American Indian activist Russell Means dead at 72

Mon Oct 22, 2012 9:57pm EDT
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By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) - American Indian activist Russell Means, whose lifelong campaign to assure the rights and dignity of his people grew to encompass Hollywood and indigenous populations worldwide, died on Monday at his South Dakota home, his family said. He was 72.

"Our dad and husband now walks among our ancestors," the family said in a statement.

The firebrand former leader of the American Indian Movement and one-time Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president had been battling esophageal cancer.

Born in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux, also known as the Oglala Lakota, Means participated in the 1964 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, his first major act of civil disobedience.

He joined the American Indian Movement in 1968 and soon became one its prominent leaders.

He subsequently took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington in 1972. But it was his leadership of an armed, 72-day standoff against federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973 that made him a national figure.

The siege at Wounded Knee, protesting what Means believed to be a corrupt tribal government and maltreatment of American Indians by federal authorities, left two demonstrators dead, a U.S. marshal paralyzed and numerous others injured.

Nearly 80 years earlier, Wounded Knee was the site of an 1890 massacre of scores of Lakota men, women and children by U.S. cavalry troops in what was the final major clash of the American Indian wars.   Continued...

American Indian activist Russell Means poses for a portrait at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, in this October 28, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/Files