Two Old Adversaries Face Terminal Cancer Ailments

11/09/2011 11:28 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

I find it ironic that two adversaries, two domineering personalities that clashed over a number of years, have both been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Several weeks ago activist Russell Means announced that he had throat cancer and it was incurable. Last week former South Dakota Governor William Janklow announced that he had incurable brain cancer. He said he would spend his remaining days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, not to expect a cure, but to allow the doctors there to study his disease in hopes of finding an answer for others.

On Sept. 13 Janklow turned 72 and on Nov. 10 Russell Means will turn 72. Both of them were born in 1939. Means decided a few weeks ago to take the same path chosen by Janklow. He will not seek medical treatment but instead will rely upon the spiritual assistance of the wicasa wakan (Holy Men), not so much as to seek a cure, but to bring solace to himself in his remaining days.

While serving as Attorney General for South Dakota in 1975 Janklow was often in the forefront of the actions against the American Indian Movement led by Means. In some of the clashes one could find Janklow right in the middle of the forays.

Like Means, Janklow was plagued by several incidents outside of his role as attorney general and governor. He was accused of rape of Jancita Eagle Deer on the Rosebud Reservation in 1974, one month before the election for state attorney general. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for law enforcement on the reservation at the time and they allegedly sent the police investigation to their headquarters in Aberdeen, S. D. to keep it away from the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court.

Janklow was investigated by the FBI and they declared that there was insufficient evidence to charge Janklow. Eagle Deer was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Nebraska in 1975.

When the book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Matthiessen was published it contained statements by Dennis Banks, another AIM founder, about the rape and drunken driving accusations. Janklow sued the author, Viking Press and Newsweek Magazine which also published an article containing the statements by Banks. The law suits were dismissed based on the First Amendment protection of free speech.

Janklow served two terms as South Dakota's governor and although he was not a native South Dakotan (he was born in Chicago, Illinois) his constituents have always proclaimed him to be one of the State's greatest governors. There is little doubt that his main love was furthering the good fortunes of his adopted state.

Janklow was elected to Congress in 2002 taking a close victory over Stephanie Herseth. Herseth would win the seat when Janklow resigned after a vehicular accident in which he was involved took the life of Randolph E. Scott. Janklow ran a stop sign and crashed into Scott's motorcycle. Scott was thrown from the motorcycle and died instantly.

Janklow was convicted of second-degree manslaughter by a Moody County jury in 2006. He resigned his Congressional seat on January 20, 2004.

Again, it is ironic how Janklow and Means paralleled each other in actions that bordered on violence. Both of them found themselves on the brink of disaster several times in their volatile lives and in the end, their head-to-head confrontations ended in a stalemate.

Means spent a short time in the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls while Janklow spent 100 days in the Moody County Jail for the accident that claimed Scott's life. He was re-instated to practice law by the South Dakota Supreme Court on January 5, 2006.

Whether Means or Janklow will recover from their deadly illnesses and return to public life is pure conjecture. But both men made a deep impression upon the history of South Dakota in their 72 years on this earth.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the founder of The Lakota Times, Indian Country Today, Lakota Journal and Native Sun News. He can be reached at