Yesterday my mom said the first thing she heard when she woke up was Russell died. Then I told her about the craigslist ad I wrote about at http://www.lastrealindians.com. She was extremely saddened at both. Her first thought was “Now who is going to stand up for us?”
The last time I saw Russell Means was three years ago or so, in front of my house on the rez. He bought a quilled bracelet from me with two interlocking hearts and he was quizzing one of my friends on how many movies of his he saw. I told him they only had six in the tribal jail, so he saw six, and we all laughed. Russell said “Huh, that’s not funny. I’ll have to make sure they get all 21 out there for you guys.”
It never occurred to me, here was this modern day warrior recognized throughout the world for being a warrior for his people, joking with us. It never occurred to me because he was humble and treated everyone alike. And it never occurred to me he was so famous for being a warrior because of the way Russell stood up for the people until change came about, he made it seem like that is just how it was. He made it seem like this was the path in life we follow. He made being a warrior seem like the Lakota way of life. Because it was and is.
I remember when I worked at an art gallery in Rapid City, SD, there was a statue out front. The store was a Native American art gallery, but the statue out front was hated by all Indians. It was an Indian man with his head bowed and hands behind his back. When you saw it from behind, his hands were bound by a rope. To the artist, it represented being bound to a reservation. To us, it represented incarceration and loss of freedom. Everyone was appalled but it stayed there. Until Russell came to town and did something about it. He protested, he brought people, and he brought media. Not too long after the statue was removed by the owner. I was 22 years old and I remember realizing the power to change he showed.
He was always there when the people needed him. He was there to stand up for our people in times when racism was common and point out it was wrong, he was there to stand up and want better for our people, and Russell was there to show the world how Lakota people are in this time and age. He set the precedent for my generation. He showed us how we can still be warriors no matter how impoverished of a life we have, no matter how much the government hates us, and no matter what the world thinks of us, nobody and nothing will ever take the warrior away from us. He made us proud to be from where we are from. Wopila Russell Means, for the life you lived and leading the way for the next generation to also stand up.
As LastRealIndians stated, Rest In Power, as you travel the Milky Way home.
(Russell Means by Andy Warhol)
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