A few words on the passing of John Trudell


“Protect your spirit because you are in the place where spirits get eaten.”
~John Trudell

I read today that John Trudell died. It had been reported for a while that he was unwell. He was someone who was a figure of significance to and influence on me for a number of reasons.

Coming of age in Saskatchewan in the 1970’s, in a poorer neighbourhood and attending a school that included many aboriginal students it was hard to miss the rise of the American Indian Movement and their resistance to settler colonialism. It wasn’t called settler colonialism back then and there wasn’t much understanding of it among white people, even among liberals or the left, unless someone went to a mixed school or associated with aboriginal people. That was not particularly encouraged.

Nonetheless, some of us did associate through attending cultural events, like powwows, going with friends to visit their families on reserves, working and living in the north on reserves (which I did later for quite some time) and just generally having normal human interactions and relationships.

There was a militant resistance among aboriginal people developing and some of us wanted to know what specifically was being resisted and how and why because people we loved were deeply affected by the issues involved.

I heard about the history of residential schools, police abuse, prison and justice system oppression. I had heard about the Wounded Knee incident and the Pine Ridge shootout with the FBI, for which Leonard Peltier was wrongfully convicted and for which he is still wrongfully serving time. The names of AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means also circulated as did the name of John Trudell who served as AIM chairman.

John Trudell was a prolific writer and frequent speaker. His speeches were circulated in some radical publications and interviews were broadcast on university stations or on other counter-cultural community radio programs after that. He was well known among prison abolition/reform activists as well because of the Alcatraz incident in the 1960s and his ongoing involvement with prison justice issues among many others.

There was a contentious point where he testified in a trial involving AIM members in order to exonerate someone who was potentially going to be wrongly convicted. This split off a section of his supporters, some of whom called for a boycott of his writing and music. I’m pretty biased in this regard, having been married for quite some time to a man who spent over two decades in prison for a wrongful conviction. Had someone spoken up and told the truth then, regardless of consequences, he would not have had to go through such an ordeal. So my sympathy very much lies in the Trudell camp on that issue.

The events involving the American Indian Movement, the members of that group and those who were influenced by them provided what I would have to say was my first introduction to developing a political consciousness. I am very grateful for that.

His poetry especially has been something I’ve sought out to read and listen to over the years. His talks and interviews are particularly insightful as well. There are many on YouTube and elsewhere. He has numerous books out also.

Travel well, John Trudell.

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