October 22, 2012 / 6:25 PM / 6 years ago

American Indian activist Russell Means dead at 72

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

(Reuters) - Native American activist-turned-actor Russell Means died on Monday at his home in South Dakota, his family said in a statement. He was 72.

“Our dad and husband now walks among our ancestors,” the statement said.

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

Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, Means joined the American Indian Movement in 1968 and soon became one of the group’s prominent leaders. He took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1972, and led the 72-day standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973.

Means had fought for Native American rights since the 1960s, when he first protested college and professional sports teams’ use of Indian images as mascots, which he said were demeaning caricatures of his people.

Means was arrested numerous times during his long career of protest and spent several periods in jail.

He ran unsuccessfully for president of his tribe and sought the Libertarian nomination for U.S. president, losing to Congressman Ron Paul at the party’s 1987 national convention.

Means also dabbled in acting, appearing in such films as “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Natural Born Killers.” He was the voice of Pocahontas’s father in the popular Disney film.

Means was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2011, and underwent a combination traditional Native American and conventional modern medical therapies at an Arizona clinic, but he succumbed to the disease just weeks shy of his 73rd birthday.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh

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