Russell Means died from cancer early Monday morning at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota. The 72-year-old was a leader of the American Indian Movement and led the armed occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973.
His controversial action and strong opinions led to a love–hate relationship with journalists across the globe.
“You could love Russell Means or you could hate Russell Means but you could never ignore Russell Means,” said Rapid City Journal reporter Kevin Woster.
Woster has been covering Means for decades.
“He had a great memory. He’d call you and tell you that he either liked specific things about that story or did not like them and if he did not like them he expected them to be changed,” said Woster.
Native Sun News Editor and Publisher Tim Giago says Means and the American Indian Movement (AIM) helped bring about change on the Pine Ridge Reservation. But Giago says Means’ approach at times provoked violence.
“Some of the things that happened I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of or know the whole truth,” Giago said. “There’s still rumors.”
Still, Giago says there’s appreciation for how Means led the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee and fought for rights of American Indians.
“I respected Russell for the courage of his convictions,” Giago said. “He found something he could believe in and he stood up for it.”
“He did not want to give up the things that he had like the power of speech if that’s what radical treatments meant to save his life,” Woster said. “That he would rather die and be able to speak than live on without the power of speech,”
Means was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer in 2011. Instead of using mainstream medical treatments to fight cancer means said he was using traditional American Indian remedies.
Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele announced Monday he plans to lead an effort to declare war on cancer on the reservation.