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A New Warrior Walks the Milky Way

Oct 29, 2012

Russell Means, as depicted by visual artist Bruno Leyval. See more of Leyval's work at


“All European tradition, Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That's revolution. . .

“You see the one thing I've always maintained is that I'm an American Indian. I'm not a Native American. I'm not politically correct. Everyone who's born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American. We are all Native Americans. And if you notice, I put American before my ethnicity. I'm not a hyphenated African-American or Irish-American or Jewish-American or Mexican-American.” — Russell Means.

The Lakota Oyate lost a very special warrior last week. Death is transformation. Russell Means is now walking the sacred path of the Milky Way. I believe he is ecstatic at the reunion with ancestors who greeted him to help with his spiritual journey. Tasunke Witko is guiding him on the path. Russell will prepare a sacred place for us. He will help our spirit when it is our time to walk the Milky Way.

He will be remembered by many of his Oyate as a patriot of the Lakota Nation. He was a true warrior who feared no challenge. He feared no man. He was Akicita. He was Tokala. He was Itancan. When he believed something needed to happen to improve the lives of all the Lakota people, he was the first warrior to take the steps to make the needed changes.

“Wounded Knee happened because Indian people wanted to survive as Indians and there wasn't any way to survive, so we made a stand and made a statement, but now Indian people are beginning to rebound, rebound according to their [concept of] "Beauty." And that's really what's necessary to understand: Indian people have to become free again.” — Russell Means 

I was a teenager when the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee took place. I clearly remember some of our own people acted like they were afraid of what was happening on the Pine Ridge Rez. Even though many of the adult members of my family didn’t really have any good things to say about the American Indian Movement (AIM) back then, I’m still very glad all those brave activists stood up for our rights. 

Warriors like Russell Means helped my generation to become what we are today. Whether you love it or hate it, AIM is still very influential on all of us. If it wasn’t for AIM, people my age might not have ever found any pride in being Lakota. We might have all melted into that proverbial pot.

And that's really what's necessary to understand: Indian people have to become free again. 

Russell Means was famous throughout the world. I will always remember him as an activist, an author, an actor and an extremely eloquent orator. He spoke up for all of us. I searched the internet for his quotes and found several. I include some here in the following paragraphs:

“One is expected to know things, to believe things. Knowing and believing are all in your head — there is nothing in your heart. If you cannot feel that the earth is your grandmother, then of course you will find it easy to rape her, to behave as if she is under your dominion. You will find it easy to believe that we humans are the dominant species, and to act as though the earth and everything on it are ours to do with as we please ... if all human beings were taken away, life on earth would flourish.

“We Indians do not teach that there is only one God. We know that everything has power, including the most inanimate, inconsequential things. Stones have power. A blade of grass has power. Trees and clouds and all our relatives in the insect and animal world have power. We believe we must respect that power by acknowledging its presence. By honoring the power of the spirits in that way, it becomes our power as well. It protects us.” — from Where White Men Fear To Tread, Means' 1995 autobiography.

Wopila Russell Means! Many Lakota now realize it’s important to be proud of who we are. The path you created with your courage will be followed by many young Lakota. You inspired us to teach our children there is no need to be ashamed of being Lakota. We will continue to appreciate all the teachings you left behind for us to carry in our lives. Thank you for dedicating your life to the Lakota and other tribal people of Mother Earth.

I was unable to attend the celebration of Russell’s life last week. I send my love and prayers to the Means Tiospaye. I want to express my appreciation to Little Wound School for the live stream of the services. I was grateful to be able to watch and listen to all the people who spoke about Russell’s life. I also appreciated all the songs that were sung in his honor.

“Russell was more than a human being. Russell was a spirit. Russell was a God. He was like the spirit of a tree, or the spirit of the wind or the spirit of the sun. A living God amongst us — that was Russell Means,” Dennis Banks said.

“Once you experience true freedom in your mind and in your heart and you tie the two together, there is no going back — there’s no going back. I’m blessed because, of course, Indigenous people know and understand reincarnation I certainly understand it, I’m coming back as lightning. So I’m free. And when I come back as lightning I’m going to do my job. So, if you live longer than me and you find out that lightning has struck the White House, you know who did it.” — Russell Means.

Oyate Waciyanpi, we pray you have a beautiful journey.


Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She can be reached through email at


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