Russell Means has Passed

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t terribly familiar with Russell Means until after his death was announced but it turns out it was much more bad ass than I realized. During his life Means participated in several high profile American Indian actions against the United States federal government:

He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites.

Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used.

And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments.

What made Russell unique in regards to the American Indian’s fight against the federal government is that he held libertarian beliefs, even going so far as to run for the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate (he lost to Ron Paul). The more I read about the man the more I find to like about him. He was willing to make major stands against the government that all but wiped his people out and believed in individual freedom. That’s often a very rare combination of traits.