Top positive review
72 people found this helpful
on January 3, 2002
Most people have probably heard of Russell Means at some point. Means is the best known member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM was the group that took over Wounded Knee in the early 1970's and engaged in numerous protests to try and bring attention to the plight of the Native American. This autobiography not only gives the reader a detailed description of the life of Russell Means, but insights into the philosophy of this revolutionary. While AIM has receded into the background quite a bit since its glory days, Means is still going strong. This book shows us why.
The book doesn't flinch from unpleasantness. We find out that Means' parents were abusive and that his father was an alcoholic. Russell himself became mixed up in drugs during his youth and quickly became sucked into the same alcoholic world that his father inhabited. Throughout his career as a member of AIM, Means drank constantly until he finally came to terms with this problem and discovered that his rage could be controlled. During the course of the book we see Russell being beaten up, shot, arrested numerous times, and imprisoned for his activities. This guy has seen it all, and the picture on the front of the book tells me that I would hate to be on this man's bad side. He's tough, but cares deeply for his people and what he believes in, a trait that is certainly noble and admirable.
What comes across most strongly in this book is how AIM helped Means find his spirituality. Before becoming conscious of his heritage, Means spent most of his time in bars drinking. Once he gained awareness of his heritage, Means took part in numerous rituals, such as the Sun Dance and crying for visions. The book goes into intricate detail in describing the importance of these rituals and how they are practiced. This spirituality helped Means to quit drinking and allowed him to begin taking care of his family (which is sprawling; he was married a lot and has many children). The element of spirituality in the book is important because for years many Indians were denied the right to practice their religious ceremonies by the federal government. Even now, according to Means, there is still opposition to some of the ceremonies.
The last several chapters of the book show why AIM became increasingly insignificant. Fractures within the group over spiritual matters escalated, and Means himself became wrapped up in trivial issues. Means associated himself with Larry Flynt, the Unification Church, and the Libertarian Party. All of these associations reflected poorly on what AIM tried to accomplish. The final straw seemed to be when Means defended the Indians in Nicaragua against the Communist Sandinista regime. The Indians there were being bombed and killed by the Communists, and Means spends a chapter or two showing how serious this was. American Leftists and other pro-Marxists vilified Means when he proved his case. These people just couldn't accept that Commies were killing indigenous people.
This is an excellent book that will make people think about their culture. I recommend this to anyone interested in Native American studies or political movements. Russell Means, whether you agree with his life or not, should be commended for standing up for what he believes in and never backing down. We should all be more like that.