"He was a hero. Make no mistake about it. And, his death in late October, is a great loss to America, not just American Indians, he challenged us a to be better people.
In 1973, life was not good on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the reservation from which he came. That is to say, life expectancy was around 44 years of age, the reservation had a murder rate about eight times higher than the most violent American metropolis, and repression reigned. Off the reservation, things were often worse. In 1972, Oglala Raymond Yellow Thunder was beaten and then stripped naked, paraded in the American Legion in Gordon, Nebraska. He was stuffed in a car trunk, and a few days later died of injuries sustained in his beating. South Dakota and Nebraska were perhaps the most racist states in the country, barring perhaps, Mississippi. But that depends on if you were a Native or a black person. People had to stand up to that. Oglala Lakota elders asked for help and American Indians from the Twin Cities, from urban areas or reservations came. Russell Means came. He was one of many. That was the beginning of the American Indian Movement.
The passing of Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means to the Spirit World marked the end of an era, and hopefully, it marks the beginning of a new one. Means was a leader, and an Ogichidaa, one who stood for the people. He joined with hundreds of other Native people in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, a 71 day occupation, which came to symbolize the renaissance of the dignity of Native people. It was a time when a people said, “This is enough.” The Native occupation of our own lands, was met with the largest military force response of the federal government. (According to Pentagon documents uncovered later, the government deployed 17 armored personnel carriers, 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-40 high explosives for grenade launchers as well as helicopters and other aircraft.)"
Get the Story:
Winona LaDuke: Russell Means: A Hero Moves On
(Indian Country Today 10/26)
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