SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Russell Means, a former American Indian Movement activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, reveled in stirring up attention and appeared in several Hollywood films, has died. He was 72.

Means died early Monday at his ranch in in Porcupine, S.D., Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Solomon said.

Means, a Wanblee native who grew up in the San Francisco area, announced in August 2011 that he had developed inoperable throat cancer. He told The Associated Press he was forgoing mainstream medical treatments in favor of traditional American Indian remedies and alternative treatments away from his home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Means was an early leader of AIM and led its armed occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, a 71-day siege that included several gunbattles with federal officers. He was often embroiled in controversy, partly because of AIM’s alleged involvement in the 1975 slaying of Annie Mae Aquash. But Means was also known for his role in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” and had run unsuccessfully for the Libertarian nomination for president in 1988.

AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes. Means told the AP in 2011 that before AIM, there had been no advocate on a national or international scale for American Indians, and that Native Americans were ashamed of their heritage.

“No one except Hollywood stars and very rich Texans wore Indian jewelry,” Means said. “And there was a plethora of dozens if not hundreds of athletic teams that in essence were insulting us, from grade schools to college. That’s all changed.”

The movement eventually faded away, the result of Native Americans becoming self-aware and self-determined, Means said.

Paul DeMain, publisher of Indian Country Today, said there were plenty of Indian activists before AIM but that the group became the “radical media gorilla.”

“If someone needed help, you called on the American Indian Movement and they showed up and caused all kind of ruckus and looked beautiful on a 20-minute clip on TV that night,” DeMain said.

Means said he felt his most important accomplishment was the founding of the Republic of Lakotah and the “re-establishment of our freedom to be responsible” as a sovereign nation inside the borders of the United States. His efforts to have his proposed country recognized by the international community continued at the United Nations, he said, even as it was ignored by tribal governments closer to home, including his own Oglala Sioux Tribe.

But others may remember him for his former organization’s connection to Aquash’s slaying. Her death remains synonymous with AIM and its often-violent clashes with federal agents in the 1970s.

Authorities believe three AIM members shot and killed Aquash on the Pine Ridge reservation on the orders of someone in AIM’s leadership because they suspected she was an FBI informant. Two activists — Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham — were both eventually convicted of murder. The third has never been charged.

Means blamed Vernon Bellecourt, another AIM leader, for ordering Aquash’s killing. Bellecourt denied the allegations in a 2004 interview, four years before he died.

DeMain, an Indian journalist who researched the case, said AIM’s leaders know who ordered Aquash’s killing but have covered up the truth for decades. Also in 1975, murder charges were filed against Means and Dick Marshall, an AIM member, in the shooting death of Martin Montileaux of Kyle at the Longbranch Saloon in Scenic. Marshall served 24 years in prison. Means was acquitted.

In addition to his presidential bid, Means also briefly served as a vice presidential candidate in 1984, joining the Larry Flint ticket during the Hustler magazine publisher’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.

But Means always considered himself a Libertarian and couldn’t believe that anyone would want to call themselves either a Republican or a Democrat.

“It’s just unconscionable that America has become so stupid,” he said.

His acting career began in 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis’ Hawkeye in “The Last of the Mohicans.” He also appeared in the 1994 film “Natural Born Killers,” voiced Chief Powhatan in the 1995 animated film “Pocahontas” and guest starred in 2004 on the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Means recounted his life in the book “Where White Mean Fear to Tread.” He said he pulled no punches in his autobiography, admitting to his frailties and evils but also acknowledging his successes.

“I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be,” he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
Statement From Russell’s Family

October 22, 2012 Hello our relatives. Our dad and husband, now walks among our ancestors. He began his journey to the spirit world at 4:44 am, with the Morning Star, at his home and ranch in Porcupine. There will be four opportunities for the people to honor his life to be announced at a later date. Thank you for your prayers and continued support. We love you. As our dad and husband would always say, “May the Great Mystery continue to guide and protect the paths of you and your loved ones.” The wife and children of Russell Means 444 Crazy Horse Drive Pahin Sinte, Republic of Lakotah

Responses to "Tribal spokeswoman says former American Indian Movement activist Russell Means dies at 72"

  1. Anonymous says:

    he was on curb your enthusiasm.

  2. it´s very sad

  3. Unknown says:

    Rest in Paradise our friend, brother, uncle, nephew, son, father, husband and leader, you will be missed but never forgotten. You led us in many courageous events which meant so much to American Indians. May your journey in the Spirit World be forever peaceful.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Bon et heureux voyage dans la prochaine territoire...

  5. Anonymous says:

    Prayers for the Family & Friends. RIP.

  6. Anonymous says:

    RIP to a brave man who walked his own path.

  7. Dlin says:

    Walk in beauty my brother. Your wisdom will be greatly missed. Blessings and prayers for your family. Mitaku Oyasin

  8. May the Great Spirit bless his soul in eternity . . .
    R.I.P Russel Means
    Blessing to the Means family <3
    GentleSpirit RoseThunder CG

  9. Anonymous says:

    So sorry to hear about Mr. Mean's death. I met him at a book signing here in San Diego and purchased his excellent book...Where White Men Fear To Tread.....
    He was a true warrior, fighting for our native American Indian rights.... Good bye will be missed.

  10. Anonymous says:

    RIP great leader. Prayers for your family and friends. Please come back from the grave, and help us remove the wolf killers. You can help us turn this tragedy around for the wolves and wolf lovers.

  11. margie says:

    Aloha Always. Mahalo for your Inspiration & Truth. Peace & Love~

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hokahey!!! It is a good day to die. Ride Free.

  13. Morgaine SilverOak says:

    Although he was steeped in controversy, and not my favorite person, his voice for Native Americans will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Russell.

  14. Anonymous says:


  15. Secretsign says:

    All respect and comforts to his them he was father, brother, son, and loved one. No one's opinion of him counts one whit right now. He was as he was and had something few people do now... A conviction of purpose and the will to stand for what he believed his walk needed to be. He was "A Man!" No judgments here.

  16. VJ Vousden says:

    Blessings to him and you the family for all he did here to open the eyes and minds of the people. Love go with him in his transition.

  17. Gwyntrue says:

    Now in the spirit world, not gone, yet even more free to roam and watch over his people. You can still talk to him and ask him for guidance. Close your eyes and listen, he is like the wind, as his truth flows easly as thru Aspen branches.

    CalidaSong - Blackfoot

  18. Josi says:

    My heart is heavy, I've cried my tears, Walk in beauty my friend. You will be missed and remembered by many here. My prayers will be with your family and close friends. I smile now as I remember your face and laughter. You have helped many people and now you can watch over many more. Mitaku Oyasin

  19. Anonymous says:

    You were an inspiration in the paths you chose to walk, and in the manner in which you chose to walk each path....May your spirit dance in the great circle, rejoicing at the music made by the Great Mystery...shining beauty down to remind us to love, to give thanks for all things and to accept that beauty as we watch and learn the dance here, that we too may join it when we catch up.

    May the sorrow your family feels today, soon be replaced by the memories of joy shared with you, and the knowledge that you will meet to laugh and dance again some day. May those good memories feed their hearts and carry them swiftly, when they leave this all of us will some day...Blessings, Redhawk

  20. Anonymous says:

    May the four winds blow him safely home

  21. Anonymous says:

    watch over our people russel be at peace now

  22. Prayers and blessing in his crossing...Aho

  23. Anonymous says:

    may your journey be swift and rejoices in his going home peace and love to his family

  24. Anonymous says:

    Blessings to your family as your body rest in peace yet your spirit soars in crossing and becomes part of the realm to guide those who need his guidance. Healing to all!

  25. Anonymous says:

    May your spirit soar with the grace and dignity of the eagle. Rest in Peace!

    Skyy Ravyn

  26. Anonymous says:

    I have been fearing this outcome for months. Some had compared him to Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse) and there were some parallels. I sympathized with his militant stance. I joined his protests and commemoration events during the nine months I was his neighbor in Porcupine, in 2008-9. The Oglala, the Lakota and Natives of the continent called America have lost an important war chief. I express my condolences to his immediate family and oyate. The fight goes on.

    A white Wolf back in his tribal homeland in France.

  27. Anonymous says:

    RIP ,,,,,,,,,,, from CANADA <3

  28. Anonymous says:

    May the Libertaion of indigenous peoples countinue with out you :(

  29. Anonymous says:

    We send our condolences frm new mexico. He will never b forgottn, will always b remembered!

  30. Pam A says:

    The sun is a little dimmer today. Condolences to his family.

  31. Anonymous says:

    My heart goes out to you for your loss.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Another great man is gone

  33. Michelle Francis says:

    RIP I hope your spirit lives on!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Such a tragedy, such a loss. I am pained by the knowledge that he has passed. Condolences to all.

  35. From a White Brother to the north in London, Ontario, Canada,
    Through watching video talks by Russell and reading his writings, my heart was drawn even closer to my Native Friends near and far. He was one who crossed the boarders of race to let all know the history and plight of the Native Peoples of the Americas.
    Wan Tanna Hey, Walk in Peace with Spirit my Brother

  36. Anonymous says:

    Tokel ikche wichasa exel ecunpi dokesa tahansi - Mangus 1973

  37. He will be missed by many such a great warrior. :(
    He has planted many see and I hope AIM moves forward.
    Che pisa lauchi

  38. Anonymous says:


  39. Anonymous says:

    Ride with the other Great Warriors,,Condolences to family sing songs in his name...RIP... Aleut in Alaska...

  40. Anonymous says:

    There are none good but the GREAT FATHER, but Russel Means did what our FATHER asked of him. May his spirit find rest and always walk in beauty.

  41. Unknown says:

    Although your Body remains on Mother Earth... Your Spirit is now Free to return to the Creator! Russell Means R.I.P.
    Mitakuye Oyasin ~ We Are All Related

  42. Anonymous says:

    I loved how he respected the Constitution and warned us all of the dangers of the government controlling our lives. Rest in Peace, Russell! I so wanted to meet you when we move to SD...Please pray our dream comes true. I know you are watching from a better place!

  43. KJz Girl says:

    Rest in Peace Russel Means

  44. Anonymous says:

    May the roads you travel be peaceful and you spirit bask in the warmth of the sun.

  45. Anonymous says:

    i know in my heart that you are in a better, without goverment control, too run free with the ancesters love you and my prayers go out to your family, friends, relatives and loved ones!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. Anonymous says:

    Rest in peace dear warrior.........

  47. Happy Trails my friend and comfort to all those who love you.

  48. Thank you for bringing awareness to the future generations. You have given us a great gift.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Something tells me that the Spirit World has just received a gift that we often did not appreciate but just as often was impossible to ignore. Thank you Russell for you brief stay with us. -Jay Kennedy

  50. Moe mai ra e te Matua, moe mai ra.
    Condolences from Aotearoa.
    "Ka whawhai tonu matou ake ake ake."
    "We will fight forever and ever"

  51. Anonymous says:

    I'm an Athabascan from Fort Yukon, Alaska, now living between two tribes of Sioux Nations. Russell Means will be missed I will light a fire for him to honor him and what he has done in the paqst for the Human Beings. The Movement is not gone just asleep! We will raise again for ours People!

  52. Anonymous says:

    The Native world has lost a great warrior !The fight goes on !May your Spirit find peace with our ancestors and guide us on !!!
    Monola Whitepony

  53. Anonymous says:

    Go Home in peace, you will be missed

  54. Anonymous says:

    You will always be remembered for leading a movement for the rights of many peoples whose voice had been silenced. Thank You. Many thoughts for your family and friends here before their journey where you all will reunite spirits.

  55. Unknown says:

    Be at peace brother. May you life forever be in song and may the earth always know your name.

  56. Anonymous says:

    YOU have allowed many to see themselves for who they are and be proud! Thank you for all you have done for the people! AhHO...May you always walk in beauty........It is finished in beauty!

  57. Tammy says:

    Our Creator has Russell Means now.Many Blessing's to his family.We have lost a great worrior!

  58. Anonymous says:

    You will always be remembered for leading a movement for the rights of your people. May your soul rest in peace, may God bless your family and watch over them.

  59. Anonymous says:

    Prayers to his family. God bless you dear worrier

  60. Lorrz Lewer says:

    Haere ra e te Rangatira oki oki atu ki ou tupuna haere haere ra e...

    Farewell o great one return to your loved ones who have left before you and wait for you.. may you find tranquility an peace forever..farewell

    Prayers an aroha to the whanau ..may you all gather strength at this sad time..

  61. Anonymous says:

    may you rip" gone but not forgotten"

  62. Anonymous says:

    You shall be missed by many brave one my prayers to the family and friends of this great path walker.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Доброй дороги...

  64. Anonymous says:

    God Bless you in this time, Russel did some awesome things...inspired some, pised off some..but he did leave a trail...and others will follow..from Montana

  65. Anonymous says:

    Puhka rahus minu trahvi suleliste sõber. Võib teil pöörduda kõrgusel väheneb proportsionaalselt oma püüdlustes teisel pool vikerkaar.

    Kõik on vägev,
    Dim valgust.
    Surm on vaid pikim öö.
    Hüvasti, hüvasti, on suur rõõm,
    Ülejäänud meist saab korda.

  66. Unknown says:

    Je suis très triste d'apprendre que Russel est parti rejoindre ses ancêtres, il va beaucoup nous manquer, c'est un Grand Homme et mon coeur pleure sa disparition et pour ses proches. Mitakuye Oyasin

  67. Unknown says:

    Rest in peace our Brother!

  68. phrejsa says:

    rest in peace my brother my your journey be safe... thanks for everything did you for us.

  69. Anonymous says:

    Deeply saddened to hear . . had great honour to meet him at Native Spirituality course and get his book signed. Great warrior spirit lives on.

  70. Anonymous says:

    Rest in peace may your lands always be the land of the free spirit and nature be the keepers of all our futures.

  71. Anonymous says:

    I have always loved this man and it was a longtime wish of mine to meet him..
    I'm very sad that wish never came true. May you rest in peace and your family be always blessed!

  72. Anonymous says:

    With great respect!...

  73. Anonymous says:

    Russell truly was a great man and a great leader. May he always inspire others to stand for what they believe.

    Vaughn Bailey

  74. Anonymous says:

    My skin is white, but my heart is Red. You are a symbol, an inspiration and a legend. Walk in Peace and Beauty.

    John T.

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