Years ago I was drawn to read Dee Brown‘s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The book is a Stanford University classic on the tragic history of North American Indians. Many may also vaguely remember Russell Means in The Last of the Mohicans, playing the noble Mohican character Chingachgook who with Hawkeye, kills Magua, the antagonist Huron Indian leader. Though that characterization was memorable and true to life, Russell Means was much more than that. He was a Aboriginal visionary and leader. He is eulogized in the current issue of The Economist.
The corruption on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where Means was born, is legendary. The Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard film, Thunderheart, uses this history of corruption as a backdrop for the film. Means rose above his birthplace to become a model for other Aboriginals. In a recent scenario analagous to inner city gang murders, a host of unsolved murders on the Pine Ridge Reservation since the 1970′s have come under new scrutiny, suspected to be part of this pattern of corruption.
In another tragic irony, one of the two FBI agents killed in the 1970′s Wounded Knee incident, Jack Coulter, was my high school classmate at St. Anthony’s Boys High School, in Long Beach, California. I remember Jack well. Tragedy on both sides.