Russell Means Reminded the World of the Real America (Izvestia, Russia)
The death this week of Native American activist Russell Means is a monumental loss to indigenous peoples around the world, and as this article by Russian journalist Orhan Jemal shows, for non-indigenous people as well. For Russia’s Izvestia, Jemal details some of the highlights of Means’ remarkable career, and explains why in his mind, this Native American hero symbolized what is genuinely great about America, both yesterday and today.
Means got his start with the desecration of a monument to the first American president. It was just minor symbolic hooliganism: in 1970, a group of activists associated with the American Indian Movement relieved themselves on the head of George Washington, carved out of an entire mountain in the town of Rushmore. It didn’t attract much attention, as there were plenty of freaks in the U.S. at the time, but Means and his comrades had no intention of stopping there.
U.S. mythology understands the story of Thanksgiving Day thus: British settlers, who journeyed to America on a three-masted ship, The Mayflower, founded the Plymouth Colony. In the first winter they died like flies from starvation, and all would have perished if not for the local chief Tisquantum, who gave the settlers a few turkeys and bags of corn. This sharing of a common table with their Indians saviors came to be celebrated as a major American holiday.
On Thanksgiving Day, he appeared at Plymouth and “spoiled the party.”
Means led hundreds of Indians to Plymouth and held a series of protest marches, recalling as it really was: about 1,000 Indians, including women and children, gathered at the harvest festival. They were surrounded, the men were shot, the women and children burned and the severed head of their chief was mounted on a pike and left to rot for 24 years. The next day, the governor of the colony declared a day of “Thanksgiving” for their God-given victory over the savages. That was how America’s biggest holiday was marked for the first time.
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