Russell Means is dying, according to three independent sources, only one of which is a hoot & holler internet site. The other sources are personal, earthy, and real, from different parts of the country, including the Dakotas.
No, you won’t find any news about his failing health, nor the nature of his maladies, anywhere in the news. But is all over Indian Country, by word of mouth only. That’s because it is real Indian news, for real Indians, I suppose.
Russell Means, b. 1939. He is
now 72. His mother was a
full-blood Yankton Sioux.
Word on the rez is very bad. They say he’s down to less than 100 pounds, and that his skin color has turned atrabilious, as in atra bilis (black bile). I had heard, too, that there were sores in his mouth and throat, and I know for a fact that he cannot do interviews at this time. Various medicine men, Sioux and Dine (Navajo in-laws) have prayed for him, and done their ceremonies for him. I know special considerations have been made, with the use of special implements, drums, etc.
What is curious and the distinct is the fact that this lethal condition–of a famous Indian activist–has been kept almost completely quiet. Why would that be? Every man has the right to die privately, of course. Every family has the right to manage the death process in its own way. It just seems ironic, or especially difficult, that there is no official word. It is all word of mouth, and that form of communication, in Indian Country, is known for its ‘imaginary’ nature. Either Means and family are content to allow the Indian Country word to take its course, or they simply do not wish to be involved. The other possibility is that they believe he will recover, and that any such news of his death is premature, ill-advised, or simply mistaken altogether.
Perhaps it is so. Perhaps Russell Means will recover.
Russell Means, one of the original American Indian Movement leaders, one of the first professional protesters among American Indians, is distinguished from most of them today, in that he has always had an open mind. He has always been willing to try new ways to bring improvement to the Sioux people, and to all Indian people in America. He tried the Libertarian Party. He supported Republican John Thune for Congress (then turned around and sued him for betraying his office). He created a new constitution for the Oglala Sioux (2005). He started an total immersion Indian school on Pine Ridge. Russell’s notoriety enabled always enabled him to advocate what he thought were the best solutions to Indian problems.
I first encountered him in 2001, on Hannity & Colmes. He took the position of condemning Indian mascots, while I praised the mascots as representing bravery and courage, the warrior image–one of the few positive images Indians have yet today. I honestly disagreed with him, yet, I can still admire his efforts and intents in the cause of improving Indian life. We have different views of the white race, of course. He believes the white race is responsible for the condition that Indians are in today. I don’t argue with that, but I simply envision different attitudes and solutions–to be generated within Indians ourselves. My approach is not based on blame.
Means has always been a creative thinker. I hope he lives–and devises yet new ideas for Indian Country. I am greatly saddened by the word of his passing point.
There are other details about his lifestyle and health which are perhaps not demonstrable as his ideas. Indiscriminate sexual practice is rampant in many conclaves of Indian Country. Venereal diseases, and their effects on young and old, are ubiquitous. There is no doubt about their role in the life of many leaders. The word in Sioux country does not distinguish Means from this lifestyle. I’ve been told some of this is even on record. There have been such systemic indiscretions from the early days in Indian history. Young children (especially girls) were traded for various luxuries like a bottle of whiskey, a pouch of tobacco, or a bag of flour.
Many Indians feel more Indian, or feel that they are maintaining their indianness more fully, if they refuse involvement with the white man’s religion. Sometimes they’ll act friendly or bonded to other world religions, just to spite Christianity. “I’m a recovering Christian,” I heard a Sioux woman say once, at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. There are a thousand reasons to reject Christianity, but, being Indian is certainly not singular.
I personally believe that the moral principles of the Bible, the Judeo-Christian tradition, bring about the better health of any people who practice them. All Indians believe in a Creator. Have we not a right then to appeal to Him for help? If we’re willing to admit that we need help, shall we not bring our suit before the One who alone can do wondrous things for them who trust Him?
But, that’s my thinking. Not every Indian thinks that way. Every Indian wants a better life for Indians, but, as in the case of Russell Means, we don’t all agree on what a better life actually is. For Indians, we know it’s more than material things, or the accoutrements of success in the white world. Yet, we know we’ll never live by hunting the buffalo again, either. It is hard for us to identify exactly what we want. In the mean time, our leaders tend to scoop up all the financial profits they can, and that’s the one thing Russell Means protested from the day he hit the concrete. That’s why he joined the resistance at Wounded Knee in 1973.
I hope Russell Means can be remembered in a positive way. He took the approach of the protester, the discontented, yet, he had many positive, creative ideas. For these, he should be remembered. Let the rancor, the Communist-funded protests, the self-aggrandizing legal suits, the anti-American publicity stunts, all be forgotten. Let his best ideas be remembered, especially something like his new Oglala Dakota Constitution. Let him be remembered for being willing to try different political parties, and most of all, for having an open mind.