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Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means
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. Week 26: Memoir > Where White Men Fear to Tread by Russell Means

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Manda (bookwenchmanda) | 307 comments For this week I picked Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means. Russell Means was a Lakota Sioux who lived and worked for brief periods of time around various parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Arizona, Ohio, and California. He was born on a South Dakota reservation in the 1930s and moved with his family to California before he would be sent to a boarding school. This is his memoir of working as an activist for AIM (American Indian Movement) against the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), and for equality and acceptance of Native Americans. Means was also an actor later in his life. He can be seen in The Last of The Mahicans, and Wagons East, along with many other films. Means speaks about the struggles of living as a Native American in a white dominated society, and talks about his struggles with drugs and alcohol throughout his life, as well as his impact on moving AIM forward with positive contributions for all natives). This biography was written in 1994, and Means passed away in 2012.

I picked this book because when I was living in South Dakota I worked with a lot of native (mostly Sioux of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations) students who left the reservations to come to college. These students found them caught between the pressures from back home and the pressures of being a college student. I was particularly interested in Means' story because he lived and worked at many of the reservations that I've had students call home.

I'm currently about 250 pages into Means' story, and I'm starting to struggle with this book. Means' starts off as a pretty likable guy. You read about his challenges in white dominated schools, and you feel bad for him because most of his teachers (also mostly white) never gave him the chance. You feel angry with the teachers for singling him and never giving him a chance, yet you feel profound respect for the few teachers that reached out to help him and tell him he was just as good as any other student, if not better. You feel sadness as he struggles with drug and alcohol abuse as a teenager, and as you see him drop out of school, wander aimlessly, and even live homeless for a period of time. He struggles working through the bureaucratic system of the BIA and how unfairly they treated the natives at the time.

By the time Means is in his early 20s he becomes a despicable guy. He abandons his wives (he had been married multiple times) and children because he just decided he didn't want that or have time for it anymore. He speaks openly and with anger (most times, very justifiably) about the mistreatment of Native Americans. Yet his response to this mistreatment is to mistreat others; to judge them as he asks that people stop judging natives. He perpetuates the stereotypes of Native Americans, while becoming angry when people treat him like an alcoholic (which he admits to being) who cannot keep a job (he has a tendency to quit his jobs after 3 weeks to collect unemployment so he can party more). His activist activities borderline on terrorism.

I am really hoping that the part I am in right now is just a "wild phase" for him as a young and naive person. Right now I am disheartened by his hypocrisy and how easy it is for him to walk out of his wife and children. He does not talk much about his children after he abandons them. I don't think he is very involved in their lives after the marriages end. I am also saddened that at this point he is confronting hate with more hate, and expecting the world to change. I really just hope that he starts to have a more positive impact in the movement and his family.

message 2: by Manda (last edited May 08, 2015 07:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Manda (bookwenchmanda) | 307 comments This book was awful. I have never been so angry while reading a book. Means spent nearly 600 pages justifying his behavior because white men did some pretty awful things to his ancestors (and they did), and because of racism that ran rampant through the 1980s. While I agree that Native Americans have really been given the shaft by the American Government, I do not understand how that could make his crappy behavior acceptable in anyone's eyes.

Means was an egomaniac. A majority of his stories seem unbelievable, and after researching his events I wonder realistically what is true involvement with things were. Though it is obvious he was heavily involved in AIM movements, it also seems as though he tends to embellish things as well.

Means shows himself to be an alcoholic who abuses his wives, and then abandons them with their children (he had 5 marriages). He chooses violence over conversation. At one point in the book when he is on trial in Minnesota for the Wounded Knee take-over, he and some friends decided to sneak guns into the court room and gun down the judge, prosecutors, and jurors if he is found guilty. How is this at all positive or productive to gaining equal rights. I understand the frustration he must have felt, but this sort of attitude that he used over and over again was getting him nowhere. The government listed AIM as a terrorist organization, because of these repeated behaviors used by their members.

There is very little that is redeemable or forgivable about Means or his actions.

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