Lakota People's Law Project's Madonna Thunder Hawk and Daniel Sheehan Remember Russell Means
Lakota People’s Law Project Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan began a 40 year friendship with Means when he helped to defend Means against criminal charges stemming from Wounded Knee. Sheehan summarized the significance of Means. "When Russell Means stood astride the barricades at Wounded Knee with his rifle held high, he led his people out of 100 years of the bondage of fear and quiet acquiescence to the system of repression and privation imposed by the forces of avarice and greed."
Means was born to his role according to Madonna Thunder Hawk, who was his first cousin. A noted activist in her own right, “We didn’t play cowboys and Indians. We played Indians and Indians,” Thunder Hawk remembers. “Russ was the leader of the pack from a young age. He organized and led epic battles for land and hunting grounds that would continue for days. We would only go home to eat and sleep.”
Thunder Hawk said that there wasn’t a specific point in time or a specific event that marked her cousin’s emergence as a leader and national figure. “We were too busy surviving. We didn’t have the type of life that allowed you to sit back and reflect,” Thunder Hawk recalls. “The only media available early on was state controlled media. We had no real access to the news of struggles for change. Occasionally, we would hear of things relating to civil rights or we studied about the forced relocation of the Japanese. As bad as these things were, they were nothing compared to our oppression and we were invisible to the rest of the country.”
According to Thunder Hawk, her parents' generation had a different consciousness. Nevertheless, their parents and elders were supportive. “You are doing what we should have done,” Thunder Hawk recalls Means' mother telling him.