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South Dakotans George McGovern, Russell Means are Gone

Actor, Writer, Activist Russell Means
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

George McGovern and Russell Means died within hours of each other Sunday. Both will long be remembered, especially in our state. One was famous, the other infamous.

George McGovern was passionate about many issues. He spoke quietly but effectively. Russell Means was also passionate. In his prime he spoke loudly and carried a “big stick.” His technique was to incite and provoke. If violence occurred, then the end justified the means(pun not intended). Russell’s ego was larger than the wide open spaces of our state. History will have to judge how effective he was in creating the changes his people were demanding.

Had a meal with Russell Means several years ago. It was a small group hosted by former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk. We spoke of many things. Russell was an intelligent, well read, and dare I say charming dinner companion. His voice and words became sharper when we talked about Wounded Knee and the aftermath in the 70’s. He still had the passion for “the cause.”.

In contrast, in all the places I heard George McGovern speak, he never raised his voice, and certainly never carried a big stick. From my perspective he brought us along by teaching us about the impacts of hunger on more than just the body. Many willingly followed his quiet but effective message. To be a leader, you have to have an ego. For the Senator it seemed to be about the issues not him.

Unfortunately, there is still bias, racism, and injustice against Native Americans in our country. Hunger, here and around the world, still exists. Both men died before their dreams of a more perfect world happened.

South Dakota has produced many unique leaders. George McGovern and Russell Means were not cut from the same cloth, but their impact will be felt for generations..

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