For many of those born in the 1980s and 1990s the first time they heard Russell C. Means’ voice was in Disney’s 1995 animated film “Pocahontas.” Russell, who was Oglala Sioux, was the voice of Powhatan, Pocahontas’ father.
But little did young viewers know that in 1969, Means was part of a group of American Indians that occupied Alcatraz Island to call attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples. Later that year, Means was one of the leaders that organized the takeover of Mount Rushmore.
Means, the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) rose to national attention in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on “Thanksgiving Day.”
There is obviously plenty to debate about how accurately the Disney film portrays American Indian history but take a look at one of the opening scenes above that establishes Pocahontas as a strong woman and Disney’s first Princess of color.
“My daughter speaks with the wisdom beyond her years. We have all come here with anger in our hearts, but she comes with courage and understanding,” Russell’s character says about Pocahontas.
“From this day forward, if there is to be more killing it will not start with me.”
Russell C. Means died on Monday at the age of 72. Read his obituary to learn more about his history, including criticism he received for taking on roles in Hollywood.