Health | National

Native Sun News: Russell Means claims victory over cancer

The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy. All content © Native Sun News.

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA -- In a remarkable turn of events, actor and American Indian activist Russell Means says he has defeated throat cancer.

This reversal of fortune is nothing short of a miracle. Means was diagnosed this summer with what was then essentially referred to as incurable, or inoperable, esophageal cancer. His physician gave him mere days to live at the time, he said. “The prognosis was grim,” Means told Tom Lawrence of the Mitchell Daily.

In a Dec. 8 telephone interview from his seasonal home in Scottsdale, Means spoke in a clear, robust voice – a stark contrast to his last Native Sun News interview in August, when his tones were made fragile and husky by the disease.

“I won the battle, man – I’m cancer-free,” he declared victoriously. “The doctor told me the day before yesterday that ‘Mr. Means, you will not die of cancer’.”

The triumph in Means’ voice was unmistakable.

Means, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, partially attributes his amazing recovery to the outpouring of support – in the form of supplication – from all of the multifaceted corners of the globe.

“I beat it with prayer – prayer from all over the world from all the different disciplines,” he said.

“And Indian prayer,” Means added. “Indian prayer and Indian medicine,” he said, in referencing his primary spiritual and cultural connection to his Lakota brethren.

Many of his fellow Lakota compatriots hail from the Pine Ridge Reservation, where his hometown of Porcupine is located as well. Many of his political enemies stepped forward to voice their concerns at his illness and many of them prayed for his recovery.

The victory has come at a cost, however: Means’ now-former affliction, with its radiation treatment therapy, has ravaged him since July, stripping his 6-foot-1 frame and causing his weight to drop to 164 pounds.

Additionally, the throat cancer diagnosis unsettled him as he has been a non-smoker for the last 25 years.

“And I wasn’t a heavy smoker,” Means said. “It’s a huge mystery.”

Means, who celebrated his 72nd birthday last month, has overcome the mystery.

For the time being, Means is tending to his career.

“I’ve got a lot of business meetings and stuff like that I’ve got to take care of that I haven’t been able to do since I’ve been under this cancer fight,” he said.

Means is also continuing his mission to establish a fully operational Lakota immersion school for the children of the Pine Ridge Reservation at his ranch near Porcupine.

“I am working on funding for the school but that won’t probably take place until next year, later in 2012,” he said.

He said he has plans to return to South Dakota in January. There is nothing definite in the works, however, as far as any political plans are concerned, he said. However, if he is healthy enough to run for the OST presidency again, it could set the politics of Pine Ridge on its head.

The man who is perhaps best-known for his instrumental and pivotal role in the electrifying early-1970s phase of the historically ongoing American Indian civil rights movement as a member of the famed American Indian Movement is now once again looking forward to a bright future.

In reflecting on his myriad of accomplishments, Means said, “I have zero regrets in my life. I am very proud of what I have managed to produce in my life.”

Love him or hate him, Russell Means is here to stay.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

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