Indian rights activist Russell Means dies at 72


October 22nd, 2012

Omaha, NE – Indian rights activist Russell Means has died. Means was an Oglala Sioux tribal member who led the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and was a vocal protester of alcohol sales in Whiteclay, Neb.

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Means was a charismatic figure who became a household name in the 1970s when he staged a series of dramatic protests that garnered national attention.

Russell Means led the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, and was a vocal activist against alcohol sales in Whiteclay, Neb. (Courtesy photo)

In 1970, he led a prayer vigil atop Mount Rushmore staking claim on Black Hills land for the Lakota people. And in 1973, he led hundreds in an occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. That protest led to a lengthy stand-off with federal agents, and Means was later charged with conspiracy. But he stood by his message. In a 1995 interview with AP Radio, he was asked what the occupation gained for his people. “Self dignity and self pride,” he said. “It was a tremendous effect, and politically, it alerted the world that we were not all killed by John Wayne, and that we were still resisting, struggling for self-determination.”

Means also led protests against the sale of alcohol on the border of the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he was born and owned a ranch. Means was arrested, along with nine others, in the border town of Whiteclay, Neb. in 1999 after leading a protest of about 150 people. He continued to protest alcohol sales in Whiteclay late into his life. In 2008, he accused Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning of racial bias in Nebraska’s legal system, which Bruning denied. Means had several run-ins with the law, and survived gunshots, stabbings and barroom brawls. He also ran for President under the Libertarian Party and sought an independent nomination for Governor of New Mexico.

Means was also well-known for his movie career. He appeared in numerous films including most famously The Last of the Mohicans. Means told AP Radio he was proud to star in roles that portrayed Indians in a positive light. “It was revolutionary,” he said of Mohicans. “It showed Indian people integrating with Europeans and that the safest place for an American family was on the frontier. It dispelled that whole pioneer myth. I loved that.”

Means was 72 years old. He died of cancer at his home in Porcupine, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Some material for this story was provided by The Associated Press.


Battling Alcoholism in Whiteclay

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2 Responses

  1. Hey, your article states that Means was an opponent to sales of alcohol at Whiteclay. That’s not correct; Means stung the Sioux people when he actually announced his own plan to JOIN in alcohol sales in Whiteclay. His explanation? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” See: (Don’t let the April 1 byline confuse you; it’s not a satirical piece)

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your comment, Matt. Just to provide some background on why we included that in the story: Russell Means was arrested twice for protesting alcohol sales in Whiteclay, once in 1999 and again in 2007.

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