Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where White Men Fear to Tread

Just a few words about a book I picked up at a discount bookstore when I was out west.  Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means is the autobiography of Russell Means (1996, St. Marten's Press), a Lakota activist and one of the founders of the infamous American Indian Movement (AIM).

I've always been interested in the Lakota and was familiar with Means' name for his involvement in the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973 and the activities of AIM.

The book, while almost 600 pages, was very readable.  Means pulls no punches as he talks about his abusive mother, alcoholic father, drug using and dealing, problems with alcohol, and almost constant fighting.

By all rights, he should be a totally unsympathetic character.  He was always partying, violent, had a chip on his shoulder, racist toward whites (I can't count the number of times he stated "all whites" followed by some unfavorable generalization), and more than a bit egotistical at times.  He had a string of wives and multiple neglected children.

Nevertheless, one can't help admiring his survival and success.  While deeply flawed, he grew up rough as a despised Indian in a racist area.  He dedicated his life to helping his people obtain justice from a United States that broke every treaty they ever made with them.  Later in his life, as he went through anger management sessions, gave up the booze and drugs, and rediscovered Lakota spirituality, he became a better person (yet still flawed - as are we all).

An interesting read and a view into a turbulent time in America and the early AIM culture.  I admire Means although he would probably scare the shit out of me in person!

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