On the day before this past Columbus Day I produced a program for KFAI’s Wave Project about the Native American protests of the lates 60s and early 70s which featured music by Native artists from the period and actual recordings from Alcatraz Island, Wounded Knee and other occupation protests. It was a project I had worked on for months and the subject of Native American protest songs is something I have written about extensively here in this blog (here’s a link to the recent post which has, within it, several links).
One of the voices heard in that program speaking during the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota is that of Russel Means, who passed away yesterday at the age of 72. He was an extraordinary man whose life is movingly recounted in an autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, which I encourage you to read. Means was an occasional political candidate on doomed tickets (he was Larry Flynt’s running mate in 1984, for instance) and an actor in a variety of crappy movies. He was hardly a perfect man or even a perfect leader, but in his own writing he recognized that. It reminds me of what Nixon said about Teddy Roosevelt’s life after the presidency: “Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but always in the arena. He was a man.”
In his autobiography, Means wrote, “If you learn from an experience it is good, so nothing bad happens to you.”
This is a piece of music I used in the program – it is performed by A. Paul Ortega and written by the great folk singer Peter LaFarge. I thought it was a fitting tribute to Means, who did his best to represent his people with a life well-lived.
(“What is an Indian?”)