And so most of the lists are in; the best and worst of the year as it fades. Best songs, worst dressed celebrities, most spectacular sporting moments, most memorable moments and on it goes. Of course some will be more daring declarations also; the absolute number one, Time’s person of the year for example.
I don’t know why, but I think the lists that I pay the most attention to are those whose passing warrants a mention because of something noteworthy in their lives. I find it interesting to think of the difference each person mentioned made, mostly for good, and sometimes for bad. I also ponder the names that didn’t make it and think of why not.
And so this brief note is to reflect on a person who while not mentioned on many of the lists, left an important legacy in this country. Of all the incredible people mentioned, and there are many, Russell Means is the one I keep gravitating back to. If you haven’t heard of Means, then perhaps that makes sense in the sad light of one major US television network presenting a list of no less than 140 people (and a dog), but no mention of Means.
An Oglala Lakota (Sioux), Means was an incredibly complex person. I will not impose my meager words on his life, his memory or his legacy, except to say he was polarizing and often controversial. He was a pivotal figure in many public confrontations bringing the plight of the American Indian to the attention of an American and sometimes world audience that were neither aware nor sympathetic to. Perhaps the most famous such incident was the occupation and subsequent two and a half month siege by US authorities at Wounded Knee.
I encourage you to visit perhaps his own web sites or read some of his obituaries. As little as he respected the written word over oral tradition, read… learn to listen as you read.
"To the Lakota, to the Indian, when you listen, you're praying. That's a form of prayer, when you listen."
Perhaps he foretold his own path as is fitting for dead warriors in his role of Chingachgook in the early 90’s version of “Last of the Mohicans”… that he would fly towards his ancestors like a swift arrow into the sun.