More than 1,000 people turned out on Wednesday to pay respects to the Last of the Mohicans star, American Indian activist Russell Means, in an impressive 12-hour service in South Dakota.
The moving memorial featured a tribute in his native Lakota and was delivered against the backdrop of the barren prairie land where he was born.
As family members rode horseback down the Big Foot Trail in the Pine Ridge Reservation, they sang in honor of Russell Means who passed away on Monday.
Russell Means died at his home in South Dakota after spending decades fighting for American Indian rights, starting with protests against college and professional sports teams’ use of Indian images as mascots.
He later become the leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president.
Family and friends of Russell Means sing as they ride horses down the Big Foot Trail during a 12 hour service in North Dakota on Wednesday
Russell Means, who was 72, had been battling advanced esophageal cancer.
Bill Means said on Wednesday that his older brother’s combative nature and unwillingness to accept any form of racial discrimination was ingrained at an early age.
“Our mother had faced discrimination throughout her life, and she was a not a woman to compromise – particularly when it came to discrimination,” he said during the service.
“Russell saw that and become much the same way.”
The ceremony was expected to last 12 hours, beginning with a funeral procession led by 21 horses through a stretch of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, where Russell Means was born.
Actor Russell Means, who played a leading role in The Last of the Mohicans, has died at the age of 72.
Russell Means played Chingachgook, the adopted father of Daniel Day Lewis’s character Hawkeye, in the 1992 film.
He was also a former American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, who helped lead a 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee.
Russell Means died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota, a spokeswoman for the Oglala Sioux Tribe said.
Donna Salomon, the tribal spokeswoman, called Russell Means’ death a “great loss” for the tribe.
In August 2011, Russell Means announced he had inoperable throat cancer and told the Associated Press he was eschewing mainstream medicines in favor of traditional Native American treatments.
The Last of the Mohicans was his first film role and he went on to also appear in films such as Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
He also voiced Chief Powhatan in Disney’s 1995 animated movie Pocahontas.
Russell Means guest starred in US TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2004.
He also made two albums of protest music with lyrics he wrote – Electric Warrior and The Radical.
Russell Means, who played a leading role in The Last of the Mohicans, has died at the age of 72
The AIM’s armed occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota – the site of an infamous massacre of Native Americans by US soldiers in the late 19th Century – lasted for 71 days.
The protest followed the failure of AIM followers to impeach the elected tribal president, whom they accused of corruption.
Russell Means ran unsuccessfully for president of his tribe and for the Libertarian nomination for US president in 1988.
But he was also a controversial figure, partly because of the AIM’s alleged involvement in the slaying of one of their activists Annie Mae Aquash in 1975.
Authorities believed it was the work of AIM members because they suspected she was an FBI informant.
Paul deMain, a Native American journalist who researched the case, said the AIM’s leaders know who ordered Aquash’s killing but have covered up the truth for decades.
Russell Means blamed one of his fellow AIM leaders, Vernon Bellecourt, for ordering her killing.
Vernon Bellecourt denied the allegations in a 2004 interview. He died in 2008.
Russell Means was married four times and leaves ten children.