Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Russell Means

Russell Means visited Guam in 2000 to work in solidarity with the group Nasion Chamoru in their fight for Guam's independence. On the website for Nasion Chamoru is features a thank you to Russell Means for his visit and inspiring people with his message. The section thanking Means features this quote about him:

"The L.A. Times has described him as the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Russell Means is a natural leader. His fearless dedication and indestructible sense of pride are qualities admired by nations worldwide. His vision is for indigenous people to be free... Free to be human, free to travel, free to stop, free to trade where they choose, free to choose their own teachers ~ free to follow the religion of their fathers, free to talk, think and act for themselves and then they will obey every law or submit to the penalty. The most difficult lesson of all is to respect your relatives' visions..." 

I didn't meet Russell Means when he visited Nasion Chamoru, but a few years after that I began to follow his activism as well as his memorable film career. He died in 2012 after taking a strong stand for Native American independence, something that made him very notorious even within Native American communities. I don't know why I ended up thinking about Russell Means this week, but I'm pasting below two articles about him. One written recently the other written soon after he had passed on. 

I think I may need to go around and interview some people about the meeting with Russell Means. Buente ayugue sa' hafa hu hassussuyi este.

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The Russell Means I Knew

10/24/12
http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/10/24/russell-means-i-knew-141684
Russell Means was not only a visionary, he was also keeper of memories. Russell was both an orator and a man of action. Inspired by a legacy of strength, Russell was one who walked his talk and inspired others to follow his example.

Many words have been written and spoken about his highly publicized leadership roles during the Red Power era. This is important but just as significant were the little- known or unheralded actions Russell did to support Indigenous Peoples.

Russell was one of a very small group of leaders who responded to many calls from Indigenous Peoples and arrived to help out in whichever way he could. From personal experience, I’ve witnessed Russell travel at his own expense to support a cause even when it was not something that he had a personal stake in. The compelling reason was often that a small group of Natives were attempting to stand up to some injustice and decided to reach out to Russell.

Russell was often described as figure of publicity but I’ve seen him avoid the spotlight in many public gatherings and rallies. At other times, organizers would have to encourage him to take a turn on the microphone or suggest that he share words of inspiration with those on hand. When news cameras were on hand, Russell wouldn’t hesitate to do an interview and call out the local media if they had an anti-NDN bias in their reporting. His concern was not with being a media NDN darling but giving NDNs a voice in the media.

Another trait of Russell’s that I witnessed was that he led from the front and took the same risks as anyone else. Whether that meant going to jail, standing vigil in uncomfortable weather or carrying out tasks while exhausted, Russell Means wasn’t one to skip out on us. Many times we’d complete a rally and Russell would jump in his van to travel to a different state so he could fulfill another request for his support. A friend and I had discussion about this and we agreed that Russell was someone we could depend on while many young NDN men we knew who spoke loudly about supporting Native Peoples always seemed to have good excuses for never showing up for anything.

Russell was also someone who was willing to share a needed perspective for young people. He often spoke to small groups of Native youth about what motivated and inspired him. I’ve listened to Russell share lesson’s from his personal history about the early AIM days up to the present and what he’s learned from that. Often those lessons had to do with perseverance, sacrifice and compassion.
Several years ago I was struggling with how one overcomes anger and hatred when violence is inflicted on them for seeking justice for Indigenous Peoples. It was a period when many Native friends were the victims of police brutality and they were wondering if the pain was worth it.

Russell was visiting in town so I sought him out and had a discussion with him. I related that many of my friends were questioning their choices -- choices that brought public attacks from other NDNs for some, physical violence for others and for all, an overall sense of personal setbacks bordering on humiliation.

After listening and thinking about it for a bit this is what he said: “The way I’ve seen it is that every injury I took, every sacrifice I made and every personal cost I paid has been done on behalf of our people and ancestors. So I take these things as a badge of honor and they are things that I am proud of.”

He continued on with giving advice about how I could help out those who were going through tough times. He drew on his first hand experience and shared stories of his younger years. As we sat there I realized how much of an honor it was to know this man: Russell Means, Oglala and Indigenous Patriot.

Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at rckiowa@gmail.com and twitter.com/rckiowa. He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO. He is also co-authoring a forthcoming book with Gyasi Ross appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is www.cutbankcreekpress.com.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/10/24/russell-means-i-knew-141684
 
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Remembering Russell Means

October 31, 2012
By Tom Hayden
26 October, 2012
The Nation
 
Russell Means, who died on Tuesday, kept a place here in Santa Monica in recent years, with his wife, Pearl. Once my wife Barbara and I took our son Liam for a visit to meet this man we described as having fought a real war against the government. Still in good health a couple of years ago, Russell took great interest in our 10-year-old, as he did in all kids trying to understand the actual history of our country.

Russell was a strong, imposing figure. It wasn’t only his braided hair or the beads around his neck; his clear eyes gazed as if it was 1873. He had Liam’s attention. When they shook hands, Russell told Liam that his grip needed to be firmer, he should stand up straight, and that he always should look the other person straight in the eye. Our son will not forget the quiet authority this man quietly commanded.

Russell had that effect on people, the presence of a nineteenth-century warrior still alive as a force in the here and now. He touched millions.

I therefore was quite shocked to see Russell with Pearl in a local restaurant a few months later, gaunt and frail from cancer. I didn’t quite recognize him. He told me the diagnosis was terminal, and that he was living on tribal remedies and prayer. His face should have been on Mr. Rushmore. The great law of mortality would prevail where the Great White Father had failed, and Russell soon would enter the spirit world. He knew his time on earth was ending, eating eggs in an Ocean Park cafe.

My wife, a descendant of the Oglala Nation, and our son, were blessed to know him even briefly. My old friends Bill Zimmerman and Larry Levin were touched enough to fly a plane with supplies into Wounded Knee when the fight was on. Governor Jerry Brown was courageous enough to harbor Russell in California when South Dakota wanted him extradited. Tim Carpenter, now of PDA, was inspired enough in 1971 to march across the United States on the latter-day Trail of Tears. Russell, the imprisoned Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement led many to try repealing the past. “No More Broken Treaties” was the slogan of the Indochina Peace Campaign at the time of the Paris Peace Agreement, a reminder of the 371 solemn pacts violated by the US government during the earlier Indian Wars. One of the most momentous violations was that of the 1868 Treaty of Laramie guaranteeing Sioux Nation ownership of the Black Hills, now the center of a vast corporate energy domain. That violation aroused a new generation of native American warriors.

The fundamental difference between a truthful, radical interpretation of US history and a merely progressive or liberal one is how deeply one understands that our permanent original sin, even preceding slavery, was a genocide against native people that underlay the the later growth of democratic rights. That truth is what is “buried at Wounded Knee”, what Russell Means’ war for recognition was all about, and why he will be long remembered by my son.

Until we in America finally accept and redeem the moral debasement of a Conquest that still underlies the achievement of democracy, our blindness will lead us into one war after another against indigenous tribes and clans in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Asia, Africa and Latin America, all stemming from a denial of our own blood-stained origins.

Russell was a reminder that the wars against indigenous people, and the conquest of their resources, are far from over, and that we cannot be fully human until remorse with our eyes wide open allows the possibility of reconciliation. 

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