Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November, 2012

Russell Means: Last of the Mohicans star mourned by 1,000 Native Americans in traditional 12-HOUR memorial along historic pass
Condensed by Native Village

Russell Means

Tatanka Means, a son of Russell Means, carries the urn with Means' ashes into Little Wound High School in Kyle. (Rapid City Journal)

South Dakota: In the company of more than 1,000 mourners, a riderless horse escorted the remains of Russell Means to his first of four memorials. The funeral procession was led by 21 horses through a stretch of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where Means was born.

Carried to a 12-hour service at Little Wound High School, the smell of burning sage, sweetgrass and cedar served as a spiritual cleansing and healing, honoring the 72-year-old chief.

Means died at his home last month after spending decades fighting for American Indian rights. He started out by protesting against the use Indian mascots in college and pro sports teams.
Later he became leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president.

Also remembered for his role in the film The Last of the Mohicans, Means had been battling advanced esophageal cancer.

Invitations to his memorial described him as an "Oglala Lakota patriot and freedom fighter."

"Prayers were offered outside with a drum and honor songs, then he was  escorted in with his wife, Pearl and all his children and grandchildren," Mean's sister-in-law Natalie Hand said. The ceremony will go on into the night. After that, his family and close relatives among the Oglalas will be carrying his ashes up to the Black Hills and  scattering his ashes at Yellow Thunder Camp."

Leading the ceremony was Chief Leonard Crow Dog, AIM's spiritual leader.

"He’s a leader of all tribes—a  spiritual leader—and a warrior," Crow Dog said.  "He was not originally a warrior, but all the injustice that happened to the American Indians and Canadian Indians—the system made him into a warrior just like Crazy Horse."

Chief Crow Dog said Means' soul will travel four days before reaching the spirit realm known as Happy Hunting Grounds in the Lakota tribe tradition.

"Four days from now, he will enter [it] to see all the chiefs in his band, and all the families, all the relations, all the stillborn that went to Happy Hunting Grounds."

Dignitaries from tribes across the country came to pay their respects.

"He made a huge, huge inroads into freedom for Native people around the world," Hand said. "That was his whole mission  in life—to be free. One of his favorite quotes was, 'The first thing  about freedom is you’re free to be responsible.' He encouraged young people to embrace that; he was a huge voice."

Means' younger brother, Bill, said that Russell's combative nature and refusal to accept racial discrimination was ingrained at an early age.

"Our mother had faced discrimination throughout her life, and she was a not a woman to compromise -  particularly when it came to discrimination,' he said during the service. "Russell saw that and become much the same way."

"I will remember him as an honest man," said his son, Scott Means. "What he gave you was the truth, always the truth. You always knew where he stood."

As an activist, Means took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington in 1972 and led the 72-day standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973.

He also dabbled in acting, appearing in films The Last of the Mohicans and Natural Born Killers.

In 2011, Means said AIM was the first advocate for American Indians on a national or international scale. Until then, Native Americans were ashamed of their heritage.

Means felt his most important accomplishment was  founding of the Republic of Lakotah and the "re-establishment of our freedom to be responsible" as a sovereign nation inside the borders of the United States.

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