Russell's family moved to California when he was a child, and he became another disenfranchised urban Indian, falling victim to every stereotypical vice--drugs, drinking, brawling, arrests, jail time, failed marriages, domestic violence--a pattern that continued off and on throughout his life. On the other hand, Russell had the ability to identify legitimate Indian issues and bring them to the forefront of the national consciousness, working in conjunction with other Indian activists. At the same time, he was never adverse to getting publicity for himself in the process. Russel Means, like many Indians, was a survivor.
|Russell Means as young man with AIM|
I did meet Russell Means once at the Yellow Thunder encampment in the Black Hills. The Sioux lay claim to the Paha Sapa, sacred lands and hunting grounds of the Black Hills taken from them. They have a legitimate complaint. The encampment was a protest and a demand for a return of the sacred lands of their ancestors. Click here to read about this on-going land dispute, the trail of broken treaties and the positions of both sides.
I remember there were armed guards on the dirt road entering the camp, but we were expected. One of our friends had made arrangements for us to visit. I don't remember if we were searched, but the security looked like they took their jobs seriously. Most of our group of friends and I were content to explore the camp, peeking into tipis and watching life in the camp.
My ex-husband, the politico, who at this time was ghost writing speeches for a friend of ours who was tribal chairman of one of the Sioux tribes, sat at a picnic table and talked with Russell Means. My ex and I were researching a paper on Indian education and the American Indian Movement at the time, but it appeared that the role of the Sioux women at the encampment was to "wait on" the men, so I was not impressed with that scenario.
My big memory of that trip was disappointment. We were supposed to return to the camp the next day to meet Willie Nelson! I was so excited. Willie, of course, is a big supporter of Indian rights (as well as farmers), and we were also in Rapid City to attend a Willie Nelson concert--he did a benefit for the Yellow Thunder Camp that we attended. The next day Willie was to visit the Yellow Thunder Camp, and we were going back, too.
|aerial view of Yellow Thunder encampment in the Black Hills|
Postscript: Russell Means' ashes were spread over the Yellow Thunder Camp after his death. May the struggle to address the injustices perpetrated against Native Americans of all tribes soon be over and let justice prevail for our country's native peoples.