Russell Means and the Great Mystery

Russell Means is the latest South Dakota legend to die this year.

Means entered “the Great Mystery,” as he referred to it, Monday morning. His death adds to the toll this year that includes George McGovern, who died Sunday, Bill Janklow and Jim Abdnor.

Here is a statement from the Means’ family:

October 22, 2012
Hello our relatives. Our dad and husband, now walks among our ancestors. He began his journey to the spirit world at 4:44 am, with the Morning Star, at his home and ranch in Porcupine. There will be four opportunities for the people to honor his life to be announced at a later date. Thank you for your prayers and continued support. We love you. As our dad and husband would always say, “May the Great Mystery continue to guide and protect the paths of you and your loved ones.”
The wife and children of Russell Means
444 Crazy Horse Drive
Pahin Sinte, Republic of Lakotah

I wrote a long profile on Means a few years ago when I was working in Rapid City. He was a fascinating figure, a rebel who loved the Oakland Raiders, hated Mount Rushmore and appeared in movies and TV shows.

He was, like his old friend Bill Janklow, much, much larger than life. Means will go down in the history books as a major figure who stood up for American Indians at a time when they needed a champion.

Means was charming, controversial, a man who loved the spotlight, accepted risks and danger and wrote a great autobiography. I was surprised by his sense of humor and his enjoyment of everyday life while also striving to make dramatic changes in the world.

It’s being said today he may have been the most famous Indian — Russell despised the term “Native American” — since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. All three men were Lakota leaders, and I am sure Means would welcome the high ranking and the esteemed company.

Explore the Great Mystery, Russell Means.

3 thoughts on “Russell Means and the Great Mystery

  1. I have a artists proof signed by Means, titled Saturday in Tuba City. Did he or one of his children do any artwork? Could this be one of his proofs? It is depicting two indian men.

  2. Here’s a story I did in January after Janklow died, in which Means reflected on their friendship.

    Means, healthy after cancer, sad to lose Janklow after 50-year association

    The Daily Republic
    They were young men once, nearly 50 years ago.
    They worked in a tourist trap, putting in long hours, playing and learning all the while as they dreamed of bigger lives. And when that happened for both of them, they were on opposite sides.
    But through it all, Bill Janklow and Russell Means were friends. The Indian activist and the Republican politician formed a bond that was strained but never severed.
    On Thursday, when Means learned Janklow had died, he was moved.
    “I’m really sad. He was such a responsible man,” Means said. “He gave 110 percent every place he went. If you were with Bill, Bill would give you his best and more than that. I’m deeply saddened.” Means is 72, the same age Janklow was. They were born just a few weeks apart in 1939. They met in 1964, when Janklow poured drinks at a Rockerville bar and Means donned traditional Indian clothing and danced outside, “bringing in the people,” as he recalled Thursday night in a telephone interview from Colorado.
    They worked and water skiied together and talked about Indian issues. In 1966, Janklow took a job as a Legal Aid lawyer in Indian Country as Means launched his career as an activist.
    “We started a relationship then, delivering Christmas presents to Indian kids in tarpaper shacks, cars and tents,” Means said. “He fought for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.”
    Janklow represented Indians in lawsuits in Winner and Valentine, Neb., winning cases to prohibit businesses from repossessing goods from Indian customers without permission from tribal authorities, Means said.
    “He’s the one who introduced to the Indian people the idea of sovereignty,” he said. “And that started the whole sovereignty issue in the United States and Canada. One of the things I liked about Bill, he knew the law.”
    Years later, an Indian man approached Janklow, by then South Dakota’s governor, and asked him when he would fully recognize tribal sovereignty.
    “Look, when you start acting sovereign, I will recognize your sovereignty,” he replied, according to Means, who laughed in approval as he told the story.
    The last time they were together was when Janklow, as he left office after his fourth term as governor, pardoned Means for his role in a 1974 courthouse riot in Sioux Falls. Means claimed his only role in inciting the riot was refusing to stand up for a judge. The pardon allowed Means to seek the presidency of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
    The old activist and the aging politician got together one final time about 10 years ago in Pierre.
    “We had a good talk and good conversation,” Means said.
    Means said they were friends — “Oh, yeah, we never were enemies, that’s for sure” — and he always admired Janklow.
    “I’ve never publicly said anything negative about Bill, even in the AIM days,” he said.
    “I knew eventually he’d come to understand where we were coming from.”
    Last year, when Means was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and before Janklow learned of the brain cancer that would claim his life, Janklow called Means and urged him to go to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.
    Means thanked his old friend but decided to seek alternative treatment at an Arizona facility. He has regained his health and said a doctor told him the cancer has been beaten.
    That’s another reason the news of Janklow’s death was tough to hear, Means said. He plans to attend Janklow’s funeral service Wednesday in Sioux Falls.

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