Chanting on horseback along the Big Foot Trail: Last of the Mohicans star mourned by 1,000 Native Americans in traditional 12-HOUR memorial along historic pass
PUBLISHED: 00:12 EST, 25 October 2012 | UPDATED: 12:52 EST, 25 October 2012
In the company of more than 1,000 mourners chanting and singing for their fallen Native American hero, a riderless horse escorted the remains of Russell Means to his first of four memorials on Wednesday.
Carried to a 12-hour service at South Dakota’s Little Wound High School, the smell of burning sage, sweetgrass and cedar wafted through the air as a spiritual cleansing and healing, honouring the 72-year-old chief.
Means died at his home in South Dakota on Monday after spending decades fighting for American Indian rights, starting with protests against college and professional sports teams’ use of Indian images as mascots.
He later became the leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president.
Means, remembered as well for his dramatic role in the film The Last of the Mohicans, had been battling advanced esophageal cancer.
Invitations to his memorial written by family described him as an ‘Oglala Lakota patriot and freedom fighter.’
‘Prayers were offered outside with a drum and honor songs, then he was escorted in with his wife, Pearl and all his children and grandchildren,’ Mean’s sister-in-law Natalie Hand told Indian Country Today. ‘The ceremony will go on into the night. After that, his family and close relatives among the Oglalas will be carrying his ashes up to the Black Hills and scattering his ashes at Yellow Thunder Camp.’
Leading the ceremony and speaking proudly of Chief Means was Chief Crow Dog, AIM’s spiritual leader.
Career: Means, pictured left in The Last of the Mohicans and right in April, also played roles in Natural Born Killers and the animated film Pocahontas, among others. In 1995, he released an autobiography
‘He’s a leader of all tribes—a spiritual leader—and a warrior. He was not originally a warrior, but all the injustice that happened to the American Indians and Canadian Indians—the system made him into a warrior just like Crazy Horse,’ Sundance Chief Leonard Crow Dog, AIM’s spiritual leader, told Indian Country Today.
Chief Crow Dog said Means’ soul will travel four days before reaching the spirit realm known as Happy Hunting Grounds in the Lakota tribe tradition.
‘Four days from now, he will enter [it] to see all the chiefs in his band, and all the families, all the relations, all the stillborn that went to Happy Hunting Grounds,’ he said according to the paper.
With hundreds travelling to pay their respects in just the first of three more memorials to come, dignitaries from tribes across the country are expected, ‘from different nations, and friends,’ said Natalie Hand.
‘He made a huge, huge inroads into freedom for Native people around the world. That was his whole mission in life—to be free. One of his favorite quotes was, “The first thing about freedom is you’re free to be responsible.” He encouraged young people to embrace that; he was a huge voice,’ she said.
His younger brother Bill Means said on Wednesday that his brother’s combative nature and unwillingness to accept any form of racial discrimination was ingrained at an early age.
‘Our mother had faced discrimination throughout her life, and she was a not a woman to compromise – particularly when it came to discrimination,’ he said during the service. ‘Russell saw that and become much the same way.’
The ceremony was expected to last 12 hours, beginning with a funeral procession led by 21 horses through a stretch of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, where Means was born.
Means died at his home in South Dakota after spending decades fighting for American Indian rights, starting with protests against college and professional sports teams’ use of Indian images as mascots.
He later become the leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president. Means, who was 72, had been battling advanced esophageal cancer.
‘I will remember him as an honest man,’ said his son, Scott Means. ‘What he gave you was the truth, always the truth. You always knew where he stood.’
As an activist, Means took part in an occupation of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington in 1972 and led the 72-day standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge in 1973.
He also dabbled in acting, appearing in films The Last of the Mohicans and Natural Born Killers.
Means told the AP in 2011 that before AIM, there had been no advocate on a national or international scale for American Indians and that Native Americans were ashamed of their heritage.
‘No one except Hollywood stars and very rich Texans wore Indian jewelry,’ Means said. ‘That’s all changed.’
Means said he felt his most important accomplishment was the founding of the Republic of Lakotah and the ‘re-establishment of our freedom to be responsible’ as a sovereign nation inside the borders of the United States.