October 10, 2011

Means is "riddle wrapped in enigma"

Notes from Indian Country:  The enigma of AIM leader Russell Means

By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)In 1976 while the United States was celebrating its 200th birthday, Means looked at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial through the eyes of an oppressed people and labeled it “The Shrine of Hypocrisy.” He added, “And I intend to blow out the candles on America’s birthday cake.”

Along with Dennis Banks and Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt, Means co-founded the American Indian Movement. They began their adventures by tailing the police cars in Minneapolis armed with cameras and watching for any sign of the outrageous actions that police department was inflicting upon Native Americans. The Movement soon caught the eye of Native Americans everywhere and AIM became the point-man for the feelings of us all.

But somewhere along the way the Movement turned to violence beginning with its November 1972 takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D. C. where irreplaceable and valuable records vital to the lives of so many Native Americans were trashed and destroyed.

Several more acts of violence ensued over the coming years including the takeover, trashing and murders that took place inside of the occupied buildings at Wounded Knee. I, along with many other Native Americans lost heart and faith in AIM after that, but I still held a deep admiration for Russell Means through it all because I believe his intentions were genuine, but somehow his followers just got out of hand. AIM really had no credentials for membership and it attracted a wild assortment of members seeking thrills more than social justice along with those who sincerely believed in its goals. It also attracted several FBI informants which eventually led to the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash near Wanblee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation when the AIM leadership suspected her of being such an informant.

Like the enigma he was, Means often went from the practical to the ridiculous, but he always held the courage of his convictions. He sincerely believed that it was his goal in life to crush the bureaucracy that covertly impoverished and attempted to annihilate the cultures of his people.
Comment:  For more on Russell Means, see Means's Tumor Has Shrunk and Banks Visits Ailing Means.

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