South Dakota Native American activist Russell Means died Monday morning at the age of 72. Means had been battling throat cancer in recent years and rejected conventional treatments in favor of traditional Indian medicines.
Means was a leading advocate for Native American causes; confrontational, right up until his final year.
Means was on the front lines of protests by the American Indian Movement. He led the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee, a standoff with the federal government that lasted 71 days. AIM sought a return to Native American traditions while standing up for treaty rights.
Means disagreed with critics who said AIM's aggressive tactics were counter-productive.
"The American Indian Movement only involved itself in violence in self-defense! Never did we attack, never!" Means exclaimed.
Movie audiences, unfamiliar with Means' political activism, came to know his work in films like The Last of the Mohicans and Pocahontas. Means said he found the art of acting "fulfilling."
This spring, Means spoke at a Sioux Falls conference on the Wounded Knee occupation, four decades later.
That standoff has left behind a complex legacy of government distrust, divisions within AIM's ranks, and a reawakening of Native American values.
At the center of it all was Russell Means, whose voice, weakened by throat cancer, called upon all Native Americans to be fearless, to the end.
"When it's my time to go, it's my time to go," he said. "And nobody gets out of this life alone. So have no fear," Means said.
Visit the Remembering Russell Means page on KELOLAND.com.