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.
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.
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 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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