Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

TRUDELL, JOHN (b. 1946)

Group portrait with John Trudell, on left. (newtopiamagazine.files.wordpress.com)

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A Santee Dakota, John Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 15, 1946, and raised on the Santee Sioux Reservation. Initially, he achieved national notoriety for his political activism on behalf of Native Americans. He was a leader of the Indians of All Tribes' occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, and in that capacity he hosted a radio program in 1970, Radio Free Alcatraz, that was broadcast in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and New York City. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the national chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM). After the fire-bombing death of his wife, mother-in-law, and three daughters at their home on the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada on February 11, 1979, Trudell began moving away from direct political action and devoted more of his time to artistic and intellectual endeavors.

In 1981 he wrote his first book, Living in Reality. In 1985 he formed the Graffiti Band with Jesse Ed Davis, a prolific studio guitarist from Oklahoma City who was of Seminole and Kiowa descent. Together they wedded Trudell's poetry, which ranged from political and social commentary to love poems, with Davis's unique musical style. They released AKA Graffiti Man and Heart Jump Bouquet before Davis's death in 1988. AKA was subsequently rereleased on a major label (Rykodisk) in 1992 and was executively produced by Jackson Browne. It featured the original tapes of Davis and Trudell, which were remastered and fleshed out with additional musicians. Guest appearances were made by Browne and Kris Kristofferson. AKA received high critical acclaim (Bob Dylan called it the best album of the year) and was followed by Johnny Damas and Me (1995).

Trudell has also acted in several feature films, including Thunderheart (1992), On Deadly Ground (1994), and Smoke Signals (1998). In 1994 he published his second book, Stickman.

See also PROTEST AND DISSENT: American Indian Movement.

Akim D. Reinhardt Towson University

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