Teaching Students About Russell Means: Exploring His Life and Impact


Russell Means was a prominent Native American activist, actor, and author known for his unyielding dedication to the rights of indigenous people. Born on November 10, 1939, in South Dakota, United States, Means fought for the rights of marginalized Native Americans and sought to raise awareness about their struggles. Teaching students about Russell Means is an essential component of discussing indigenous activism in America.

Early Life and Education

Russell Means’ early life was filled with adversity. He faced poverty, alcoholism, and violence growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Despite facing numerous setbacks during his formative years, he managed to complete high school and later attended several colleges without earning a degree. It was during this time that he became determined to improve the lives of his people.

The American Indian Movement

In 1968, Russell Means joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), which aimed at promoting Native American rights and addressing issues like police brutality and treaty enforcement. As a member of AIM, Means quickly emerged as a leading voice advocating for indigenous sovereignty and cultural preservation.

The Wounded Knee Occupation

In 1973, Russell Means played a central role in one of the most significant events in modern Native American history – the Wounded Knee Occupation. Aimed at protesting against government corruption and mistreatment of indigenous people, Means led a group of activists who occupied the village of Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge Reservation. The 71-day standoff resulted in increased attention from media outlets around the world and highlighted many unfair government policies affecting Native Americans.

Later Life and Legacy

Russell Means transitioned into acting later in life and appeared in various movies like “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) and “Pocahontas” (1995), further raising awareness about Native American culture through mainstream cinema.

In 1995, Russell Means transitioned to the Libertarian Party and even campaigned for the party’s presidential nomination in 1988. He also supported environmental causes, emphasizing the importance of preserving land sacred to Native people.

Russell Means passed away on October 22, 2012, but his legacy as an advocate, actor, and author lives on in his books and documentaries.

Teaching Students

Integrating Russell Means’ story into educational curriculums is crucial for many reasons:

1. Raising awareness about indigenous rights and activism: By learning about Russell Means and his dedication to indigenous people’s rights, students can better understand the plight of marginalized groups in America.

2. Encouraging empathy and social awareness: Learning about Russell Means can help students understand why social justice is vital and inspire them to make positive changes in their communities.

3. Celebrating resiliency: The story of Russell Means and his determination amidst adversity teaches students that they have within themselves the power to overcome challenges.


Incorporating Russell Means into educational programs is a significant opportunity to foster a more inclusive learning environment. By sharing his inspiring story with students, educators can help make strides in raising awareness about indigenous rights, promoting empathy, and cultivating a generation that values social justice.

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