Native American activist, actor Russell means dies at 72
Tireless advocate for Native American rights loses battle with esophageal cancer
American Indian activist Russell Means, who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee and who later became a familiar face in both TV and films has died. Means lost his long battle with esophageal cancer at the age of 72.
Activist Russell Means began his acting career relatively late in life. In 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis' Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans."
Means joined the American Indian Movement in 1968 and became one of the group's prominent leaders. He took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington in 1972, and helped lead the 71-day standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973.
The American Indian Movement began to have a tainted reputation following the slaying of a tribe member and the several gun battles with federal officers during Wounded Knee. Means was adamant that the group never promoted violence.
"You people who want to continue to put AIM in this certain pocket of illegality, I can't stand you people," Means said at a gathering commemorating the uprising's 40th anniversary. "I wish I was a little bit healthier and a little bit younger, because I wouldn't just talk."
Means said that Native Americans were marginalized and discriminated against before the formation of the American Indian Movement. "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 group eventually died out, the result of Native Americans becoming self-aware and self-determined, Means said.
Means had been a tireless Native American advocate even before joining the group. In the Sixties, Means protested college and professional sports teams' use of Indian images as mascots, which he said were demeaning caricatures of his people.
Means was arrested numerous times during his long career of protest and had done jail time.
Means began his acting career relatively late in life. 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 kept busy with acting work right up until his death. Several film projects he was involved in are now awaiting release to the public.
In his autobiography, "Where White Men Fear to Tread," Means admitted to his many human frailties. "I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be," he said.
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