Russell Means Autobiography Important for History

With the passing of Wounded Knee warrior Carter Camp, this book is still relevant

With the passing of Wounded Knee warrior Carter Camp, this book is still relevant

Book Review

Where White Men Fear to Tread
By Russell Means with Marvin J. Wolf
St. Martin’s Press | 573 pp | $26.95
ISBN 0-31213621-8

There is little debate that the American Indian Movement helped to transform American Indians who were stuck on Indian reservations or in ghettos of large cities across America during the 1970s. The American Indian Movement allowed American Indians to feel good about being who we are.

As with any organization, key players emerged out of the American Indian Movement. Russell Means emerged as one of the most visible and vocal key players of the Movement.

He became iconic because of his accountant-by-training analytical mind, quick wit and great speaking abilities. His role as a key spokesperson during the 71-day siege of Wounded Knee in 1973 propelled him onto the international stage. Two decades later, his roles in motion pictures, such as “The Last of the Mohicans, ” “The Pathfinder,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Windrunner: A Spirited Journey, or as the voice of Chief Pawhatan in “Pocahontas” made him a star.

The events of his life come alive in “Where White Men Fear to Tread,” his autobiography that was released by St. Martin’s Press in the fall of 1995. Means, co-authored “Where White Men Fear to Tread” with Marvin J. Wolf.

Autobiographies are great tools for students of history to discover and understand the “whys” behind the “whats” of those writing their own stories. “Where White Men Fear to Tread” accomplishes just that because Means is very open about the reasons why he did certain things along the way in his life.

This is important because American Indians should tell their own stories. I am glad Means wrote this book and shed light on his involvement in the American Indian Movement. Given the prejudicial treatment against the American Indian Movement by the Nixon-led federal government, many lies were perpetrated about the Movement. History, particularly American Indian history, told by non-Indians has become suspect.

“Where White Men Fear to Tread” is an important book because within the American Indian Movement, there were various factions. The book allows Means to explain his actions; just as another iconic leader of the American Indian Movement, Dennis Banks, did in “Ojibwa Warrior.”

“Where White Men Fear to Tread” reveals things that some American Indians have known for some time, but the mainstream media rarely will tread, such as the federal government sterilization of 42 percent of Lakota women between 1972 and 1976. He writes about how Indian women would go into clinics for treatments as minor of a sore throat and told if they did not submit to sterilization, they would have their children taken away or their family would lose their welfare benefits.

In the book, Means is candid about having to deal with anger, which in itself is a confusing human emotion. As an American Indian man, I understand his anger to the extent I have had to deal with anger. So, I appreciate his candor on the subject in the book.

I first read “Where White Men Fear to Tread” upon its release in the fall of 1995. Given Russell Means’ current struggle with life-threatening cancer, the Native News Network feels it appropriate to present this book review now. I must admit a quick reread probably has had a more profound effect on me than the first time I read it.

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One Response
  1. Gordon Sturrock 5 years ago
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