I’ve just learned that Russell Means passed away this morning. I was going to call this post “Rest in peace, Russell Means,” but that phrase seemed out of place for a man who made fire and passion the mission of his life. Mr. Means was certainly a controversial figure, but no one can deny his role in changing the conversation we have about indigenous people here in the US. Lakota people, American Indians, and Americans in general lost a powerful voice today.
I read on a comment board that Mr. Means’ name, in the Lakota language, was Oyate Wachyapin, which means “helper of his people.” Another commenter left this message: Waŋná wanáǧiyata níŋ na uŋ líla ičháŋteuŋšičapi, oíyokšiče ló. Éyaš óhiŋniyaŋ čhíksuya uŋk’úŋpi kte ló.
Now you are making the journey to the spirit world and we are sad. But we will always remember you.
I’d like to add that although I just said he “passed away,” that is not how his family phrased it: they say that he “now walks among the ancestors.” In every part of life, from small interactions to large events of joy and grief, we can choose different words to express ourselves. In honor of the life and work of Mr. Means, I’d like to think about a world where families can celebrate and mourn in Lakota or English or any other language that is dear to them.