RUSSELL MEANS, AMERICAN INDIAN ACTIVIST
Russell Means, left, and Dennis Banks in 1973, when they led a protest at Wounded Knee, S.D.
Published: October 22, 2012
Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was 72.
The cause was esophageal cancer, which had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, said Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative. Told in the summer of 2011 that the cancer was inoperable, Mr. Means had already resolved to shun mainstream medical treatments in favor of herbal and other native remedies.
Strapping, and ruggedly handsome in buckskins, with a scarred face, piercing dark eyes and raven braids that dangled to the waist, Mr. Means was, by his own account, a magnet for trouble — addicted to drugs and alcohol in his early years and later arrested repeatedly in violent clashes with rivals and the law. He was tried for abetting a murder, shot several times, stabbed once and imprisoned for a year for rioting.
He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
But critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety by running quixotic races for the presidency and the governorship of New Mexico, by acting in dozens of movies — notably in a principal role in “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) — and by writing and recording music commercially with Indian warrior and heritage themes.
He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites.
Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used.
And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments.
In the ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents, thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Mr. Means and his fellow protest leader Dennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny and conspiracy. But after a long federal trial in Minnesota in 1974, with the defense raising current and historic Indian grievances, the case was dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Means later faced other legal battles. In 1976, he was acquitted in a jury trial in Rapid City, S.D., of abetting a murder in a barroom brawl. Wanted on six warrants in two states, he was convicted of involvement in a 1974 riot during a clash between the police and Indian activists outside a Sioux Falls, S.D., courthouse. He served a year in a state prison, where he was stabbed by another inmate.
Mr. Means also survived several gunshots — one in the abdomen fired during a scuffle with an Indian Affairs police officer in North Dakota in 1975, one that grazed his forehead in what he called a drive-by assassination attempt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, and one in the chest fired by another would-be assassin on another South Dakota reservation in 1976.
Undeterred, he led a caravan of Sioux and Cheyenne into a gathering of 500 people commemorating the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, the nation’s most famous defeat of the Indian wars. To pounding drums, Mr. Means and his followers mounted a speaker’s platform, joined hands and did a victory dance, sung in Sioux Lakota, titled “Custer Died for Your Sins.”
Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge reservation on Nov. 10, 1939, the oldest of four sons of Harold and Theodora Feather Means. The Anglo-Saxon surname was that of a great-grandfather. When he was 3, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, a welder and auto mechanic, worked in wartime shipyards.
Russell attended public schools in Vallejo and San Leandro High School, where he faced racial taunts, had poor grades and barely graduated in 1958. He drifted into delinquency, drugs, alcoholism and street fights. He also attended four colleges, including Arizona State at Tempe, but did not earn a degree. For much of the 1960s he rambled about the West, working as a janitor, printer, cowboy and dance instructor.
In 1969, he took a job with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Within months he moved to Cleveland and became founding director of a government-financed center helping Indians adapt to urban life. He also met Mr. Banks, who had recently co-founded the American Indian Movement. In 1970, Mr. Means became the movement’s national director, and over the next decade his actions made him a household name.
In 1985 and 1986, he went to Nicaragua to support indigenous Miskito Indians whose autonomy was threatened by the leftist Sandinista government. He reported Sandinista atrocities against the Indians and urged the Reagan administration to aid the victims. Millions in aid went to some anti-Sandinista groups, but a leader of the Miskito Indian rebels, Brooklyn Rivera, said his followers had not received any of that aid.
In 1987, Mr. Means ran for president. He sought the Libertarian Party nomination but lost to Ron Paul, a former and future congressman from Texas. In 2002, Mr. Means campaigned independently for the New Mexico governorship but was barred procedurally from the ballot.
Mr. Means retired from the American Indian Movement in 1988, but its leaders, with whom he had feuded for years, scoffed, saying he had “retired” six times previously. They generally disowned him and his work, calling him an opportunist out for political and financial gain. In 1989, he told Congress that there was “rampant graft and corruption” in tribal governments and federal programs assisting American Indians.
Mr. Means began his acting career in 1992 with “The Last of the Mohicans,” Michael Mann’s adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, in which he played Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Over two decades he appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Pathfinder” (2007). He also recorded CDs, including “Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America” (1993), and wrote a memoir, “Where White Men Fear to Tread” (1995, with Marvin J. Wolf).
He was married and divorced four times and had nine children. He also adopted many others following Lakota tradition. His fifth marriage, to Pearl Daniels, was in 1999, and she survives him.
Mr. Means cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis. It was, he said in an interview last October, a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.
LINCOLN ALEXANDER, CANADIAN POLITICIAN
Lincoln Alexander in Toronto in 1986, when he was lieutenant governor of Ontario.
Published: October 22, 2012
- Lincoln Alexander, the son of a hotel maid and railway porter who became Canada’s first black member of Parliament and first black cabinet minister, died on Friday in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 90.
David C. Onley, the lieutenant governor of Ontario, announced the death.
Mr. Alexander was also Canada’s first black lieutenant governor, but when he was elected to the House of Commons in 1968, he said he had tired of being called “the first Negro” anything. He sought to speak for all victims of injustice, he said. Blacks make up 2.5 percent of Canada’s population.
With his election to Parliament, he was one of the few urban members of the Progressive Conservative Party to buck the landside vote for Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals that year. In the Commons he became a leader in issues like immigration overhaul and urban renewal.
When the Conservatives gained power in 1979, he was named labor minister and promoted literacy education to enhance job preparation.
Mr. Alexander had a strong personality, bragging that nobody could beat him at “working a room” and roaring in Parliament that Liberals had “bamboozled” the public.
“I’ve never really been in awe of anyone,” he once said. “When you’re 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and good lookin’, you know, you’re not in awe of too many people.”
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was born in Toronto on Jan. 21, 1922. His parents had come from the Caribbean. He was the only black in his classrooms through high school, except during the two years he lived in the Bronx, from age 15 to age 17. His mother had taken him and his brother there in a time of marital discord, but she sent him back to his father in Toronto when Lincoln began hanging out on New York streets and carrying a switchblade.
After working as a machinist and being a wireless operator for the Royal Canadian Air Force, he studied history and economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, graduating in 1949. He earned a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. He was a partner in one of Canada’s first interracial law firms before winning election to Parliament.
After five terms, Mr. Alexander became chairman of Ontario’s workmen’s compensation board, Ontario’s lieutenant governor, a largely ceremonial post, and chancellor of the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Mr. Alexander’s wife of 51 years, the former Yvonne Harrison, died in 1999. In 2011 he married Marni Beale, who survives him. A son, Keith, and two granddaughters are also survivors.
Among the places named for Mr. Alexander is the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in Hamilton, although he never learned to drive and feared traffic. He always sat “in the back, real low,” he said, “so I can’t see what’s going on.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 26, 2012
An obituary on Tuesday about Lincoln Alexander, the first black member of Canada’s Parliament and the country’s first black cabinet minister, referred incorrectly to Osgoode Hall Law School, from which he earned a law degree. Although it is now part of York University, it was not affiliated with York or any other university when Mr. Alexander was a student there.
JEFF BLATNICK, 1984 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER IN WRESTLING
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: October 24, 2012
- Jeff Blatnick, who overcame cancer to win a gold medal for the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, died on Wednesday in Schenectady, N.Y. He was 55.
The cause was complications of heart surgery, his wife, Lori, said.
Competing in the super heavyweight class at the Summer Games in Los Angeles, Blatnick, 6 feet 2 inches and 248 pounds, defeated Thomas Johansson of Sweden to take Olympic gold.
Blatnick and his teammate Steve Fraser, who competed in the 198-pound weight class at those Games, became the first Americans to win Olympic gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling, which allows holds only above the waist. Blatnick’s win came barely two years after his victory over cancer.
After retiring from wrestling in 1988, Blatnick worked as a motivational speaker and as a network television wrestling analyst. At his death, he was a varsity wrestling coach at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, north of Albany.
Jeffrey Carl Blatnick was born on July 26, 1957, in Niskayuna, N.Y., near Schenectady. He began wrestling in high school, becoming the state heavyweight champion in 1975. At Springfield College in Massachusetts, from which he earned a degree in physical education in 1979, he was a two-time N.C.A.A. Division II national champion and a three-time Division II all-American.
Blatnick was named to the Olympic Greco-Roman team in 1980; the United States boycotted the Moscow Games that year to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1982 Blatnick developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the spleen and other organs. After surgery to remove his spleen, followed by radiation, he resumed training and made the 1984 Olympic team.
Blatnick, who lived in Ballston Lake, was inducted into the United States Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999. He was also a longtime commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a mixed martial arts promotion company.
Besides his wife, the former Lori Nowak, Blatnick is survived by his mother, Angela; a brother, Andrew; a son, Ian; and a daughter, Niki.
Blatnick, who was chosen by his teammates to carry the American flag at the closing ceremony of the ’84 Games, was philosophical about his renown.
“If I didn’t have cancer, nobody would know who I was,” he told The Lancaster New Era, a Pennsylvania newspaper, in 2007. “Not a lot of wrestlers make the news.”