[Marxism] John Trudell, Outspoken Advocate for American Indians, Is Dead at 69
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Thu Dec 10 09:23:54 MST 2015
NY Times, Dec. 10 2015
John Trudell, Outspoken Advocate for American Indians, Is Dead at 69
By BRUCE WEBER
John Trudell, whose outspokenness and charisma made him a leading
advocate of Native American rights, and who channeled his message of
righteous defiance into poetry and songwriting, died on Tuesday at his
home in Santa Clara County, Calif. He was 69.
The cause was cancer, said Cree Miller, the trustee of Mr. Trudell’s estate.
Mr. Trudell, a Santee Dakota, was national chairman of the American
Indian Movement during much of the 1970s, a turbulent stretch in the
relationship between Native American activists and the federal government.
His tenure began after the episode at Wounded Knee, S.D., where, in
February 1973, Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge reservation, incensed
by tribal corruption, and American Indian Movement activists, protesting
the government’s treatment of their people, occupied the town in a
71-day standoff with federal marshals and F.B.I. agents.
Three men — Bob Robideau, Darelle Butler and Leonard Peltier — were
tried in the killing of two of the agents during the confrontation.
Mr. Trudell — “the most eloquent speaker in the Movement,” as Peter
Matthiessen wrote in “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” his 1983 book about
the siege — held community meetings in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the
trial of Mr. Robideau and Mr. Butler was held, and he testified for the
defense. The two men were acquitted. Mr. Peltier, tried later, was
convicted and remains in prison.
But well before that, Mr. Trudell had already made a name for himself as
an effective champion of his people, decrying the indignities they had
suffered for more than a century at the hands of the American government.
In November 1972, he was among the leaders of a group that occupied the
Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, demanding the enforcement of
historical treaties that granted Native Americans sovereignty over their
Perhaps most famously, in 1969, he joined an occupation of Alcatraz
Island, home of the former prison in San Francisco Bay, arguing that the
terms of an old treaty gave American Indians the right to unused federal
The occupiers, calling themselves Indians of All Tribes, held the island
for 19 months, demanding that they be given the right to develop it as a
cultural and education center. Mr. Trudell, then in his 20s, emerged as
the group’s spokesman, frequently delivering a broadcast called “Radio
Free Alcatraz” and speaking at news conferences.
Rejecting a government proposal that the island be turned into a park
with “maximum Indian qualities,” Mr. Trudell said: “We will no longer be
museum pieces, tourist attractions and politicians’ playthings. There
will be no park on this island because it changes the whole meaning of
what we are here for.”
The F.B.I. compiled a substantial file on him.
In 1979, Mr. Trudell burned an American flag on the steps of the F.B.I.
building in Washington, saying that 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 in Nevada burned to the ground. The fire killed
his pregnant wife, Tina Manning, who was also an activist, as well as
their three children and Ms. Manning’s mother.
An investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs found that the fire was
an accident. But some viewed the inquiry as perfunctory, and its
findings were questioned by an investigator hired by Mr. Trudell, who
suspected the fire had been deliberately set.
“I don’t want to say that the F.B.I. kills innocent kids and children,”
Lindsey Manning, a cousin of Tina Manning, said in “Trudell,” an
acclaimed 2005 documentary film by Heather Rae. “I just don’t want to
say that. But you never know. You never know.”
The film asserted that the cause of the fire had never been established.
John Francis Trudell was born in Omaha on Feb. 15, 1946, and grew up
partly there and partly on a reservation near the South Dakota border.
His father, Clifford Trudell, was a Santee Dakota; his mother, the
former Ricarda Almanza, was of Mexican-Indian descent. She died when
John was a boy.
Mr. Trudell dropped out of high school and served in the Navy during the
Vietnam War. Afterward, he moved to Southern California, where he
studied radio and communications at a community college before joining
the Indians of All Tribes group on Alcatraz.
Mr. Trudell began to distance himself from the American Indian Movement
after the fire at his house, and in the 1980s, he turned to writing. He
published several volumes of poetry, including “Stickman” and “Lines
From a Mined Mind,” often writing in protest of corporate power and
government oppression. He also recorded spoken-word albums accompanied
by traditional Native American music as well as contemporary pop. His
latest album, “Wazi’s Dream,” was released this year.
The recordings earned him admirers in the music world, including Bob
Dylan, Jackson Browne and Kris Kristofferson.
Mr. Trudell also acted in feature films, including “Thunderheart”
(1992), with Sam Shepard and Val Kilmer, in which he played a character
drawn from a crucial figure in the events leading to Wounded Knee; and
“Smoke Signals” (1998), based on Sherman Alexie’s poignantly comic novel
about growing up on a reservation.
Mr. Trudell’s first marriage, to Fenicia Ordonez, ended in divorce. He
is survived by a brother, Roger, and several children and grandchildren.
Ms. Miller, his estate’s trustee, declined to say specifically where Mr.
Trudell lived in Santa Clara County.
“If this is the land of the free,” Mr. Trudell said during the
occupation of Alcatraz, summarizing the issue that would propel his life
and work from then on, “we want to know why we don’t have the respect
and dignity that all free men are accorded by other free men.”
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