On December 8th, 2015 Santee Sioux activist, artist, actor, poet, and one time national chairman for the American Indian Movement John Trudell passed on.
John Trudell was born Feb. 15, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska and grew up near the Santee Sioux Reservation. After a serving in the US Navy, Trudell became involved Native activism and in 1969 he joined others in the occupation of Alcatraz were he served as the spokesman.
The 14 month occupation of Alcatraz drew international attention to the issues impacting Native communities from treaty rights abuses to poverty. John Trudell gave daily radio addresses from the island.
Alcatraz Proclamation To the Great White Father and his People 1969
We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty: We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these sixteen acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years. Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47 cents per acre the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land. We will give to the inhabitants of this land a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian Government for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea — to be administered by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs (BCA). We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. We offer this treaty in good faith and wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with all white men. We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable as and Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man’s own standards.
By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations, in that:
1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.
2. It has no fresh running water.
3. The sanitation facilities are inadequate.
4. There are no oil or mineral rights.
5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.
6. There are no health care facilities.
7. The soil is rocky and non-productive and the land does not support game.
8. There are no educational facilities.
9. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.
Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.
From 1973-1979, Trudell served as the national chairman of the American Indian Movement. In 1979, while at a demonstration in Washington DC, Trudell’s pregnant wife, Tina Manning, three children and his mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents house on the Duck Valley reservation. Trudell and others have long suspected government involvement as the cause of the fire.
The FBI dossier on Trudell exceeded 17,000 pages, one of the largest in bureau history.
In 1983, Trudell released “Tribal Voice” a spoken word album to critical acclaim. He would go on to record several albums.
In addition to being a musician, Trudell made several film appearances including the 1992 critically acclaimed “Thunderheart” and in 1998 “Smoke Signals”.
In 2005, the documentary “Trudell” was released that documented his life from growing up in Nebraska, to his involvement with the American Indian Movement, to his life as a musician and spoken word artist.
Trudell inspired generations of Native peoples and non-Native peoples alike with his philosophies and world views that challenged people to think deeply and critically about the industrial societies in which we live in and what it means to be a human in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.