Lifestyle & Belief

Russell Means, Native American activist, dies at 72


Russell Means arrives at the premiere screening of Turner Classic Movies 'Brando' at the Egyptian Theater on April 17, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.


Kevin Winter

Russell Means, dubbed "one of the most famous American Indians since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse," has died of esophageal cancer. He was 72.

Means was an Oglala Sioux born on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, and died at his home in Porcupine, S.D. on the same reservation.

He gained international attention when he helped lead 1973's 71-day armed occupation of Wounded Knee, and was an outspoken defender of Native American rights, serving as the first national coordinator of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Los Angeles Times reported

In 1987, Means ran for president under the Libertarian Party, but lost to Ron Paul, the New York Times reported. He also campaigned independently to be New Mexico's governor In 2002. 

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The rugged, handsome activist, who considered himself a "magnet for trouble" due to his run-ins with alcohol, drugs, violence and the law, also went on to a prolific acting career, according to the Times, starring in over 30 films and TV shows including “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Natural Born Killers” and “Pathfinder." 

Refusing chemotherapy and radiation treatment when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he instead underwent traditional Native American treatment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I'm not going to argue with the Great Mystery," he told the Rapid City Journal. "Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed. When it's my time to go, it's my time to go." 

"My dad now walks among our ancestors," his son Scott said of his father's passing, UPI reported. "As our dad and husband would say, 'May the Great Mystery continue to guide and protect the paths of you and your loved ones.'"

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