John Trudell, a Native American poet, musician, actor, and a key spokesperson in the 1970's for the American Indian Movement (AIM), recently died in California at the age of 69. Trudell was also one of the leaders of the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island, commemorated by CSPG's Poster of the Week.
According to oral histories, Alcatraz Island had been used by indigenous people as a camping spot, an area for gathering food, as well as a hiding place for many Native Americans attempting to flee from the California Mission system. In November 1969, a group of Native Americans, many of them students, set out on a chartered boat to occupy the island under the name "Indians of All Tribes." The protestors hoped to reclaim the land and build an American Indian university, cultural center, and museum. Trudell was one of the leaders of this nineteen-month long occupation, which established a precedent for Native American activism.
By 1979, the FBI had built a 17,000-page dossier on John Trudell. "He's extremely eloquent," one FBI memo read, "therefore extremely dangerous." That same year, while Trudell was demonstrating in Washington, D.C., his pregnant wife, three children, and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents' home on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada. The fire occurred hours after Trudell had burned an American flag at the FBI building in Washington. Trudell and others said they suspected government involvement, but a cause was never determined.
Trudell considered poetry to be first among the arts. "When one lives in a society where people can no longer rely on the institutions to tell them the truth, the truth must come from culture and art," he said.