Gyasi Ross: Russell Means was the toughest Indian in the world

"I never met Russell Means. I had the chance to meet him when I was a kid. In fact, I saw him a few times as a youngster, but I was so intimidated by him—he seemed bigger than life—I never actually went to speak to him. I heard a lot of things about him as I grew older; good stuff, bad stuff. However, he was somebody about whom, as Native people, everybody seemed to hold an opinion.

When I heard of his passing, I was sad, just like when you hear about anyone of your heroes passing. I know members of his family, and that made it even more painful; yet, I thought it was appropriate the fashion and time in which he passed—on his own terms, loudly, and with the world taking notice. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that he passed at the exact moment that the National Congress of American Indians’ Annual Conference was convening—Big Brother Means was a throwback, a non-conformist, a fighter. He wanted nothing to do with this current era of conciliatory politics, where some tribal leaders work hand-in-hand and take photo opportunities with the very non-Native elected officials who insidiously work for Native peoples’ demise. Means wanted none of that—work with the U.S. government?? No, he was lightning, and he wanted to burn down the White House as a symbol of American colonialism. Indeed, Means’ approach was to draw a line in the sand and dare someone to cross it. And, in fairness, that exciting and beautiful approach was not always effective—politics have changed, and sometimes those techniques that worked in the past were outdated. Sometimes compromise is necessary nowadays."

Get the Story:
Gyasi Ross: Russell Means, Lightning and Sexiness: The Toughest Indian in the Whole Wide World (Indian Country Today 10/25)

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