Charles Trimble: Two Oglala Sioux men earn places in history

News of Russell Means’ terminal cancer catches me totally unprepared. He’s one of those people I expected to live forever. Certainly, his name will live on in the annals of modern Indian history; he has made sure of that by his words and actions, noble and otherwise.

His attitude toward his imminent demise is vintage Rus Means; i.e. it’s a damn white man’s disease that he’s suffering, and he’s not going to employ white man’s medicine, but take it on bare-handed with the help of Lakota medicine, or face death with a bold Lakota spirit.

I find it admirable, really.

I’ve known Rus from his early days of activism, and have always had an appreciation of him and a good affection for him. We’ve always been glad to see each other when we’d meet, usually when we were both speaking at the same event.

Several years ago at Pine Ridge we were both to speak at the inauguration of the tribal president. When I saw him, I gave him a big abbrazo (a hug with a macho flair), and he was aghast, “What the hell you trying to do, Chuck, ruin my reputation?” I didn’t quite know if he was talking about the manly abbrazo or me being so establishment as the cause for his embarrassment.

Rus was an early member on the Board of Directors of the fledgling American Indian Press Association back in1970. He represented The Cleveland Crier, the house organ of the Cleveland Indian Center, from which Rus waged war through the 1960s on the Cleveland Indians baseball team and its mascot Chief Knockahoma. He was the first person I know of to campaign against the use of Native Americans as athletic team mascots.

Rus had a long running battle with Tim Giago, publisher of the anti-AIM Lakota Times – not fisticuffs, mind you, but rhetoric, oral and printed, and often comical to the tuned-in observers. I had written an earlier column on the possibility of them being in cahoots in a symbiotic relationship to keep each other in the limelight. In an underground journal called Lakota TIM* published out of Pine Ridge in the 1990s, a piece was written about latent reborn Indian heroes returning to Indian homelands.

The following article speculated that Giago and Means were one and the same person. Below are excerpts from that journal:
“We Lakotas have had our share of messiahs over the years – two notable second-comings in recent times. The most notable, of course, was the return of Russell Means. Back in the 1960s, when he was planning his triumphal reentry into Indian country, he informed the assembled media in a Cleveland press conference that his real name was Russell Means War. Then he returned home where he kept South Dakota in a virtual state of siege for decades.

“Finally, we had the return of Tim Giago from out West, where he had been hanging out until he learned about the fame and fortune that could be garnered in Indian affairs. Giago decided to make his notoriety and fortune in the newspaper business, and assumed the nom de guerre ‘Nanwica Kciji,’ which he translates as ‘Defender of the People.’

“Our Lakota TIM* staff talked about the many characteristics these latter day messiahs seem to have in common and the idea hit us: what if Russell Means and Tim Giago are one and the same person. After all, none of us had ever seen the two of them together, although that fact was attributed more to Giago’s habit of never showing up at an event if he suspects someone he’s antagonized in his newspaper might be there.

“Then someone pointed out that Means is taller than Giago, but we figured that if Means would skoonch in his neck to where it appeared he doesn’t have one, then he and Giago would be about the same height and posture. So we had our staff artist remove the braids and scars from a mug shot of Means. Then we had him shorten the neck, paint in long curly hair and a mustache, and a big black cowboy hat and rose tinted glasses.

“Voila! There he was, Tim Giago himself.

“But we were still skeptical when someone pointed out that they couldn’t be the same person because Giago hates Means so much. After all, it is true that when he isn’t reviling Catholics or lambasting other newspapers that decline to carry his column, Giago is often scurrilizing Means something awful.

“We decided to check out our theory with an expert, so we piled into the Lakota TIM* one-eyed Ford staff car and went to see a professor in the School of Psychology and Taxidermy over at Oglala Lakota College.

“The professor listened to our theory, then told us that it sounded like a form of schizophrenia in which an afflicted person creates a whole new persona, with different personality, philosophy, speech, attire, everything. But, according to the prof, there are always traits that will stick with both personalities; look for those.

“Keeping in mind what the professor told us, we researched this further. We discovered that back in the 1970s Giago wrote a poem titled ‘Rus,’ which he had published on large slick posters and illustrated in full color. The poem was a rather syrupy ode to a modern day Indian Robin Hood. It was that poem, we surmised, that marked the genesis of Giago’s alter ego. In the beginning Rus was Giago’s hero fantasy, and then became his arch enemy after Tim became jealous of his alter ego’s growing notoriety.

“Researching our morgue files of Giago’s weekly columns over the past several years, we found a remarkable similarity in his writing style and Means’ oratorical style. One passage especially caught our attention: In a recent column, Giago was bemoaning the great price he has to pay for his courageous editorial stands, the greatest price being the fact that so many people don’t like him. Then he ended his diatribe with this bombast: ‘Ho, hecetu welo! Nanwica Kciji Miyelo,’ which translates roughly, ‘So be it! I am defender!’ “Now, just close your eyes, lower your voice to a grunt, and slowly say those words, ‘So be it, I AM DEFENDER!’

”Don’t you see in your mind’s eye Russell Means in the midst of eager reporters, pencils and microphones at the ready, lights blazing and cameras clicking?

“’So be it. I AM DEFENDER!’

“That does it! There can be no doubt about it! Tim Giago and Russell Means are one and the same person!”

Post Script: This is not meant to demean Tim Giago or Russell Means or their accomplishments. But it does illustrate what it takes to achieve note or notoriety and a place in history.

Unless you are fortunate enough to die a martyr for the cause, or to actually save a nation with long hours of work, you have to have great self-confidence and a super ego, both of which Giago and Means have in spades. And both will be recognized in history, and thus both will have earned their place in history.

Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.

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