Carol Berry
Russell Means seems to look down on a young viewer in this painting by Bob Coronato that depicts Means with the upside-down U.S. flag in a universal signal of distress, in this case of the plight of Indian people. Means undertook the role of a Lakota patriot, advocating for his people and seeking to perpetuate his language and culture. His achievements are to be honored in a Russell Means Library on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Four-Day Ceremony in Denver Marks Russell Means’ Final Honoring

Carol Berry
11/11/13

“I hope to be remembered as a fighter and as a patriot who never feared controversy—and not just for Indians. When I fight for my people’s rights, when I stand up for our treaties, when I protest government lies and illegal seizures and unlawful acts, I defend all Americans, even the bigoted and misguided,” wrote Russell Means, in Where White Men Fear to Tread.

Russell Means, or Oyate Waciyanpi, the People Rely on Him, Oglala Lakota, was a person of contradictions—a man who praised matriarchy, a scholar who was stabbed and shot on the activist path, a leader who took on mundane tasks, and an actor whose preoccupation was not only film, but a nearly 150-year-old treaty.

Memories were recalled in “Mitakuye Oyasin—We Are All Related: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Russell Means,” a tribute to the activist and leader who was proud of his people and his heritage. He walked on October 22, 2012 at his home in Porcupine, South Dakota.

Means was honored November 7 to November 10—his birthday—in Denver, where he had maintained an ongoing involvement with the American Indian Movement (AIM) of Colorado and became the scourge of the Columbus Day parade, which his presence halted one year. The event has never fully recovered.

There were some tears, but the ceremony was by no means all solemnity. His wife, Pearl Daniel-Means, talked to his friends, allies and supporters about the special requirements of being his wife.

In that role one had to be sure to have $500 in cash on hand in case bail money was needed, and a valid state driver’s license if law enforcement refused to honor the license he created for himself that, according to treaty, also granted him the right to hunt and fish.

Under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Means claimed the lands and natural resources in parts of present-day North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska for the Republic of Lakotah he created.

The final day of the ceremonies was a public honoring at Lincoln High School, which prompted speakers to note that, although then-President Abraham Lincoln pardoned 300 Dakota men after an uprising, he had 38 others hanged, an event commemorated annually.

RELATED: Native History: More Than 300 Dakota Sentenced to Death

The fourth-day opened with Black Horse Drum singing the AIM song, given to the organization in 1972 in Gordon, Nebraska after the murder of Raymond Yellow Thunder, explained Glenn Morris, Colorado AIM leader.

The oft-repeated theme at the last event was Indian pride, a concept with deep significance for Means, who in a film clip shown during the honoring, cries openly as a grandmother and her grandchild sift through trash for food or other things—he remembered how the Lakota were once a proud and prosperous people.

Frank LaMere, Winnebago, recalled the times he and Means stood up to law enforcement in Whiteclay, Nebraska to call attention to beer sales in Whiteclay taverns to people walking there from the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation. With a shake of his head, LaMere said: "Every time I was with Russell, I got arrested."

The commemoration included panels, films, a gala to raise funds for a Russell Means Library on Pine Ridge, and a short film about his life that is in progress. Pearl also signed and displayed his last book, If You’ve Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way.

Means was a “true believer in the spiritual realm,” his son Scott said at the honoring’s conclusion. Russell Means was a Sun Dance chief who followed the traditional ways of his people in his life and in his last illness.

The tribute in Denver was the fourth and final family ceremony honoring Means.

RELATED: Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

RELATED: Russell Means Farewell: Son Cradles His Father on Final Journey

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Oyate Waciyanpi,Though your spirit left this realm & joined the ancestors, you are still here in our hearts, our memories & with the legacy you left behind. Very few commit themselves to serve a people as you did. It did not matter if they locked you up, you remained strong of spirit & kept on teaching to those who would listen, showing the world the evil the washichu government has continued to cast upon all First Nations peoples. Someday, we shall all meet again, until that time, the Creator is the final Judge who shall right all wrongs either in this realm or at the end of time. His judgments are always right & always final. Man Above does not forget the evil mankind does nor does He forget the good things we do as well. Wakantanka blesses those who show kindness, compassion & lives in a good way that brings pride of a good way to Him. Hoa!

Joanna Grey's picture
Joanna Grey
Submitted by Joanna Grey on
I was sad to hear that Russel Means has left us. He spent much of his life working to educate the non Indian public, and to uphold the rights of the nations to their own culture. He will be missed . I admired him greatly.

LaResa Turnbow's picture
LaResa Turnbow
Submitted by LaResa Turnbow on
I so greatly admire Russell Means for all he done and stood for, RIGHTS of the Native American's as well as Rights for all! I would have loved to been there for this ceremony to honor the memory of him. I will always be greatful to have been able to meet him and personally be escorted onto the grounds of our first Powwow in Corpus Christi, Texas. A memorable occasion. He was our hero and I have to say I wish we had more like him.

LaResa Turnbow's picture
LaResa Turnbow
Submitted by LaResa Turnbow on
I so greatly admire Russell Means for all he done and stood for, RIGHTS of the Native American's as well as Rights for all! I would have loved to been there for this ceremony to honor the memory of him. I will always be greatful to have been able to meet him and personally be escorted onto the grounds of our first Powwow in Corpus Christi, Texas. A memorable occasion. He was our hero and I have to say I wish we had more like him.

RW Akile's picture
RW Akile
Submitted by RW Akile on
Aw yah yah yah yah a yah a yah a yah - OYATE WACIYANPI - RUSSELL MEANS - YOU SERVED YOUR PEOPLE WELL. MAY YOUR WORK BE AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW. YOU SHOWED YOU DON'T NEED PERMISSION TO DO WHAT IS YOUR RIGHT TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE. I SALUTE YOU.

Emanuela Medoro's picture
Emanuela Medoro
Submitted by Emanuela Medoro on
I have a nice memory of Russel Means, he spent a week in L'Aquila..

James Simon's picture
James Simon
Submitted by James Simon on
Russell Means was a deeply troubled man, involved in the cover-up murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash in 1975, and the alleged abduction of a young boy in 1965, with a lot of pent-up violence in between. May his soul find salavation.
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