Means remembered as man of inspirationNo single individual likely will ever fill Russell Means’ shoes, but his legacy likely will be multiplied many times over by the Native Americans he inspired, his brother said at the Native American activist’s funeral service in Kyle.
By: By Aaron Orlowski, Assocaited Press, The Jamestown Sun
KYLE, S.D. — No single individual likely will ever fill Russell Means’ shoes, but his legacy likely will be multiplied many times over by the Native Americans he inspired, his brother said at the Native American activist’s funeral service in Kyle.
Means died Monday of throat cancer at the age of 72. On Wednesday, more than 300 people attended the funeral service on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“He will be replaced by thousands,” said Bill Means, Russell Means’ only surviving brother. “One person is not going to replace him, but through his work, through his family, he will be replaced 1,000 times over.”
Those attending the service said Means made them feel proud to be a Native American by encouraging them to take pride in their heritage and challenging them to live it.
Means himself never shied away from confrontation. As a young American Indian Movement leader, he spearheaded the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, which grabbed the attention of the entire nation.
But Means was never meant to be a warrior, said Chief Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota medicine man who participated in the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973. Means, he said, was first and foremost a spiritual leader, but the times called for a warrior, and like Crazy Horse, that is what he transformed into.
“He will enter the happy hunting grounds,” Crow Dog said before a procession that consisted of horseback riders who met several miles outside Kyle for a solemn journey to Little Wound High School, where an honoring was held into the night.
Means’ cremated remains were brought Wednesday from his ranch in Porcupine to the spot several miles outside of Kyle, where friends and family carried him the rest of the way on horseback on a dreary and cold day.
One horse had no rider, a horse Means never had a chance to ride. On Wednesday, it was said to carry his spirit.
“I never did ride with him,” Scott Sinquah Means, Russell Means’ second son, said before the ride. “Today is my first time I’ll be riding with him.”
Before the ride, Scott fondly recalled how his father always encouraged him when he lost a boxing match, saying that he lost on a split decision. Only later did he realize that likely wasn’t true and his father was just building his confidence.
Along the way to Kyle, the riders made four stops, each time saying a prayer.
The horseback procession carried Means’ ashes to the Little Wound High School gymnasium. The riders chanted traditional songs as they approached the school and emerged from the fog. A drum beat and cries were heard as the group neared the school.
A long trail of cars followed the riders — friends and family members — to pay their respects to a man many on the reservation admired.
At the school, the riders gathered in a half-circle, facing an audience of admirers before a Lakota prayer was said. Tatanka Means carried his father’s ashes into the school and brought them before the crowd that had gathered.
For hours afterward, family, friends and admirers shared stories of Russell Means with each other, taking turns at the microphone. Some stories were told in the Lakota language, others in English.
Well-wishers from across the country attended, with tribal members and others coming from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, California, Colorado and Minnesota.
Leaders from the Yankton Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe made appearances, including OST President John Yellow Bird Steele. Numerous other dignitaries paid their respects, including Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker and a representative of Sen. John Thune’s office.
“He gave pride to something that was systematically crushed,” said Ward Churchill, an activist, writer and former co-director of the Colorado chapter of AIM. “To be Indian was to not be human. He turned that around in a real fundamental way.”
Churchill, a former professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said Means could speak with elderly Indians as easily as lifelong academics.
“He took the language back from them,” he said.
Arthur Zimiga, a lifelong friend of Means, said Means redefined what it meant to be Indian and helped Native Americans understand who they were apart from how the United States government defined them.
“He was looking for equality. He said, ‘I am a man, and I have a right to be a man and be free,’” Zimiga said.