Thursday, December 17, 2015


John Trudell leaves us with his legacy

AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT … One of those truly influential figures on modern American society has been the activist, poet, songwriter, and visionary John Trudell. He passed away last week after five decades of working to empower the dispossessed and help us envision a future free of racism, violence and injustice … “John's words were only one of his many gifts to this earth. His actions and activism were also an inspiration,” said Mike Mease, director of the Buffalo Field Campaign in Montana. “John paid for his actions with the loss of his wife, three children, and mother in law. Rather than silencing him, this only made him stronger” … Born in 1946 in Omaha, Nebraska, Trudell grew up on his father’s Santee Sioux reservation. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, serving on a destroyer off the Vietnamese coast, and studying communications at San Bernardino Valley College, he turned to activism. In 1969 he joined other Native American militants in occupying Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison, and called for its return to native peoples, while broadcasting from Radio Free Alcatraz … Having been myself radicalized as a Vista volunteer on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, I was deeply moved by the action, and wrote a poem supporting the takeover that was published in the local alternative newspaper, the Good Times (formerly the San Francisco Express Times). Although the number of protesters eventually dwindled and the last of them were removed by federal agents after 19 months, the action mobilized a resurgence of the Native American pride and a growing pan-Indian push for sovereignty and for Anglo recognition of the genocidal wars on indigenous peoples waged in the settlement of this continent … Inspired by Trudell and Richard Oakes, a Mohawk activist killed shortly after the Alcatraz action, I attended a pipe ceremony for the first Longest Walk (1978), brought food to the marchers in Nevada, and marched with them into Utah. AIM-organized, The Longest Walk brought demands to DC for mitigation of the effects of climate change and calls for environmental sustainability plans, protection of sacred sites, and the renewal of improvements to Native American sovereignty and health... He served as national chairman of the American Indian Movement during much of the 1970s, his tenure beginning after the 71-day standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota … In 1979, Trudell burned a U.S. flag on the steps of the FBI building in Washington, saying the flag had been desecrated by the government’s behavior toward American Indians and other minorities and that burning was the appropriate way to dispose of a desecrated flag. The next day his home on the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada burned to the ground. The fire killed his pregnant wife and fellow activist, Tina Manning, as well as their three children and Manning’s mother. BIA police called the fire “accidental,” but Trudell maintained that it was arson, and an attempt to silence him. But, in spite of his personal pain, he never stopped struggling for the movement… I got to hear him speak at the AIM-sponsored Survival Gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1980. His speech there, one of the great ones in American history, emphasized that Power resided with the People, not with governments or guns. He acknowledged that American Indians were victims of physical genocide, but stated that Anglos had also been victims of spiritual genocide, while Native Americans had preserved much of their spirituality in spite of all the forces arrayed against them … It wasn’t completely surprising then that he participated in one of the spiritually-oriented Steps to Awareness Festivals in Telluride back in the 1990s. Unfortunately, I never found anyone who recorded his speech here -- I myself was out of town and missed it … In some of his last words, Trudell said expressions of concern and love for him have been "like a fire to my heart," according to family friend Cree Miller. "Thank you all for that fire”

MORE TRUDELL… The death of John’s family led Trudell from militant activism to cultural advocacy. As on-line arts and social justice zine Colorlines explains, “…Trudell turned to a prolific career as a poet and musician, often blending the two with activist themes on more than a dozen albums. His final project, ‘Wazi's Dream,’ was released earlier this year … His family released a statement to those mourning this humble but powerful human being: “His wishes are for people to celebrate life and love, pray and remember him in their own ways in their own communities. With love for all.” … So, let’s celebrate his legacy in our county with a sampling of his quotes -- although you’ll find lots more on-line, like at:


“We’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the People. We’re the human beings.”

Every human being is a raindrop. And when enough of the raindrops become clear and coherent they then become the Power of the Storm.”

“We must go beyond the arrogance of human rights. We must go beyond the ignorance of civil rights. We must step into the reality of natural rights because all of the natural world has a right to existence and we are only a small part of it. There can be no trade off.”

“I think it’s the responsibility of every human being, not just those who wear the identity of poet, activist, voter, religious person – it’s the responsibility of every person. Our responsibility is to use our intelligence as clearly and coherently as we possibly can.”


One of our beloved messengers left this world December 8, 2015
In the early hours of the morning,
When the dreamers and teachers walk the earth
Speaking to us as we imagine the new day into being,
All of us here essential to the story in the great imagining.
They took John with them. It was time.

And he was ready, he’d said his goodbyes, only for now
Because we live in eternity together.
And was circled by those he loved: his children,
People whose lives he shared from his many travels
In this world to speak and sing the dreams and visions
He’d been given to take care of, to share.

And contingents of young warriors, from all over the country
Including Hickory Ground or Oce Vpofv people, from one of the last
Calls John answered for justice from the East, and other groups
From the North, West, and South arrived to pay respect
Because he was one of them, grown older and wise
After paying the terrible costs of being human
In a society broken by lies, greed, and our failures.

Everything has a cost.
Carrying a vision out of such massive tests demands the highest price of a prophet.
And we are human beings only after all.
And some visions are relentless.
To know the images and words you have to live them.
And they will not let you rest.

In every season are given messengers.
They rise up to carry a voice for a nation, a people, a time.
They emerge through holes from broken history, from bloody grounds,
stirred from the collective dream field by a need to rectify
the difference between earthly injustice and holy vision.

John Trudell was born of the need for someone among us
to stand and speak, from the Santee Sioux
Out of the heartbreak of this country, on February 15, 1946.
He grew up like other young native men, wandering these lands
Fed by water, trees, stones, and education that didn’t include them.
And in the middle of the age, when natives began gathering
Together from their tribal fires

Around the common need to affirm our mutual presence
As caretakers of our lands, our families, our existence as distinct nations
in an age of the rise of multinational corporate overlords,
and the continued loss and theft of our children to the greed carnival,
John stood up with his generation of change makers,
Questioners of evil, and warriors for justice.

He was there at Alcatraz, on the Trail of Broken Treaties, he traveled widely
as a wise witness in Indian country, in the aftermath of the aftermath
as the people stood for water rights, human rights, the right
to be human in a time when people were forgetting
What it means to be human ...

He was John Lennon, the son of Crazy Horse,
Dylan of the urban rez, the rez rez, the world rez.
 “I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human.”

John knew that art and culture were the ways to raise us up.

Our creations hold memory so we can know who we were, who
We are, and how we are becoming—he said that the artists
and warriors of the heart are the poets, musicians, rappers, dancers, actors, painters... those who create.

He was the original thinker who said:
“Think more. Believe less.” (Believe has the word “lie” in it.)
“We don’t need more leaders. What we need are thinkers.”
“We need to make peace with the earth.”

John roused an army of young native spoken word artists, and made it okay for a warrior
To write poetry. Poetry is the love a man and woman make when they create
A planet together. Poetry is a cleansing rain bringing water to a thirsty land.

John said of his poems, “They’re called poems, but in reality they’re lines
Given to me to hang on to.” And hang onto them we did,
From Tribal Voice to Heart Jump Bouquet, AKA Graffiti Man, Blue Indians, Bone Days, DNA: Descendant Now Ancestor, Madness and the Moremes, Crazier than HeIl, Wazi’s Dream and many others

And hang on to his words we will, for they remind us that:

“No matter what they ever do to us, we must always act for the love of our people and the earth. We must not react out of hatred for those who have no sense.”

These are good words for making a trail through this beloved earth
Into the next world, a road we are all traveling together …

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee/Creek Nation, Hickory Ground Ceremonial Ground, and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her newest collection is a book of poetry, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings,” from W.W. Norton. You can find her at

PARALLELS … What a brilliant job Telluride Theatre folks did with this original play. It was hilarious, taught us a lot about science, kept us riveted on the action in a non-traditional theater space, used choreography and lighting to great effect (Burning Many style), and all in all was a blast. Huge kudos to Sasha, Colin, Cat, Rachel, Gin, and Carlin. You easily deserved your standing ovation Sunday night.


Christmas Eve

buy one”
she says

But Doug fir
nailed to a wooden cross

& Jesus, Mary & Joseph
he begins to weep

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