navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

Russell Means 1939–
American Indian Leader and Actor

In the 1960s, the movement by American Indians for equal rights grew stronger. Many young people became protestors. They were angry about years of unfair treatment by the U.S. government. One of these young protesters was Russell Means. He is from the Oglala Lakota nation and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. Means joined the American Indian rights movement in 1968 and quickly became a leader.

Means led a group known as AIM (American Indian Movement). AIM became known for its bold takeovers of federal property. Means led takeovers of Mt. Rushmore, the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Washington, D.C., and Wounded Knee in South Dakota. The takeovers were a form of protest. They drew public attention to the injustices facing American Indians and forced the government to make changes. Some protests, however, turned violent. Several AIM leaders, including Means, went to jail. AIM lost many supporters by the late 1970s because of the violence.

In the 1990s, Russell Means began an acting career. He has appeared in several films and was the voice of Powhatan in the film Pocahontas. He remains a well–known voice for American Indian pride and activism.

Comprehension Check

What group did Russell Means lead?

Critical Thinking

Why do you think the movement for equal rights for American Indians may have grown stronger in the 1960s?