Just learned tonight (Weds night) that lovely John Trudell, poet, musician, activist, American Indian Movement founding-leader and American hero, passed to the spirit planes yesterday, through death from cancer at age 69.
John became a leader of the All Tribes occupy Alcatraz re-inhabitation action in 1969. He went on to be the first president of the American Indian Movement (AIM). One day, ten years after Alcatraz, and just 12 hours after John had led a large nonviolent protest in Washington DC for Native rights, for human and civil rights for America’s own Native people, federal agents murdered his pregnant wife, their three children, and his mother-in-law, and severely injured his father-in-law, by fire-bombing the family home in Nevada while the family was asleep and John was still away in Washington. John was personally transformed by this horrific, terrifying act of incomprehensible barbarism. By the enormity, suddenness, and intensity of his loss. He turned then to poetry and music, to song. Turned even more strongly to love and anger-transcending inner peace.
He knew exactly who the murder-agents were, knew who in the higher reaches of the US government had ordered the massacre as an attempt to both terrorize and provoke him into leading AIM into an outburst of vengeful rage and violence, giving the Feds the wanted excuse to wipe them all out. If it had happened at the time of Alcatraz, the mass murder would have been all just part of the everyday activity of Hoover’s COINTELPRO shadow government, the underbelly of the underbelly of Nixon’s gestapo project. But Hoover was long dead, Nixon was not on the scene, and the Oval Office was occupied by Jimmy Carter.
John refused to fall into the trap. He knew precisely who had carried out the assassination of his dear family, but he never divulged the killers’ names (though many others also knew who they were). He never took any action against them, never let any other activist-victim-colleagues mistakenly think they had his implicit blessing for revenge. He explicitly publicly extended love to all concerned in his poems and songs. He expressed empathetic sorrow for the pain suffered so strongly by such individuals as the killers and their bosses that it would lead them to order and/or carry out such utterly heinous, unprovoked and unjustifiable actions. And for the pain they must feel now and for the rest of their lives for the atrocities they committed. He left justice to their own eventual destiny. “But they are human beings, too,” he sometimes explained, “driven insane by the same forces and conditions driving every one of the rest of us insane as well.”
Somehow John was able to make his peace with the tragedy and the tragic state of affairs behind the tragedy. He was a remarkable man.
Decades after his family’s murder, John entered a life-partnership with actor, producer-director and activist Marcheline Bertrand, mother of actor-activist Angelina Jolie. Together they campaigned for cancer awareness and prevention, for environmental rights and protection, Native rights and education, as well as other causes. Marcheline died of cancer at age 56 in 2007.
It was always delightful and sometimes astonishingly unsettling yet ultimately and inevitably inspiring and uplifting to hear John speak, read his poems, and play his music.
He was a true hero. I’m certain he is in a truly beautiful and blessed state in the spirit dimensions of love, joy, peace and freedom. In some ways he already was. An astonishingly loving and lovely man, whatever challenges and “demons” he had to confront and live with.
There is a ton of great material, and some not quite so great material, on John Trudell out there on the internet.
The astonishingly lovely Heather Rae’s documentary Trudell is worthwhile (Betrand was executive producer), but so also are any number of other clips of John and about John.
If you aren’t already familiar with his life and work, you have a rich exploration and learning experience ahead of you to enjoy.
Beautiful job, my friend, what you did with this life you were given. Beautiful job. So well done.
Now Go Dig On Infinity!