I drove about three hours to Kyle, South Dakota today which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was snowing while I drove.
I had heard on KILI radio
(The voice of the Lakota Nation) as I got near the Black Hills yesterday that a ten-hour memorial service would be held for Means today. He died the day after former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern passed on. So I was determined that I would go join the honoring of Russell Means.
I got there about 1:00 pm and there had to have been 400 or so people there by then. I stayed four hours and many more came and went during that time.
Family and fellow American Indian Movement (AIM) activists told moving stories about Means. He grew up tough and had to learn to fight as he stood up to the ever present racism that exists in Indian country and across the nation. His youngest son talked about having picked up the newspaper today and saw that the KKK was active again in the Black Hills town of Custer - named after the Army general who was sent to drive the Lakota people out of their sacred lands once gold had been discovered there in 1874.
Several speakers talked about the untiring efforts of Means to teach his people about their treaty rights (Treaty of Ft. Laramie 1868) which recognized that the Black Hills belonged to the native people. But like so many other treaties the U.S. government violated it and stuck the people on reservations.
Today the people live in grinding poverty. But this remarkable gathering today showed that thanks to leaders like Means and many others the people still maintain their dignity, humor, love of nature and family, and their connection to the Great Spirit.
I made the long drive back to my small, cold cabin in the Black Hills through the wind-driven snow. Very few cars were to be seen on the hilly, curvy roads in the dark. Earlier in the day I had seen deer, buffalo, and antelope as I made my way to Pine Ridge.
It was truly an honor to spend the day with these good people. It's a day I will never forget.