Perhaps it’s just me, but a man with a 17,000 page FBI file sounds mighty dangerous, especially when you’re told that this is one of the longest dossiers in the agency’s history. What sounds even more hazardous is inviting a man with such an extensive record to speak on campus. But Associated Students Civil Controversy is fulfilling its namesake and mission by bringing John Trudell— who is a fascinating bundle of a bulging FBI file and a history of civil disobedience— to campus.
“[Trudell] has been a controversial person historically,” said Jessica Tracey, assistant coordinator of AS Civil Controversy.
“What one person views as controversial, another person may view as not being an option; something they have to fight for; they can’t pick and chose. Trudell is very radical person to a lot of people, and we wanted to bring him here and dissect all of that.”
If you took a peek into Trudell’s FBI file, you wouldn’t find murder or terrorism; instead you would find documentation on his many years of activism for Native American sovereignty. One specific fight was a 21-month occupation of Alcatraz Island, which had been reservation land before it was simply taken away by the U.S. government.
Trudell continued his work to fight the breach of U.S. granted treaties to the Native Americans as the national spokesman and co-chairman of the American Indian Movement from 1972-1979. During this time, a FBI memo was released that said, “he’s extremely eloquent, therefore exceptionally dangerous.”
According to an interviewee in the film “Trudell,” “I think they saw him as a tremendous threat, because he was able to mobilize people; motivate people; inspire people.”
Trudell’s official involvement in AIM ended in 1979 after his wife, three children and mother-in-law were all killed in an unexplained house fire. The death of his family in this mysterious fire occurred just 24 hours after he had burned an American flag on the steps of the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. Another interviewee in the film “Trudell” said, “I don’t want to say that the FBI kills innocent children, but you just don’t know.”
Though his past work has been specifically aimed at catalyzing political change, now Trudell claims to steer clear of politics. In an interview with radio station WOJB, Trudell said, “politics are very territorial...politics are very much ’party‘ line, at some point…the deal is, if we’re going to use a political structure, then let’s recognize that’s what we’re doing...If you have a flat tire, you take that jack out, you jack the car up, and take that tire off, and put on the good tire and you put that jack away, and you always understand that it’s a tool. You don’t identify yourself as a jacker…it’s a tool you put away… It’s not an identity, it’s a tool.”
Despite this declaration, Trudell’s extensive works of poetry and music seem to be quite focused on forcing the issue of Native American rights in the United States, along with other issues such as the degradation of the environment. In response to this he has been quoted as saying, “My goal is very simple. To communicate the human experience at a level that human beings can recognize and relate to. That may be a personal statement. It may be a political statement. But whatever it is, it all comes from the same point of reference: the experiences we share as peoples of this planet.”
Regardless of his motive, Trudell’s music is absolutely phenomenal. His famed album “A.K.A. Graffiti Man” was named the “best album of the year,” by none other than Bob Dylan. Trudell’s most recent release, “Bone Days,” relays his message with a combination of native beats, electric guitar, native chanting and spoken poetry. Although I’ll admit that this sounds a bit crowded, the different layers of music and spoken word are woven together in a remarkably beautiful and deeply impactful way. Angelina Jolie, who produced “Bone Days,” said, “More spirit than man, yet more human than most, John Trudell is an amazing artist. His vision is honest, pure and strong. He speaks the truth and does it beautifully. His music has a heartbeat. For a people with no voice—he is a man who will not be silenced.”
Since Trudell has so much to say, we are lucky enough to have two nights of events focused on him and his work. January 31 at 7 pm in communication 115, Western is hosting the premier of “Trudell,” a film by Heather Rae. After more than a decade of filming his travels on 16 mm, Super 8 film and video, Rae has compiled a documentary that aims to capture Trudell’s mission to wake people up to the social injustice and environmental rape in the United States. “Trudell” was one of the just 15 documentaries that were invited to screen at Sundance Festival, and it was accepted at the annual Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan.
This film should provide an excellent and thorough introduction to Trudell’s lecture, “Power vs. Authority: a Tribal Perspective of the Earth and Society,” on February 1 at 7pm in the VU Multipurpose room. Though Trudell clearly has fires of passion burning hotly inside him, he is not here to tell you what to think about the issues he addressed. “There’s no clear thought being exercised right now in American public,” Trudell has been quoted as saying. “The music and the writing; it’s about making people think. I don’t want people to agree or not agree with me, but to think about things.”
For more information about these events, contact the AS Civil Controversy office at 650-2526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.