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Russell Means, Native American Activist and Actor, 1939 – 2012

by on October 25, 2012

Native American activist Russell Means passed away at his ranch in South Dakota on Monday, October 22, 2012, at the age of 72 from esophageal cancer. Means rose to national attention in the 1970’s as the leader of the American Indian Movement in a series of theatrical protests to call attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by Native Americans. In perhaps his most visible public protest, he led hundreds of Native Americans and sympathizers to Wounded Knee, SD, in 1973, demanding that the federal government adhere to old Indian treaties and calling for an end to corruption in tribal leadership. The ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents garnered nationwide media attention for months, with thousands of shots fired leading to two Indian deaths and one paralyzed federal agent. Means and his fellow protest leader Dennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny, and conspiracy, but charges were dismissed in 1974 for prosecutorial misconduct. Means generated as much controversy as attention, with many American Indian groups coming to distance themselves from his conduct and calling him an opportunist out for political or financial gain.

Means also acted in a number of movies and TV series, starting with 1992’s Last of the Mohicans where he played Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe. In animation, Means played Powhatan in Disney’s Pocahontas and the direct-to-video sequel. He also had voice-over roles in Duckman and the direct-t0-video movie Turok: Son of Stone.

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