American Indian Movement

Marcy Nighswander/Associated Press Russell Means in 1989

One of the leaders, Russell C. Means, of the AIM (American Indian Movement) died on Monday, October 22. At the time of his death, being an Oglala Sioux,  he was living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at his ranch in the town of Porcupine, S.D.. He was 72 years old.

The nation first came to know of Mr. Means on February 27, 1973 as he helped lead 200 Oglala Lakota (Sioux) activists and members of AIM in the occupation of Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a very small town where it is told that the Sioux chief Crazy Horse’s heart and bones were buried along the Wounded Knee Creek, was taken hostage by the activists. The occupation was an effort to  force the U.S. government to honor promises made in treaties from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was the start of what became a 71-Day Siege.

The U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and National Guard besieged the town in response to the take over. A member of the AIM later described in an interview that it was like living in a war zone. Two Oglala Lakota were shot and killed and an FBI agent became paralyzed by a gun shot wound.

The death of tribe member Buddy Lamont resulted in the Oglala Lakota’s move towards a resolution. Their surrender to law enforcement occurred on May 8th.

Means and his followers did bring awareness to the ill treatment of the indigenous people in the U.S., but unfortunately their civil rights movement saw little to no success. Today, the Pine Ridge Reservation suffers from extreme poverty and between 70 and 80 percent unemployment.

Sources: The Atlantic , The New York Times obit for Russell Means