SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Russell Means never shunned attention. Whether leading Native Americans in railing against broken federal treaties, appearing in a Hollywood blockbuster or advocating a sovereign American Indian nation within U.S. borders, the activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee reveled in the spotlight.
But it was only on his terms. Openly critical of mainstream media, the onetime leader of the American Indian Movement often refused interviews and verbally blasted journalists who showed up to cover his public appearances. Instead, he chose to speak to his fan base through YouTube videos and blog posts on his personal website.
When he did speak out publicly, he remained steadfast in his defense of AIM. He found himself dogged for decades by questions about the group’s alleged involvement in the slaying of a tribe member and the several gun battles with federal officers during the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, but denied the group ever promoted violence.
“You people who want to continue to put AIM in this certain pocket of illegality, I can’t stand you people,” Means said, lashing out an at audience member question during an April gathering commemorating the uprising’s 40th anniversary. “I wish I was a little bit healthier and a little bit younger, because I wouldn’t just talk.”
Means, who announced in August 2011 that he had developed inoperable throat cancer but told The Associated Press he was forgoing mainstream medical treatments in favor of traditional American Indian remedies, died early Monday at his ranch in in Porcupine, S.D., Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Salomon said. He was 72.
Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Means grew up in the San Francisco area before becoming an early leader of AIM. He often was embroiled in controversy, partly because of AIM’s alleged involvement in the 1975 slaying of Annie Mae Aquash.