Another American hero, in my mind anyway, passed away last month. That was Russell Means, an American Indian rights activist and, later in his life, an actor. I didn’t agree with many of the things Means did and stood for, but his courage and his heart for American Indians (his preferred term for what might also be called Native Americans) stand out for me. I have spent many of my years working with our Native American Presbyterians in the Synod of southern California.
The LA Times obituary had several things to say and I quote some of them here.
“Means refused to undergo heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy. Instead, he reportedly battled the disease with traditional native remedies and received treatments at an alternative cancer center in Scottsdale, AZ.”
“In joining the fledgling American Indian Movement in 1969, Means later wrote, he had found a new purpose in life and vowed to “get in the white man’s face until he gave me and my people our just due.”
“Wounded Knee restored our dignity and pride as a people,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2002. “It sparked a cultural renaissance, a spiritual revolution that grounded us.”
Quoting Tim Giago, retired editor and publisher of the Native Sun News in Rapid city, S.D., “If he had followed a peaceful demonstration like those two great leaders did (referring to M.L. King & M. Gandhi), I think he would have had much more support from the American people that I think he lost when he turned to violence. As a matter of fact, he lost the support of a lot of Native Americans when he resorted to violence.”
Again, Means did things I disagree with, but he had the courage to stand up for Native Americans in a new way, and encouraged more people to seek justice for our own first nations. May he rest in peace and continue to be an inspiration to American Indians.