Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Russell Means was Oglala Lakota Sioux. In 1968, he joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), a militant activist organization. When AIM occupied Wounded Knee, site of the infamous nineteenth-century massacre of the Sioux, in 1973, Means was the organization's spokesperson. The siege grew into a seventy-one day confrontation between armed AIM members and the federal authorities. Means left the group in 1988.
Artist Bob Coronato wanted to honor Means, who agreed to sit for him as long as the portrait conveyed that “Indians are not the idea of old Hollywood westerns or to be thought of ‘as in the past’ but a people very much of today, and with a rich history.” The artist and Means decided to include the upside-down flag, a sign used by the Navy as a symbol of distress and that AIM often displayed during protests. -- NPG
Bob Coronato ©09