[Marxism] John Trudell, Outspoken Advocate for American Indians, Is Dead at 69

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 10 09:23:54 MST 2015

NY Times, Dec. 10 2015
John Trudell, Outspoken Advocate for American Indians, Is Dead at 69

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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