Tag Archives: Russell Means

The Next Chapter in the Lakotah Revolution for Freedom

Two weeks ago, I went to New York with a delegation from the Republic of Lakotah, to utilize the annual meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII, May 16-27). The primary purpose of the trip was to utilize past and present allies in the indigenous struggle to aid us in visiting a small, select group of other Nation’s Missions and their Ambassadors to the United Nation to discuss the international character of treaties between my people, the Lakota, and the United States of America.

In 1851 and 1868, the Lakotah, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho nations had militarily defeated the United States, and the United States had requested peace. Our nations agreed to peace at a treaty negotiation at Fort Laramie. The treaties were international instruments between two independent nations, unambiguous and unequivocal in defining the territories of the indigenous nations involved—it covered an area the size of the contemporary country of Guatemala.

Since the time of the signing of the treaty, the Lakotah have insisted that the United States respect its obligations under the treaties. Our insistence has even taken us to the United States Supreme Court. Now, how ridiculous is that, for us to go to the violator of the treaties, expecting that same violator to force itself to live up to its own laws. How can we allow an international contract dispute to be decided by the Violator?

Over the past century, one thing has become clear—the United States wanted to take its benefit from the treaties, and it never intended to abide by the other essential treaty provisions. OK, we get it. The US certainly is not going to begin to respect the treaties today.

There are some who say, “Well, if we don’t have our treaty, we have nothing.” To them, I say, “Look around you. You already have nothing! You experience the worst poverty, the worst health, the worst environmental problems, the worst of everything, plus they have stolen your territory, your freedom, and your self-respect. Wake up! What you wave around in the name of ‘sovereignty’ is no longer a treaty, it is a broken contract!”

Let’s be clear, if the US decides that it is not going to abide by the treaties (and it has done so repeatedly), then there must be consequences for that decision—just like if you sell me your car, but I do not pay you the money for your car. I don’t get to keep the car just because I have grown accustomed to driving it. Neither does the US get to keep our territory just because it allowed its citizens to invade and occupy our homeland, build homes and businesses, and steal wealth and resources from our homeland.

Article 37 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (PDF document) directly addresses this point:

Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honor and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or eliminating the rights of indigenous peoples contained in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

Our treaties are international instruments, and require enforcement. If the US is not going to honor its obligations then international law is clear about an equitable remedy for that breach. Under the established international legal principle of inadimplanti non est adimplendum (“one has no need to respect his obligation if the counter-party has not respected his own”), if one party to a treaty consistently refuses to abide by the treaty, then the parties have to return to their original positions before the treaty was signed.

When I first came to New York in 1975 to help establish the UN office of the International Indian Treaty Council, we were in the midst of an indigenous revolution. (Two years before, we had liberated our community of Wounded Knee, indigenous peoples were on the move.) By 1977, we had kicked open the doors of the UN, and demanded our seat at the table of nations. In my recent visit to the UN, I was dismayed and saddened by what has happened since that time.

In the years since 1977, that revolution that we began has become bogged down in bureaucracy and procedure that divert and sidetrack our right to be free. Countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand trot out their sell-out “Natives” like puppets to mouth the ongoing genocidal policy of those countries. The original indigenous revolutionaries have been replaced by “technicians” who accept crumbs from the invaders who continue to seek to destroy us.

People in the throes of genocide are given five minutes to tell their story, with no recourse—it’s just on to the next speaker. It is time to renew the teachings of our ancestors.

We need a renewal of the international indigenous revolution, one that does not ask permission from the invaders of our homelands, one that recalls the original message of our ancestors never to surrender, one that advances our natural right to be free and independent peoples, with international personality and dignity and respect. The Republic of Lakotah is not waiting. We have renewed our strategies with other freedom-loving indigenous peoples, with countries like Bolivia who understand and support our aspirations, and with international civil society. We now encourage a new generation of indigenous young people to shake off their cynicism, put their talents to work, and take their place in history by writing the next chapter with us in the international indigenous revolution.

Russell Means, Oglala/Iynktowan, is Chief Facilitator, Republic of Lakotah (republicoflakotah.com), and author of the autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread.

American Indian Religious Freedom in Theory and Practice

The late Seneca scholar and philosopher John Mohawk said: “In order to be free, you must act free.” Mohawk was a contemporary of mine, and he knew the struggle for freedom for indigenous peoples is not theoretical, it is real; it is also difficult, constant and requires remembering where we, as American Indians, come from.

I was reminded of John two weeks ago when a number of people and I put up and participated in the Lakota’s most sacred ceremony, the Sun Dance in the sacred Black Hills in occupied Lakota territory. For thirty-three years, we have put up our ceremony where it is supposed to be held, in the He Sapa. This year was different though, and that’s why I thought of John.

This year, the National Park Service tried to impose unacceptable restrictions on how we were going to gather, meet, and support the ceremony where we hold it, in what the invaders now call Wind Cave National Park. When we arrived at the site, we were met by over a dozen armed federal rangers, including what appeared to be SWAT team members. They had roped off the area with yellow rope and bright orange snow fence. It immediately felt like we were being imprisoned for our ceremony, but we did not put up with these arbitrary restrictions. We were required to respond to the U.S. officials as if we were free, and we did. We successfully put up our camp and held our five-day ceremony.

Most Indian people who are under fifty years of age cannot recall a time when our indigenous sacred ceremonies were illegal, but I can. Let me repeat, our ceremonies were illegal—people went to jail for dancing the Sun Dance, for constructing and using the purification lodge, for practicing the Peyote Way, and for many other of our traditional ways.

I personally remember when the government would send a doctor to supervise the piercing of the flesh; if the ceremony did not meet with their approval, they would cancel the ceremony! It was because of these racist restrictions on our spirituality that the American Indian Movement and others actively challenged the U.S. policies—resulting in the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). We knew, however, that AIRFA meant nothing if we did not exercise our rights, and if we did not force U.S. officials to respect our natural rights to spiritual freedom.

Unfortunately, the passage of AIRFA was a hollow victory. Of the first twelve cases brought by Indians, we lost all twelve cases. The U.S. Supreme Court said AIRFA was primarily a policy statement, with no provision for legal enforcement in the courts. AIRFA was amended in 1994, with stronger requirements for U.S. officials to respect indigenous ceremonies on what the U.S. says are federal lands, with a right for Indians to sue in federal courts for violation of our access and use of sacred sites. Specifically, the amendments state that “no Federal lands … may be managed in a manner that undermines and frustrates a traditional Native American religion or religious practices.”

Two weeks ago, we had to remind the National Park Service (NPS) that we have been engaging in our ceremonies long before there was a NPS. When the NPS said that we were subject to the restrictions of the Archeological Resources Protection Act, we reminded them that we, and our ceremonies, are part of the living archeology of the region.

At one point, while the ceremony was in progress, the rangers entered the camp and began to give orders about how the camp was to be organized. I challenged them to arrest us. We were willing and able to assert our natural rights, our treaty rights, and our statutory rights before a federal judge. The rangers withdrew and did not bother us for the remainder of the ceremony. In order to be free, we must act free—and we must be willing to risk the costs of doing so.

At the same time that we were asserting our rights at Wind Cave, a gang of thugs, known as the U.S. Supreme Court, was handing down its recent decision in U.S. v. Jicarilla Apache Nation. The main part of the opinion was bad enough, saying that the U.S. could engage in conflict of interest in administering Indian trust assets, and the U.S. does not have to disclose its bad acts.

The more revealing part of the opinion, and a position that is directly related to how the National Park Service was treating us at Wind Cave, was that “The trust obligations of the United States to the Indian tribes are established and governed by statute rather than the common law, and in fulfilling its statutory duties, the [United States]Government acts not as a private trustee but pursuant to its sovereign interest in the execution of federal law.

Every Indian person should understand the meaning of this last sentence. Some Indian tribal government officials and Indian law attorneys relate to U.S. government officials and courts as though the “trust relationship” will serve as a kind of shield against injustice. This is pure delusion.

The Supreme Court has now made it crystal clear that the so-called trust relationship is a sham, and that the highest and primary interest of the U.S. is to protect its own sovereign interests, and not those of indigenous peoples. It has also made clear that the fabrication of federal Indian law by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. courts is the tool and the vehicle to protect those U.S. interests. The only remedy for this latest expression of anti-Indian racism is for all Indian people to “act free, in order to be free.

Russell Means, Oglala/Iynktowan, is Chief Facilitator, Republic of Lakotah (republicoflakotah.com), and author of the autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread.

Spirit of AIM Inspires USET Meeting

Click here to view the embedded video.

The United South and Eastern Tribes called on the revolutionary spirit of the American Indian Movement to inspire its annual meeting in early November.

USET President Brian Patterson told the gathering of tribal leaders November 8 that a group from among them would sing the AIM song. “It will take the place of the morning prayer,” Patterson said.

Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe chairman, introduced the song with a brief history of the AIM movement. “The American Indian Movement is a Native American organization in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis by urban Native Americans,” Cromwell read from a prepared statement. “The national AIM agenda focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty. AIM was founded in 1968 by Dennis Banks , George Mitchell, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Harold Goodsky, Eddie Benton-Banai, and a number of others in Minneapolis’s Native American community. Russell Means born Oglala Lakota, was an early leader in 1970s protests.”

The spirit of AIM lives on, Cromwell said. “Just to share with you that the AIM is still alive and well today and we’re going to sing the AIM song representing that movement that we all partake in today, that continues to move our people forward and advances Indian country to be a strong sovereign in today’s world.”

Joining in the song were Hiawatha Brown, Narragansett Indian Tribal council member, who offered tobacco for the prayer/song; Mark Harding, Mashpee Wampanoag treasurer; and Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, Shinnecock Indian Nation Representatives.

Buffalo Harvest Sparks Dialogue at Colorado College

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Indigenous foods were served for the three-day Buffalo Harvest ceremony at Fort Lewis College, where Buffalo Council students hope to institute a self-sustaining food operation as part of a Food Sovereignty effort.

Russell Means, iconic activist and long-time leader of the American Indian Movement, said he was proud of what Native American students at Fort Lewis College (FLC) were achieving as he addressed those attending a Buffalo Harvest ceremony at FLC March 16 to 18.

He and others talked about sovereignty and its meaning to the Indian community and also touched on themes of cultural preservation, permaculture, indigenous food supplies, and buffalo husbandry.

Members of the student Buffalo Council organized the ceremony and other events and discussed the fate of a 6,300-acre tract that was the site of Fort Lewis Indian School (Old Fort), a boarding school. The tract was given to the state of Colorado on condition it be used as an institution of learning free to Indian students.

A key concern participants raised was continuation of the tuition waiver FLC currently affords Native students, said Myron Dewey, Paiute-Shoshone, a spokesman for the event.

Two years ago Indian students were concerned that state budget constraints would threaten the Native tuition program, but it remained intact despite rising tuition costs statewide that continue to fuel Indian students’ concern about their program’s status.

A tuition-related House joint resolution of the Colorado General Assembly is currently under consideration. It would support proposed federal legislation to reimburse Colorado for the costs of federal mandates associated with the FLC Native American Tuition Waiver Program.

FLC “is one of the last remaining schools in the country that provides free tuition to tribal members,” the Buffalo Council said in a release. “It is one of five schools that still exists proving Indian education as a treaty right.”

More than 120 people came to Buffalo Harvest events, the council said, adding that FLC Board of Trustees members and State Land Board officials, although invited, did not attend. Conflict has arisen between the council and college officials over the council’s repeated requests for fiscal and other information about the Old Fort tract as well as FLC’s perceived reluctance to adopt a detailed plan for the tract developed by the council.

College officials released responses March 16 to “frequently asked questions” on issues at FLC raised by the council, including unhindered Old Fort access to unmarked ancestral burials, ceremonial sites, and others. The council also requested a complete audit of revenues generated from the property, a request the FAQ did not address.

“Currently there are no known Native American sacred sites recognized by the federal government or the State of Colorado located on the [Old Fort] property. However, groups such as the Fort Lewis College Pejuta Tipi Society do hold religious ceremonies on the property,” the FAQ state, noting that college and state officials are working with student groups to be sure access is maintained.

No Native American burial sites have been confirmed at the Old Fort, according to the FAQ, but as the FAQ state: “unmarked graves are possible.”

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Food was provided for meals cooked on outdoor grills by members of the Buffalo Council and others who attended a three-day conference and ceremony at Fort Lewis College.

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Russell Means, longtime activist for Indian rights, attended a Buffalo Harvest ceremony at Fort Lewis College, where he was a key speaker and adviser to students of the Buffalo Council and others.

Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

As news of his walking on spreads across Indian country, we’ve taken the time to look back at Russell Means’ storied life. He passed at 4:44 a.m. on October 22 at his home in Porcupine, South Dakota.

Means laughed in response to being called the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse by the Los Angeles Times. Last year he told the Rapid City Journal: “I thought Jim Thorpe was,” he said with a grin. “Jim Thorpe was my hero.”

November 10, 1939

Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

1942

Family moved to the San Francisco Bay area.

1958

Graduated from San Leandro High School in San Leandro, California.

1970

Became the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Participated in a prayer vigil on top of Mount Rushmore to, as the New York Times put it, “dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land.”

Helped lead AIM’s Thanksgiving Day demonstration at Plymouth Rock where 200 American Indians seized the Mayflower, painted Plymouth Rock red and observed a day of mourning.

1972

Participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties from California to Washington, D.C. (AIM was one of eight Indian organizations involved). Led the week-long occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to protest broken treaties.

Filed a $9 million lawsuit, as director of the Cleveland AIM chapter, against the Cleveland Indians baseball team for its use of “Chief Wahoo,” its toothy Indian mascot. “It epitomizes the stereotyped images of the American Indian,” Means said. “It attacks the cultural heritage of the American Indian and destroys Indian pride.”

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Russell Means, AIM leader on the Pine Ridge Reservation, left, tells villagers on March 7, 1973 in Wounded Knee that they must continue their fight against the government until their demands are met. At right is Dennis Banks another AIM Leader. (AP Photo)

February 27, 1973

Was a leader of the armed 71-day standoff at Wounded Knee against federal agents. Thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Means and Dennis Banks, another protest leader, were charged with assault larceny and conspiracy.

1974

Case against Means from the Wounded Knee standoff dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct.

Clash between police and Indian activists outside a Rapid City, South Dakota courthouse.

Republic of Lakotah released its Declaration of Continuing Independence by the Frist International Indian Treaty Council.

1975

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash is murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an act that was connected to AIM. Authorities believe three AIM members shot and killed Aquash because she was an FBI informant.

Murder charges are filed against Means and Richard Marshall, an AIM member, for the shooting death of Martin Montileaux at the Longbranch Saloon in Scenic, South Dakota. Means was acquitted, but Marshall served 24 years in prison.

Means shot in the abdomen during a tussle with an Indian Affairs officer in North Dakota.

In another incident, a bullet grazed his forehead while he was on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota in what Means called a drive-by assassination attempt. He received 12 stitches to close the wound.

1976

Survived another assassination attempt in South Dakota when he was shot in the chest.

Led a caravan of 500 Sioux and Cheyenne during the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana.

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Native American leader Russel Means and actor Marlon Brando appear on NBC's Today Show in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, July 18, 1978. Brando is a supporter of political rights of American Indians. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

1978

Participated in the “longest walk” when American Indians walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., which was the largest, single-day peaceful protest up to that time. The demonstration blocked all anti-Indian legislation in Congress.

1979

Served one year in prison following the riot at the Rapid City courthouse. He was stabbed by another inmate while serving his time.

1980

Gave “For America to Live, Europe Must Die!” speech at Black Hills International Survival Gathering.

“You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society,” he says during the speech. “You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.

1983

The $9 million lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians baseball club for its Chief Wahoo mascot was settled out of court for $35,000 and is later widely criticized.

1984

Served as a vice presidential candidate joining Larry Flint in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.

1987

Ran for president. Means campaigned for the Libertarian Party nomination but lost it to Ron Paul, a former and future Congressman from Texas.

1988

Announced his retirement from AIM.

1992

Began his acting career by playing Chingachgook in “Last of the Mohicans.”

With the Colorado chapter of AIM, stopped the Columbus Day parade in Denver, which was meant to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America.

1993

Hosted HBO documentary “Paha Sapa.”

1994

Appeared in “Natural Born Killers” as the “Old Indian.”

1995

His autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread was released with writing help from Marvin J. Wolf.

Here are a couple of passes from the memoir:

“For millennia, we Indians lived as part of the earth. We were part of the prairies and the forests and the mountains. We knew every blade of grass, every plant, every tree. We knew the winds and the clouds, the rivers and the lakes. We knew every one of the creatures that fly and crawl and burrow and run and swim—all our relatives with whom we share this earth. We are part of the earth, but not the most important part.”

“Sadly, the white man equates happiness with the pleasing of his senses. My Uncle Matthew King used to shake his head and say, ‘The white man is like a little child; you have to be patient with him.’ But Grandmother Earth is running out of patience. What Eurocentric societies have done to indigenous peoples all over the world they are now doing to themselves— poisoning the land and air and water, abusing one another as they abuse our sacred Grandmother. We are approaching the abyss of species suicide.”

Provided voice talent as Powhatan in Disney’s animated film “Pocahontas.”

Starred as Sitting Bull in the CBS mini-series “Buffalo Girls.”

1997

Charged with threatening, and battery against Leon Grant, his Omaha father-in-law, and battery against Jeremiah Bitsui, a Navajo. Means pleads not guilty to these charges.

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American Indian activist Russell Means, center, is arrested in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on Saturday, July 3, 1999. Means and eight other American Indians were arrested for crossing the police line after marching from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to Whiteclay. The march was held protesting treaty violations, the unsolved murder of two Sioux men and the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

1999

Held a press conference regarding the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. He says, “The reason I called for this press conference for my participation is to tell the world, about the leadership of the American Indian Movement at that time, was well aware of what happened to Anna Mae, and two of the leaders ordered her death. Vernon Bellecourt made the phone call to the house on Rosebud, which… [Means gets emotional]… is my brother’s house…  and Clyde Bellecourt took the call from Vernon and then issued the order for her death, for her murder, in 1974 and 1975.”

“If AIM is the perpetrator of this grisly murder, in collusion with the FBI, then I want it brought out…”

2000

Arrested in Denver, Colorado while protesting the Columbus Day parade.

2002

Campaigned to become governor of New Mexico but was barred from the ballot.

2004

Vernon Bellecourt denies allegations of involvement in Anna Mae Aquash’s murder.

Ran for the office of president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe but was beaten by Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman to be elected to that position.

2004

Arlo Looking Cloud is convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Aquash.

2007

Republic of Lakotah withdraws from the United States to become a free and independent country.

2010

John Graham was convicted of felony murder for his role in the shooting death of Aquash.

2011

Means is diagnosed with esophageal, or throat cancer and turns to indigenous medicines and spiritual healing ceremonies.

August 14, 2012

Made his last video post to his YouTube page. He titled the video “Clouds.” Watch it here:

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Breaking News: Russell Means Walks On

The Russell Means I Knew

Russell Means was not only a visionary, he was also keeper of memories. Russell was both an orator and a man of action. Inspired by a legacy of strength, Russell was one who walked his talk and inspired others to follow his example.

Many words have been written and spoken about his highly publicized leadership roles during the Red Power era. This is important but just as significant were the little- known or unheralded actions Russell did to support Indigenous Peoples.

Russell was one of a very small group of leaders who responded to many calls from Indigenous Peoples and arrived to help out in whichever way he could. From personal experience, I’ve witnessed Russell travel at his own expense to support a cause even when it was not something that he had a personal stake in. The compelling reason was often that a small group of Natives were attempting to stand up to some injustice and decided to reach out to Russell.

Russell was often described as figure of publicity but I’ve seen him avoid the spotlight in many public gatherings and rallies. At other times, organizers would have to encourage him to take a turn on the microphone or suggest that he share words of inspiration with those on hand. When news cameras were on hand, Russell wouldn’t hesitate to do an interview and call out the local media if they had an anti-NDN bias in their reporting. His concern was not with being a media NDN darling but giving NDNs a voice in the media.

Another trait of Russell’s that I witnessed was that he led from the front and took the same risks as anyone else. Whether that meant going to jail, standing vigil in uncomfortable weather or carrying out tasks while exhausted, Russell Means wasn’t one to skip out on us. Many times we’d complete a rally and Russell would jump in his van to travel to a different state so he could fulfill another request for his support. A friend and I had discussion about this and we agreed that Russell was someone we could depend on while many young NDN men we knew who spoke loudly about supporting Native Peoples always seemed to have good excuses for never showing up for anything.

Russell was also someone who was willing to share a needed perspective for young people. He often spoke to small groups of Native youth about what motivated and inspired him. I’ve listened to Russell share lesson’s from his personal history about the early AIM days up to the present and what he’s learned from that. Often those lessons had to do with perseverance, sacrifice and compassion.

Several years ago I was struggling with how one overcomes anger and hatred when violence is inflicted on them for seeking justice for Indigenous Peoples. It was a period when many Native friends were the victims of police brutality and they were wondering if the pain was worth it.

Russell was visiting in town so I sought him out and had a discussion with him. I related that many of my friends were questioning their choices — choices that brought public attacks from other NDNs for some, physical violence for others and for all, an overall sense of personal setbacks bordering on humiliation.

After listening and thinking about it for a bit this is what he said: “The way I’ve seen it is that every injury I took, every sacrifice I made and every personal cost I paid has been done on behalf of our people and ancestors. So I take these things as a badge of honor and they are things that I am proud of.”

He continued on with giving advice about how I could help out those who were going through tough times. He drew on his first hand experience and shared stories of his younger years. As we sat there I realized how much of an honor it was to know this man: Russell Means, Oglala and Indigenous Patriot.

Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at rckiowa@gmail.com and twitter.com/rckiowa. He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO. He is also co-authoring a forthcoming book with Gyasi Ross appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is www.cutbankcreekpress.com.

Russell Means Begins His Final Journey as Family and Supporters Gather for First of Four Memorials

Russell Means is making his final journey on the Oglala Lakota territory beginning today. He was led by a riderless horse and the traditional Bigfoot Riders to his memorial service at Little Wound High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The death of the renowned Oglala Sioux leader has inspired his vast web of relations and friends—stretching back decades—to gather in the community of Kyle, South Dakota for the first of four traditional honoring ceremonies.

Remembered as an “Oglala Lakota patriot and freedom fighter,” according to an invitation from Means’ family, the former American Indian Movement (AIM) leader passed away early Monday morning at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota. He was 72.

The ceremony today was led by Sundance Chief Leonard Crow Dog, considered AIM’s spiritual leader, who told Indian Country Today Media Network that he’d known Means since 1959, and was with him at his passing.

“We were there with Chief Russell Means all the way,” Crow Dog said. “I was there, in the Oglala country, on his beautiful ranch. He’s a leader of all tribes—a spiritual leader—and a warrior. He was not originally a warrior, but all the injustice that happened to the American Indians and Canadian Indians—the system made him into a warrior just like Crazy Horse.”

The sweet smells of burning sage, sweetgrass and cedar—sacred medicines used for spiritual cleansing and healing—wafted through the gymnasium of the school as Means’ friends, family, and his wife, Pearl Means, prayed and shared stories from his life. The 12-hour ceremony began at 10 a.m., with community members lining up outside the school entrance, dampened by a gentle rain.

“We have dignitaries coming in from all over—various tribal leaders from different nations, and friends,” Natalie Hand, Mean’s sister-in-law, told ICTMN before the ceremony. “We expect a large crowd—he made a huge, huge inroads into freedom for Native people around the world. That was his whole mission in life—to be free. One of his favorite quotes was, ‘The first thing about freedom is you’re free to be responsible.’ He encouraged young people to embrace that; he was a huge voice.”

Crow Dog reflected upon the truth of Means’ Lakota name, Oyate Wacinyapi, which means “worked for the people.”

“Yep, he worked for the people,” Crow Dog said. “And he didn’t write a manifesto proposal and get paid. He worked for the people as a spiritual leader of the Indian tribes, as a chief. [He] moved to protect the unborn, the elders and the relations. That’s what Russell Means—the beautiful leader that he is—emphasized to our tribes in the Western Hemisphere.”

Smudging, drumming and songs provided a communal ceremony for the leader’s supporters to pray for him. Crow Dog said Means’ soul will travel over four days to the spirit realm, known in Lakota tradition as Happy Hunting Grounds.

“It’s about keeping the soul and releasing the soul to Happy Hunting Grounds,” Crow Dog explained. “It’s all in a ceremonial mood, with cedar, sweetgrass, sage and an eagle wing. It’s all medicine—the way of life. Somebody will talk about his story. There’s a lot of tribes involved.”

Happy Hunting Grounds is an afterlife marked by forgiveness, in which one is reunited with the ancestors of one’s nation and family, Crow Dog said.

“Four days from now, he will enter [it] to see all the chiefs in his band, and all the families, all the relations, all the stillborn that went to Happy Hunting Grounds,” Crow Dog said. “He will see them in the Spirit World… Happy Hunting Grounds has never been disturbed by any corporations in the United States, Canada, South America or anywhere. Spiritually, we understand that power.”

Community members brought gifts of food for the honoring ceremony, as well as star quilts and blankets.

“Prayers were offered outside with a drum and honor songs, then he was escorted in with his wife, Pearl and all his children and grandchildren,” Hand said. “The ceremony will go on into the night. After that, his family and close relatives among the Oglalas will be carrying his ashes up to the Black Hills and scattering his ashes at Yellow Thunder Camp.”

Yellow Thunder Camp, located in Victoria Creek Canyon outside of Rapid City, was the site of a 1981 land reclamation and protest, with which Means was involved.

Today’s ceremony will be followed by three more honoring ceremonies. The second is planned at the Wounded Knee 1973 Occupation Memorial in February 2013, followed by a third at Wind Cave State Park, in South Dakota in June 2013 and the final one on Means’ birthday, on November 10, 2013. The location for the final honoring ceremony has not been determined yet.

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Family and friends of Russell Means sing as they ride horses down the Big Foot Trail during the honoring service procession for Means in Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Wednesday, October 24. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Aaron Rosenblatt)

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Mourners gather to honor American Indian Movement activist Russell Means inside the gymnasium at Little Wound High School in Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Aaron Rosenblatt)

Related article:

Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

Indian Country Reacts to Russell Means Passing

Indian Country Reacts to Russell Means Passing

As his life is honored in Kyle, South Dakota today, many across Indian country have reacted to the passing of self-described “Oglala Freedom Fighter” Russell Means, who began his journey to the spirit world on October 22, 2012 at 4:44 a.m.

His tribe, the Oglala Sioux, have passed a proclamation declaring June 26 as Russell Means Day.

“It is our belief that Russell Means should be honored as a respected elder for his life-long accomplishments, dedication, and patriotism to the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” said John W. Yellow Bird Steele, the tribe’s president in the proclamation.

Here’s what others had to say:

Larry Flynt, president of Larry Flynt Publications

“Russell was a good friend and my running mate in the 1984 presidential election. He was a loyal American who history will look favorably on.”

Michael Mann, director of “Last of the Mohicans”

The Wall Street Journal did an interview with Mann and asked him: What were your thoughts when you found out he had passed away?

“Well, I knew it was coming about a week ago. Because there had been an email exchange with his wife. He wanted to get back and die at Pine Ridge…First of all he was way too young. 72 is young. Way too young to pass away,” Mann told the Journal. “He’s an iconic person. He’s lived through so much…What this guy stood for, the courage he had, and who they took on, in the 60, 70s and 80s—[American Indian activist Leonard] Peltier is still in prison. It’s a struggle that’s 400 years old. And Russell was fighting that battle every day of his life.”

Read the full interview here.

Robert Chanate, a member of the Kiowa Nation

Says Means “led from the front and took the same risks as anyone else. Whether that meant going to jail, standing vigil in uncomfortable weather or carrying out tasks while exhausted, Russell Means wasn’t one to skip out on us. Many times we’d complete a rally and Russell would jump in his van to travel to a different state so he could fulfill another request for his support.”

Chanate knew Means and talks about his experiences with him here.

Carter Camp, early American Indian Movement leader from Ponca Nation, Oklahoma

“Sorry to hear my brother Russ Means has left us today. I’m seeing all these pictures on FB and remembering our times of struggle. We fought for our people when their hearts were on the ground and we made the oppressor listen to us. We called back the drum and the fire and used them to restore the pride of our nations. Russ earned his place in the circle by standing fast as a warrior and taking the lead when he was called by the spirits of our ancestors. Russ Means was his own man and did things his way.

“Many words will be written about a warriors passing and many of us will stop to remember our times together… good times, hard times, times of sacrifice and times of feasting and plenty. Early tomorrow morning warriors will take their Pipes to face the rising Sun and there we’ll pray for our brothers journey to the spirit world where he’ll join the pantheon of Oglala warriors who made their people proud. Rest well my friend you deserve it all. Hoka-hey!”

(Posted to Facebook on October 22)

Leonard Crow Dog, Sicangu Lakota Sundance Chief and former American Indian Movement spiritual leader

“He’s a leader of all tribes—a spiritual leader—and a warrior. He was not originally a warrior, but all the injustice that happened to the American Indians and Canadian Indians—the system made him into a warrior just like Crazy Horse… He worked for the people.”

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians

Keel announced Means’ passing during the opening session of the organization’s annual conference held this year in Sacramento, California.

“This morning we heard the sad news that Russell Means passed away. Russell Means was a symbol of the strength of Native America. He was recognized as a national leader with fearless dedication and an indestructible sense of pride. He was a political activist who survived nine assassination attempts on his life. He lost his life to cancer.”

Glenn Morris, of the American Indian Movement of Colorado

“In recognition of one of the primary, visionary leaders in beginning the contemporary work of international indigenous peoples’ liberation, of which we are all beneficiaries. Without Russell, it is doubtful that many of us who do this work would have had the honor of continuing to defend our peoples in this way. Indigenous leaders, ranging from Rigoberta Menchu Tum, to Subcomandante Marcos to Evo Morales, have said that their work was inspired and motivated by the words, actions and example of Russell Means. May we all remember the historic contributions of Russell Means to the freedom and self-determination of all indigenous peoples, everywhere.”

Leonard Peltier, from a statement on his website

“One thing about Russell I always remembered, and I think someone else once said it, you may have loved him or you may have disliked him, but you couldn’t ignore him… He was truly an inspiration for all us younger guys at the time.”

Read the full statement here.

Last Real Indians tribute to Russell Means

Click here to view the embedded video.

Related article:

Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

Russell Means Farewell: Son Cradles His Father on Final Journey

This moving image from yesterday’s honoring ceremony for Russell Means shows one of his sons, Tatanka Means, carrying his father’s urn into the Little Wound High School in Kyle, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The 12-hour service was attended by more than 1,000 family members, friends and supporters. The ceremony was led by Sundance Chief Leonard Crow Dog, who was with Means when he walked on. He said Means’ soul would travel over four days to to the spirit realm, known in Lakota tradition as Happy Hunting Grounds.

“Four days from now [October 24], he will enter [it] to see all the chiefs in his band, and all the families, all the relations, all the stillborn that went to Happy Hunting Grounds,” Crow Dog said. “He will see them in the Spirit World… Happy Hunting Grounds has never been disturbed by any corporations in the United States, Canada, South America or anywhere. Spiritually, we understand that power.”

Yesterday’s service was just the first of four that are scheduled to honor Means. The second ceremony will be held at the Wounded Knee 1973 Occupation Memorial in February 2013, followed by a third at Wind Cave State Park, in South Dakota in June 2013 and the final one on Means’ birthday, on November 10, 2013. The location for the final honoring ceremony has not been determined yet.

To see more images from the memorial service, visit RapidCityJournal.com.

Related article:

Russell Means Begins His Final Journey as Family and Supporters Gather for First of Four Memorials

My Brief Encounter With Russell Means

I was a reporter with an NBC news station in New Mexico in the winter of 2003. The morning newspaper I was reading reported that Russell Means was going to speak to students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado that afternoon in a presentation. The college was 70 miles away, north of Farmington, New Mexico. I had just enough time to drive there, get a quick interview and race back to the station for our evening newscast. Being that Fort Lewis College has a large number of Native American students from around the country, I knew it would be an interesting story to cover.

The plan was to attend the speech, get some feedback from the audience and get a quick interview with Means. Simple enough, right? Well, weather in Colorado that day was not in my favor. After driving on slick, icy roads, and following backed up traffic from a trailer tractor driving slow, I had missed Means’s speech.

However, I found some people in the still-packed auditorium who said he had “just left the building.” They were beyond star-struck with meeting him and talking to him. I ran through the building and despite slush and ice on the sidewalk, I spotted Means walking—alone—across the campus toward the parking lot under a Colorado gray sky. It was cold and I was out of breath as I caught up to him.

“Mr. Means, Mr. Means! Hi, wait, please hold on, just a moment of your time. Please. May I interview you real quick? I’d like to share with our viewers what you said today to these college students and what you enjoy most about speaking with students in college.”

I was carrying about 40 pounds of video equipment, a tripod and microphone. It was so cold, my breath was making clouds.

Means kept walking and despite my catching up with him, he still kept his pace. He slightly glanced briefly to look at the equipment and finally stopped.

To be able to interview Means was something I wanted to do for many reasons.

I read his book Where White Men Fear to Tread and admired him for his courage and intelligence concerning Native American issues. Additionally, I admired his leadership, admission of falling short on personal and private events, historical insight and his well-researched opinions regarding Native American responsibilities to self-reliance and justice.

Despite Means being a highly controversial public figure and sometimes militant in his actions, he was a person I had always wanted to interview. Every reporter has a list of the top 20 people they’d like to interview, and for me, Means was one of those.

Yet, that day, I had mistakenly believed he would agree to an interview and was promptly, abruptly rebuffed and it was done so with succinct precision. For this is exactly what he said:

“Anything I wanted to say, needed to say or had to say,” he said, gesturing toward the auditorium in which he’d just spoken, “I said the them (the students). Now go away…don’t bother me.”

Means quickly walked off and I can see him now as he made his way across the campus, down the hill toward the park lot and—I kid you not—it started sleeting.

I stood there watching him. And I was smiling very wide. I was just told off by Russell Means. I was told to get lost and saw firsthand how serious Means could be.

When I told my news director what happened later that day, he scoffed at the rudeness of it all, and I explained it was not rude at all. If one does not want to be interviewed, one can say so. Yes, I was defending Means’s right to not bend to media coverage of what he shared with college students, but it was more than that.

I saw the intense, piercing dark eyes get very serious about the media infringing on his right to not be bothered.

A couple of years later, I covered another news story on a film called Black Cloud, which featured Means. The premiere was held in Scottsdale and dozens of media outlets from TV, newspaper, radio, and Internet were all out in full force to cover the event.

Many Hollywood celebrities were there and Means came down the red carpet with his beautiful wife, Pearl, speaking to the media and was charming and happy. Later that night, after the film premiered, some of the media were invited to the private party in a fancy Scottsdale nightclub. I remember it was understood that we were not to bother the “stars.”

I went for a little while to observe. What I remembered most was how everyone was so elated and really enjoyed themselves. A moment came during the party where the DJ put on the theme song from the film by singer Pat Green titled Wave on Wave. I watched as Means carefully took his wife to the dance floor and they danced alone on the dance floor for a while to this song—smiling only to each other. Others joined them after a few minutes of being alone on the dance floor where they looked so happy.

It was very touching and insightful because—once again—one saw another facet of an incredible complex, humble, passionate, intriguing and romantic Oglala Sioux man.

And while I never got to interview him, I did get to briefly—sort of—meet him and observe some special moments in his long and prosperous life. Today, I join Native America and others around the globe—with whom we share Mother Earth—as we say our final goodbye and keep the family, friends and Oglala Sioux Nation in our thoughts and prayers. Yes, mitaku oyasin. (We are all related).

Valarie Tom is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and is an awarding-winning journalist for her work in magazine, print and television. Tom has taught in college and currently teaches mass communications in high school in Phoenix, where she resides.