The year I discovered the word and meaning of “Native” I was 15 years old. It was then I discovered there was such a thing as racial discrimination and oppression. I could not believe there was this concept that caused such turmoil and grief in the world.
Reflecting back upon my school years with certain teachers, I felt shock and hurt that certain instructors looked upon me as “lesser than”, which then led to anger because I realized that even though I was a bright, intelligent, fast learner that wondered why I wasn’t placed in the same academic category as my upper classmates, it was the discrimination of my race that kept me from advancing and being an equal!
When I realized this, I tempered my anger by getting educated about our First Nation’s people’s history across this continent. I subscribed to the famous Mohawk newspaper from Cornwall Island Island Reserve in New York called “Akwesasne Notes” (1969-1996); it is there I read about many atrocities committed in the past and present day against the First Nations across this continent. The historical accounts committed against the Native peoples near and far broke my heart. I also read several books that had been recently published by First Nation’s authors as “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” I read anything I could get my hands on regarding the U.S. Government and the Native peoples no matter what tribe and, I kept up with the exciting news about A.I.M. (American Indian Movement). The newscasts on the TV is where I first heard of Leonard Peltier, Russell Means, and the legendary John Trudell.
Yes, believe it or not, I was politically involved in my own small way with the American Indian Movement. It’s hard to imagine that I was so caught up in the politics that I remember times where I put my fist to the television image of our state capital in D.C.!
By the time I was 18, I made a distinct decision. I made a choice to be an active politician working for our Native people, OR I was going to become an artist. (Obviously, you know what I chose, otherwise I would not have a website about this work I do.) I decided that I was going to keep the politics out of my art; there was no room for political art in my life. I chose being a “clean” artist because I already knew politics caused me to be ill all the time.
I saw John Trudell once, in person. He gave a lecture at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM in the spring of 1989. Our poetry class instructor, Authur Zhe required us to attend John’s lecture. We were in a small lecture room. Though I was in awe, I felt extremely intimidated; there he was just 10 feet away sitting in a chair before us, in his long brown hair and tinted glasses. I listened and hung on every word but I do not remember a word he said. I just remember the feeling.
To me, John Trudell was legendary way before he passed because he represented the truly free man. When a young man, he survived a huge tragedy; he became that caged bird that kept on singing! He was the grey wolf scouting the caverns and valleys! He was a common man walking amongst all peoples carrying a big heart. Though I quietly kept him in my shirt pocket my entire life and never spoke of him and his work, I felt he represented one of the first Native men of our generation who broke free from the cage of oppression and wanted to free the rest of us! Like Crazy Horse, Geronimo and Chief Joseph, I kept the representation of what these men meant to me close to my heart.
So when I heard that John Trudell passed away yesterday, the silence inside my shirt pocket above my heart ceased. The silence wailed. Who is going to be our spokes person to speak in defense of our Mother Earth, of our un-civilization, of the need to come back to our human being-ness? Who? WHO!?
That’s up to the rest of us. It’s up to the rest of us to carry our torches higher! Let’s see how the last few days, months or years of my life pan out. Let’s see what happens now that our Trudell Crazy Horse Geronimo Chief Joseph continue to manifest the intent of their lives within this world!
Please, I invite you to read up on the legendary John Trudell from news article from Indian Country Today. There are also about 79 videos you may watch on You Tube. And about 10 years ago, the actress Angelina Jolie and her mother produced a documentary on John called “Trudell” that is also available on You Tube.
He led a remarkable life in his 69 years. Remarkable. — Rest in Peace, JohnJohn…take as long as you need for a little while, and like your wife Tina did for you all these years, help us from the other side!