Russell Means: Lakota Warrior

Watch Russell Means: Lakota Warrior

  • 2015
  • 38 min

Russell Means: Lakota Warrior is a 2015 documentary film directed and produced by Dawn DeCora and Paul DeMain. The movie is a tribute to the late American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Russell Means who spent his life advocating for the rights of Native Americans. Throughout the film, viewers get a glimpse into the fascinating life of this legend through reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and Means' own words.

The documentary encompasses Means’ life from his childhood to his death, detailing his personal and political journey as an activist, actor, artist, and leader. Means, a proud Lakota Sioux, was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1939. As a young man, he moved to California, where he was drawn to the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. However, it wasn't until he moved back to his native South Dakota that he realized his true calling as an activist.

The film chronicles Means' pivotal role in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, a rebellion that started after members of the Oglala Sioux tribe took over a town for over 71 days to protest the federal government's handling of indigenous communities. Means played a crucial role in this movement, as he was a spokesperson for the occupation, which ended up leading to the deaths of two Native men, an FBI agent, and immense tension between AIM and the US government that lasted for years to come.

From there, the documentary highlights his battles against the US government on various Native American issues such as land rights, environmental protection, and cultural preservation. Means' efforts helped to spotlight the on-going systematic injustices inflicted on the indigenous population in the United States. He often spoke out against the "circle the wagons" mentality that the government had towards Native Americans, encouraging a more balanced and fair approach to negotiations with indigenous peoples.

The film focuses deeply on Means' thoughts about the American government, American culture, and his notions of indigeneity. His ideas were a vital and often controversial aspect of the AIM and Native American movements, which primarily advocated for recognising the sovereignty and separate legal status of American Indian tribes. Means philosophy of “red power” was grounded in the notion of reclaiming, redefining and reasserting Indigenous identity, language, culture, and spirituality.

The movie also sheds light on Means' work in the film industry, as he took on several acting roles that illustrated his interest in showcasing Native American stories and experiences. He worked with actor Kevin Costner in the Hollywood blockbuster Dances with Wolves, which portrayed the Lakota people in a sympathetic and realistic light. Means also appeared in the 1992 political drama The Last of the Mohicans, which dealt with inter-racial relations, colonialism, and war. Through these films, Means propagated the importance of the representation of Native American culture in entertainment and challenged Hollywood's conventional portrayal of the 'Cowboy and Indian narrative' in Westerns.

Another aspect of Means' life that's highlighted in the film is his passion for art. As a talented artist, he was committed to reviving and keeping indigenous art alive. His vision was to create a cultural center for the Lakota people that would be a hub for showcasing traditional art, music, and dance. This was finally built in 2012, one year before his death. The event was deemed as a testament to his legacy as an activist, artist, and determined fighter for the rights of Indigenous Americans.

Overall, Russell Means: Lakota Warrior is a stirring tribute to Means' remarkable life and legacy. It chronicles the challenges he faced as a Native American leader and the impact he has had on the American Indian Movement as well as his ideology of indigeneity which he led with his term "red power". The movie acts as not only a biography of Means but also a reflection on present-day Native American issues, and how it takes an individual like Means to move the needle forward.

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  • Release Date
  • Runtime
    38 min