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Video: An eloquent oral essay by Russell Means

Video: An eloquent oral essay by Russell Means


For much of his adult life, Russell Means (1939-2012) was merely a name that the public saw listed with other Native American leaders, when there was any controversy associated with the American Indian Movement.  A member of the Lakota Tribe,  he was one of the original founders of the organization.  Means served as president of AIM in the early 1970s.   Even prior to then, Means was increasingly critical of the leadership, because they had fallen into the same old path of greed and corruption, which poisoned many conventional tribal leaders.

Like so many Lakota of his era, he grew up in an unhappy home with a bipolar, alcoholic father.  His petty crimes as a juvenile grew into major crimes and drug dependency.  Means gave credit to his involvement with the American Indian Movement for his escape from that self-destructive lifestyle.

Political career

Means resigned from the presidency of AIM in 1974, to run for principal chief of the Ogala Lakota Tribe.  He lost by only 200 votes . . . and there is plenty of evidence that federal government agents rigged the election to insure that he wouldn’t win.  He became increasingly estranged from both traditional tribal leaders and AIM, after AIM’s top leaders became so corrupt that they ordered the murder of 30 year old Anna Mae Aquash in 1975 . . . after she began a relationship with AIM leader Dennis Banks.  

Beginning in the late 1970s, Means often supported libertarian political causes.  This was in stark contrast with most other AIM leaders, who shunned any involvement with mainstream political activities. . In 1983 he agreed to become running mate with Larry Flynt in his unsuccessful run for U.S. President.  In 1987, Means ran for nomination of President of the United States under the Libertarian Party, and attracted considerable support within the party, finishing 2nd (31.4%) at the 1987 Libertarian National Convention. He lost the nomination to Congressman Ron Paul.  In 2012, shortly before his death from cancer,  Means endorsed Ron Paul’s candidacy for President.

Despite the high profile that he eventually obtained in the national mindset,  Means was never popular among the majority of western Native peoples. Perhaps they were jealous of his financial success, but it was claimed that he had inherited his father’s bipolar personality . . . a dark side, which was overlooked by the national media.  He lost every tribal election he entered.   All the organizations’ that he headed in his life were entities, which he had a major role in creating.  He actually had only a small number of loyal supporters within the Native American community.

Acting career

Those in the know eventually realized that Means was a highly intelligent and eloquent man, who was a “free-thinker,” not a demagogue.  Although he had no training or experience as an actor, in 1991 Means was offered a major role as Chingachgook in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans.  The film became a worldwide blockbuster, but unlike most films from the 1980s and 1990s, has not been forgotten.  It is considered the most popular 1990s film on Youtube. 

Means was kept busy as an actor throughout the 1990s.  A new generation forgot that he had once been a political activist, viewed by President Richard Nixon as a dangerous radical and potential terrorist . . . an enemy of the state.  There was no question about it.  He was a talented actor and a brilliant public speaker.  

Perhaps Means’ popularity in Hollywood got to his head.  Perhaps the more radical views that he began expressing after 1999 were his true beliefs all along.  Whatever the case,  Means became obsessed with the separatist movement, which wanted to make the Lakota a separate sovereign nation, recognized by the US.   Means was totally out of touch with the economic realities of nationhood and he had few supporters by this time.   The Western Plains tribes even jointly adopted a resolution, which condemned his political efforts.  He stayed busy as an actor until his death, but Hollywood stopped giving him major acting roles.  He was typically a lawn ornament . . . the token Injun in the movie, whose name appeared last in the credits. 

This video

This short video was filmed in 1993, when Means was at the peak of his popularity as an actor.  The public around the world was packing the movie theaters to watch The Last of the Mohicans.   When Means spoke on any issue in 1993,  people would listen.

Personally,  I can’t buy Means belief that the earth is a living organism, but who knows?  He also is quite hypocritical.  Most of the Lakota Reservations are some of the trashiest places in the United States.  For Means to present the Lakota as the pure-hearted stewards of Mother Earth and everybody else as the bad buys just does not hold up to reality.  Mennonite and Amish communities are some of the most pristine locales in North America.   Those people are both Caucasian and Christian.

Nevertheless,  this essay by Russell Means is an eloquent call for humans to become stewards of their natural environment.  That is a belief that all Native Americans can support.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Hello again Richard,

    and thank you so much for the utterly amazing work you are doing! I am almost getting used to thinking I know my general ancestry and then having the rug pulled out from under me — it seems to happen so often now!

    I just want to add one quick note about the Amish and Mennonites, both of whom live out here in rural Pennsylvania in great numbers. Although I cannot speak at all negatively about Mennonites since every one I have known seem perfectly fine, it is pretty widely known — in ugly detail — that Amish treatment of girls and women is really quite bad. I have not seen it, of course, since it goes on behind closed doors, but I do know medical people who have been quite unhappy about it.

    However, what really gets to me about the Amish is their poor treatment of animals, which I see right by my house almost every day. Not only are their horses generally somewhat gaunt from lack of good food, they are also lame from being rarely and improperly shod — and then all-too-frequently the poor creatures are then sold cheap at auction so their owners avoid having to feed them over the winter. I have yet to hear, much less see, one sound Amish horse trotting our hilly roads — with their heads held artificially high (think Black Beauty, Ginger and those Godawful check-reins) so they cannot even use their own natural strength to pull their load. I cringe every time; it is really quite awful. Even the least-capable “English” (the Amish word for non-Amish) farmers take much better care of their tractors. I.e., Hollywood portrayals once again are not quite accurate; no real news there.

    • Evidently, that situation is very much dependent on geography. Mennonite farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, where I formerly lived, taught me how to do organic farming. The branch of the Mennonites I befriended, had tractors and cars. Many of the women become public school teachers. Both the women and men avoid careers in finance or anything involving the carrying of firearms, since they are pacifists. The Mennonites living west of Harrisonburg, VA are much more like the Amish and ride around in buggies. What impressed me about the Mennonites I befriended was how healthy their livestock looked. They taught me a lot of “tricks of the trade” of how to keep my livestock healthy. They were very much opposed to crowding of animals in tight barns. So they raised their turkeys and sheep in large pastures with free access barns for bad weather. Again, though, I remember a Mennonite woman telling me stories about how the Amish in Pennsylvania treat their women, which seem to confirm your experiences there.


        Yes, the Mennonites here are exactly as you described — truly decent people. Amish men, otoh, are known for not even wiping their (hog-pen filthy) boots when they come into your house. So, people don’t let them anywhere near anything decent. Oh, those horses though — just makes me want to cry, every danged time.


    The video does not play in this country Richard more the pity because I would have liked to hear that speech. I have a couple of friends who suffer with bipolar and really sympathize with how they suffer. Thanks for sharing this most interesting post.


    Hi Richard,
    I have a little different take than you express on what Russell Means is talking about in the video. From what I have come to understand from Ghost Dancer, who was strongly influenced by Russell Means back in his tender youth and who walks and thinks in the old ways. Many indigenous peoples DO literally see the Earth as a living being, their Mother who provides for all their needs. In this video, Mr. Means repeatedly urges us all to get out the head and get into the heart when considering our relationships to everything that is. I believe he is not just lecturing white people or Christians, but rather trying to call Natives back to the old ways and all of us to explore new ways of thinking – more respectful of the Native traditions.

    When you speak of how nasty the reservations are, you are speaking to the present reality of a broken people who once had a way of life that worked for them. The ancestors of those who struggle to survive on the reservations today were the ones who were robbed at the point of a gun of their ancient life ways – relegated to reservations & government schools. As Ghost has said many times, the surest way to destroy a culture is to destroy its leaders, its wise elders, its language, and religion. This is exactly what happened to our SE ancestors as well as Natives in other parts of the country. And this is why so many reservations are a shamble; isolated places where alcoholism, drug use, crime and suicide run rampant. And this is why so many young Native men end up in prison. They have grown up without a cultural anchor. And this is exactly the point Russell Means is making as well as, the whole purpose of Ghost’s mission to reach out to & influence these lost young men in prison – to teach them the core values of the old ways, restore their pride of heritage to heal their spirits and prepare them to return as stronger, better human beings than they ever imagined they could be.

    • Hey Edna,

      Right after I graduated from Urban Planning, I was hired to be a traveling consultant for tribal housing authorities around the United States. This was several years after Wounded Knee. I went everywhere . . . Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest and Northern Plains. The Cheyenne, Arikara and Crow Reservations were neat as pins. Nearby Lakota reservations looked like junk yards. When they would go into rages, they would knock holes in the free housing . . . and never repair the damage. The Lakota were just throwing their trash out the front and back doors. All those Plains tribes suffered terribly, but there appears to be a disease of the spirit among the Lakota.

      Now the villages in the Northwest Pacific Coast . . . they were gorgeous . . . tourists paid to live there. The Flathead Reservation was not as artistic, but the people kept it clean and they were starting new businesses to make things better. The Navajo lived in dispersed farmsteads, but they kept their yards clean. I can’t explain the differences between the tribes, but someone or a group of people will have to revitalize the spirit of the Lakota from within. The problem can’t be solved by government money.


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