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April 27, 2012 10:11 PM

Russell Means: Have No Fear

People have tried to silence him, but Native American activist, author, and actor Russell Means has weathered that storm. He is known for leading the 71-day armed takeover of Wounded Knee on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973 during the American Indian Movement.

"[I've had] 13 brushes with death in my life," he told a crowd gathered at Augustana College Friday night. "I've been hit by cars, shot, stabbed, and beaten twice."

Now almost 40 years after Wounded Knee, Means recalls the work of AIM which began in urban centers in the 1960s.

"When they sent us to big cities, they put us into poor neighborhoods, never allowing us a neighborhood of our own," he said.

Means told the crowd at first he didn't fit the mold. But of the Native American organizations at the time, AIM stood out and organized to advocate for Native American rights.

"We were on the front lines of being stripped of who we are -- no culture; not allowed to congregate," he said. "We had to do it on our own."

The movement grew, and in 1973 Means occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation along with hundreds of Native Americans in protest of tribal corruption. For 71 days armed activists occupied the town, and shone a national spotlight on the plight facing Native Americans.

Means has since stayed in the spotlight as an actor and author. He has also had his own health scares in recent years, but told the crowd he has never feared for his life.

"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."

Mean's presentation was part of the Center for Western Studies' Dakota Conference, which studies significant cultural and historical issues.

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