When Native American Russell Means died today, he left a legacy of activism and achievement that will be hard, if not impossible, for anyone in the American Indian community to ever match or exceed.
Ironically, Means, a political firebrand of the 1970's and native of South Dakota, died just one day after another South Dakota political activist from the 1970's - George McGovern. Both men passed away in their home state.
Means, who was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, moved to the San Francisco area with his family at a young age. In 1964 he and his father were part of the group that took over Alcatraz Island, a highly publicized protest that helped focus the nation's attention on the plight of its indigenous citizens. Means was at the center of several Indian protests during the seventies. He was in the group that seized the Mayflower II in Boston on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Soon after that he was involved in the take-over of Mount Rushmore - a federal monument.
Russell Means became active in the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1972 he was part of AIM's takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, DC, an event which resulted in the destruction of property and many government documents. The following year he was a spokesman for the biggest Indian protest of the era - the occupation of Wounded Knee.
The activist got involved in politics and ran for President of the Oglala Sioux Nation twice - 1974 and 2004, losing both times. In 1988 he ran for the Libertarian Party's nomination for President and came in second to Congressman Ron Paul.
Means turned to acting in 1992 when he landed a role as an Indian chief in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans. Over the next two decades he was involved in several film projects.
He left behind a widow, Pearl Means, four ex-wives, and ten children.
The 1960's and 1970's were a different time - a period in our nation's history when people displayed the courage to criticize their government if they perceived it to be on a wrong course, and had the courage to step forward and fight for change. Russell Means, like George McGovern, stood tall for ideals that were truly American and fought to make America a better place for us all. Means and McGovern both had positive impacts on history, and they will both be sorely missed.