In 1973, Means led the organization’s armed occupation of the South Dakota hamlet of Wounded Knee -- the site of an infamous massacre of Native Americans by US soldiers in 1890. The siege lasted for 71 days and there were several gun battles with federal officers. However, Means denied that the group ever promoted violence.
The grassroots action was organized after the failure of AIM followers to impeach the elected tribal president, Richard Wilson, whom they accused of corruption and abuse of opponents.
AIM was targeted by the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program), which conducted activities against groups and individuals that the FBI deemed "subversive." COINTELPRO operatives used psychological warfare to discredit targets, and conducted smear campaigns against individuals and groups through the use of forged documents and false reports planted in the media. Other tactics included harassment, wrongful imprisonment, and illegal violence, including assassination.
In August 2011, Means announced that he had developed inoperable throat cancer but would not undergo heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy. Instead, he said he was battling the disease with traditional native remedies and was receiving treatments at an alternative cancer center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"I'm not going to argue with the Great Mystery," he said, adding, "Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed. When it's my time to go, it's my time to go."
Means, who grew up in the San Francisco area, was also known for his role in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” He ran unsuccessfully for president of his tribe and for the Libertarian nomination for US president in 1988.
Russell Means, a former American Indian Movement (AIM) activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, has died at the age of 72.
He passed away on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said Donna Salomon, a spokeswoman for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Means, an outspoken champion of American Indian rights, was an early leader of AIM, which was founded in the late 1960s to protest against the US government’s treatment of Native Americans and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes.