort indians', or other           
Lakota people unwilling to be free." At a D.C. presentation Means also stated           
that his group does not "represent collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those           
tribal governments set up by the United States of America," comparing tribal           
leaders to the French leaders of Nazi Germany-Occupied France headquartered at         
Vichy, France.                                                                         
Following the (non-binding) UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples         
in September of 2007, a group of American Indian activists presented a letter to       
the US State Department indicating they were withdrawing from all treaties with         
the US Government, and began the process of contacting foreign governments to           
solicit support as of December 17th, 2007                                               
On January 8, 2008 two Lakota tribal leaders released a written statement               
against any plan to renounce treaties with the United States, saying the issue         
was enforcement of existing treaties.                                                   
Means began an acting career in 1992, appearing as the chief Chingachgook in           
Last of the Mohicans. He made subsequent appearances in Natural Born Killers and       
Into the West, and was a voice actor in Pocahontas as the title character's             
father, Chief Powhatan. In 1997, Means published an autobiography, Where White         
Men Fear to Tread. He also appears as a character in the Access Adventure Game "Under   
a Killing Moon."                                                                       
In 2004 Means made a guest appearance on the HBO program Curb Your Enthusiasm.         
Means played Wandering Bear, a calm and resolute American Indian with skills in         
both landscaping and herbal medicine. Means also stars in Pathfinder, a 2007           
movie about Vikings battling Native Americans in the New World.