Russell Means Era Gente

The American Indian Movement activist inspired many Chicanos in the 70s and 80s

By Sandra V. Castro
Published on LatinoLA: October 23, 2012

Russell Means <i>Era Gente</i>

(Editor's Note: Longtime Indian activist Russell Means died at 72 on Monday, October 22)

Why is this story in LatinoLA?

In the early 70's there were Chicano members in the American Indian Movement (AIM). Chicanos in Denver, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles were inspired by AIM to resurrect their indigenous roots. Maestros from the south were invited by AIM to the north to teach indigenous culture, philosophy and traditions. At one indigenous conference that included native people from Mexico and South America, AIM was stumped by Chicanos claiming to be both Chicano and Native American. We were asked how could we be both? (We explained our reasoning).

I recognize AIM for sending lots of Chicanos back to Mexico to reconnect with our indigenous teachings. That journey led us (Chicano, Mexican American activist in California) to find that the Inipi and the Sundance were also part of our native traditions in Mexico. Lakota and Dakota elders shared their wisdom and teachings with Chicanos.

AIM leadership traveled to Chiapas to support the Zapatistas in their struggle and in an unpopular move, Russell Means went to Nicaragua to support the Miskito people against a popular Sandinista government. AIM assisted in first Peace and Dignity Journeys Run in 1992. When the first Peace and Dignity run was in the planning stage, LA area Tiospaye members became runners, volunteers and coordinators for the run.

Russell was not the only member of AIM and he was very controversial, but AIM and his leadership inspired many Chicanos. We made Navajo friends thru AIM at Big Mountain in the 80's. We shared stories of growing up in the Southwest and things we held in common, like respect for the elders and our grandma's teachings.

Russell Means, 'Era Gente', he was people. I met Russell in Santa Fe, New Mexico at an event. Russell was not at all like what I thought he would be in person. I was shy about approaching him. When I did speak to Russell backstage, he was nice. I traded Rar?ímuri pine needle baskets for his book. My husband, Jorge and I were there to speak at a fundraiser about our Rar?ímuri elders. Russell was there to promote his book Where White Men Fear to Tread and to perform his just released music CD The Radical. Jorge was asked to give a short bio and introduce Russell Means to the audience. I heard Russell sing The Radical and I'm Not Kissing Nixon's Dead Ass, songs from his CD. When Russell sang The Radical, it reminded me of what it was like to be Chicano activist in the 70's.

Quote from The Radical: "It's Your freedom baby, but I'll take the fall.

Russell, saludame al tio Frank Gutierrez, who nourished indigenous roots at East L.A. College MEChA, the founders of First Annual East L.A. College Pow-Wow.

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