Russell Means, Indian Activist, Actor, Dies at 72

In a Jan. 31, 1989 file photo, Russell Means, who heads the American Indian Movement, (AIM) testifies before a special investigative committee of the Senate Select Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Means, a former American Indian Movement activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, reveled in stirring up attention and appeared in several Hollywood films, died early Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at his ranch Zzxin Porcupine, S.D., Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Solomon said. He was 72.

In a Jan. 31, 1989 file photo, Russell Means, who headed the American Indian Movement, (AIM) testifies before a special investigative committee of the Senate Select Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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But others may remember him for his former organization's connection to Aquash's slaying. Her death remains synonymous with AIM and its often-violent clashes with federal agents in the 1970s.

Authorities believe three AIM members shot and killed Aquash on the Pine Ridge reservation on the orders of someone in AIM's leadership because they suspected she was an FBI informant. Two activists — Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham — were both eventually convicted of murder. The third has never been charged.

Means blamed Vernon Bellecourt, another AIM leader, for ordering Aquash's killing. Bellecourt denied the allegations in a 2004 interview, four years before he died.

DeMain, an Indian journalist who researched the case, said AIM's leaders know who ordered Aquash's killing but have covered up the truth for decades.

Also in 1975, murder charges were filed against Means and Dick Marshall, an AIM member, in the shooting death of Martin Montileaux of Kyle at the Longbranch Saloon in Scenic. Marshall served 24 years in prison. Means was acquitted.

In addition to his presidential bid, Means also briefly served as a vice presidential candidate in 1984, joining the Larry Flynt ticket during the Hustler magazine publisher's unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.

But Means always considered himself a Libertarian and couldn't believe that anyone would want to call themselves either a Republican or a Democrat.

"It's just unconscionable that America has become so stupid," he said.

His acting career began in 1992 when he portrayed Chingachgook alongside Daniel Day-Lewis' Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans." He also appeared in the 1994 film "Natural Born Killers," voiced Chief Powhatan in the 1995 animated film "Pocahontas" and guest starred in 2004 on the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Means recounted his life in the book "Where White Men Fear to Tread." He said he pulled no punches in his autobiography, admitting to his frailties and evils but also acknowledging his successes.

"I tell the truth, and I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human being I used to be," he said.

Salomon, the tribal spokeswoman, called Means' death a "great loss" for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Means' death came a day after former U.S. Sen. George McGovern died in Sioux Falls at the age of 90. McGovern had traveled to Wounded Knee with U.S. Sen. James Abourezk during the 71-day takeover to try to negotiate an end.

"I've lost two good friends in a matter of two to three days," Abourezk said Monday morning. "I don't pretend to understand it."

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