After a battle with cancer, noted Native activist and poet John Trudell died in his Northern California home on Tuesday (December 8). He was 69 years old.
Trudell’s decades-long activism and racial justice career began after a stint in the U.S. Army. He became nationally prominent as a spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes, a collective of Native activists and students who occupied Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971 and demanded that the former federal prison be turned over to Native Americans per treaty rights. Trudell, whose Santee Dakota father and Mexican mother raised him near the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska, ran the Radio Free Alcatraz broadcast from the island, using the rare pulic platform to talk to new audiences about Native oppression and empowerment.
Trudell went on to serve as the national chairman of the American Indian Movement activist organization from 1973 to 1979. The end of his time there coincided with the death of his wife, three children and mother-in-law during an arson attack at Nevada’s Duck Valley Indian Reservation. Trudell was protesting in Washington, D.C. at the time of the attack and suspected the government was involved in the fire.
After his family was killed, Trudell turned to a prolific career as a poet and musician, often blending the two with activist themes on more than a dozen albums. His final project, “Wazi’s Dream,” was released earlier this year.
His family released a statement, published by Indian Country Today Media Network, imploring people to “remember him in their own ways in their own communities,” per Trudell’s wishes. So, we celebrate his legacy with these five quotes: