Thursday, 1 November 2012


My obituary of Russell Means is up now on the Guardian's website (link to it here); it should be in the paper paper tomorrow. It was a difficult one to write to the assigned length, simply because Means' life within the AIM was so fraught with internal friction, and I could have got lost in hundreds of words on feuds, issues and personalities.

There's no question he divided people in the movement, and I wonder how much was due to the fact that, as I said, he was a drifter going from odd job to odd job across the West before he latched on to Indian politics. The urge to put his own interests in the foreground was the main bone of contention with his fellow AIM members, but it isn't surprising in the sense of a self-made political figure, particularly one as well-versed in political theatre as Means. That the theatre sometimes resulted in violent confrontation somehow made his point about the history of relations between Native Americans and the Europeans who pushed them out even more clear.

The move to movies was natural--no pun on Natural Born Killers intended--and he is very good indeed as Chingachgook in Michael Mann's Last Of The Mohicans, which is an excellent movie that's true to James Fenimore Cooper even as it departs from the text. Oddly enough, he played a supporting role in another Fenimore Cooper adaptation, a 1996 TV movie of The Pathfinder, in which Graham Greene plays the older Chingachgook (Pathfinder is Natty Bumppo, aka Hawkeye and Deerslayer). Even more oddly, he played the title character in another film called Pathfinder (2007) not based on Fenimore Cooper but about Vikings battling Indians in the pre-Columbian times. I made the point that he played a number of Indian heroes, which came out in the paper as simply heroes, but Jim Thorpe is a fine example of a hero whose status as an American Indian made his story ultimately tragic. I'm not of the belief Means' story is tragic, by any means, but it certainly never achieved all that we would have hoped he might have. And my original ended with a noting that, three days after his death, his ashes were scattered at a ceremony in the Black Hills.

1 comment :

Chris Roberts said...

Russell Means: "I don’t want to be remembered as an activist. I want to be remembered as an American Indian patriot.” In "The Progressive" magazine.