OCT 23, 2012
The death of Russell Means serves as a reminder of the vision of the American Indian Movement.
Russell Means, right, beats the drum at a meeting of the Wounded Knee occupation on March 10, 1973. A photojournalist who managed to get inside the cordon made a series of images of the stand-off and negotiations. (Associated Press)
On February 27, 1973, a team of 200 Oglala Lakota (Sioux) activists and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized control of a tiny town with a loaded history — Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They arrived in town at night, in a caravan of cars and trucks, took the town’s residents hostage, and demanded that the U.S. government make good on treaties from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Within hours, police had surrounded Wounded Knee, forming a cordon to prevent protesters from exiting and sympathizers from entering. This marked the beginning of a 71-day siege and armed conflict.
Russell Means, one of AIM’s leaders, died yesterday. Means was a controversial figure within the movement and outside of it; as his New York Times obituary put it, “critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety.” After getting his start in activism in the 1970s, Means went on to run for the Libertarian presidential nomination in 1987, and for governor of New Mexico in 2002. He also acted in scores of films, most famously in a lead role in the 1992 version of The Last of the Mohicans.