It was only a matter of time before Russell Means turned his attention to music. A member of the Oglala/Lakota tribe of Native Americans, Means has appeared in such films as The Last of the Mohicans and Natural Born Killers, and provided the voice of Powhatan in the Disney film Pocahontas, as well as authoring an autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread. Means' two albums, Electric Warrior, released in 1993, and, The Radical, released in 1996, combine Means' outspoken views of the Native American struggle and an eclectic blend of classical, country & western, rock & roll, hard rock, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and blues that he calls "rap-ajo."
Means' creative endeavors are a long way from his early experiences as an activist of Native American rights. A founding member and director of the American Indian Movement (AIM), he led the "Trail of Broken Treaties" march on Washington, D.C., in 1972. While in the capital, he participated in a break-in of the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Dallas Morning News claimed, "not since war chiefs such as Geronimo or Crazy Horse has an Indian leader so polarized the American public."
The following year, Means organized a takeover of Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. During the 72-day siege, two Native Americans were killed and a federal agent paralyzed. Along with Dennis Banks, Means was charged with ten felony counts. The charges were later dropped. According to his own recollection, Means has been "shot three times, bombed, tear-gassed, harassed, and beaten by police." He served a year at the South Dakota Penitentiary for his involvement in a riot in Sioux Falls in 1974.
Means has been heavily criticized by members of the American Indian Movement, who claim that he increasingly embraced the American government. The first president of AIM, Means resigned more than six times before severing his ties with the organization for good on January 8, 1988. Speculations for his leaving ranged from his running for the presidency of the Oglala Nation in 1974, to seeking the vice-presidency of the United States on a ticket with Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine ten years later. In 1981, Means led a group of Native Americans into the Black Hills National Forest, where they took over 800 acres as a Sioux religious site that they named "Yellow Thunder Colony."
In the late '80s, Means angered many who had previously supported him when he agreed to tour nationally for the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He stirred up further criticism with his backing of the U.S.-supported Nicaraguan Contras in their struggle against the Sandanistas. Although he began seeking creative outlets for his talents in 1991, Means has continued to be politically active.
His songs have included such scorching condemnations as in "Ain't No Prison for the Corporations," "Conspiracy to Be Free," and "Nixon's Dead A**." According to the Chicago Tribune, Means' songs "give one a visceral understanding of today's Indians, their ancestors and the many betrayals they have suffered." Means' troubles continue, however. In 1998, he was charged for assault and battery on his 80-year-old father-in-law. He subsequently pleaded guilty to all charges. Means presented then-President Bill Clinton with a petition to free Leonard Peltier in July, 1999. ~ Craig Harris