Sunday, December 13, 2015

Remembering John Trudell

John Trudell has passed to the other side on December 8, 2015.  He was a Santee Sioux activist and a spoken word artist.  Trudell had a profound influence on my thinking.  Over the years, I’ve stashed away a collection of information about him.  The following is a sampler.


Trudell, Appaloosa Pictures, 2005, directed by Heather Rae, starring John Trudell.  This is a full-length documentary about John Trudell, very well done.  It’s available on YouTube.  The commercial DVD includes additional material.

Trudell:  The spirit of life is almost nonexistent in the perceptional reality of the society that we’re in.  It’s almost nonexistent.  They got religion, they got civilization, they got military, they got politics, education.  They got all the stuff.  They don’t have the spirit to live.


“Crazy Horse, We Hear What You Say” is an essay that Trudell wrote, which was used as the introduction to Of Earth and Elders, by Serle L. Chapman, Mountain Press, Missoula, Montana, 2002.  It’s a clear and strong five page summary of his perception of reality.  Here are a few snips:

The coherency of our future depends upon us knowing who we are — and truly understanding who we are — because our relationship to reality and our relationship to power is based upon that understanding.  Today we live in an industrial society and this technological perception of reality, this shadow world, presents a serious crisis: it is a reality where we don’t remember who we are, so therefore we don’t know who we are, we speak a language we don’t understand and because of this, we don’t know where we are.  We are part of an evolutionary reality but part of the purpose of this technological civilization is to erase our memories and erase our identities.  <snip>

If we truly recognized who we are, this society we exist in and the way we live would be different.  We all live on a reservation now, an industrial reservation that stretches across the world, and the alienation you can find in extreme forms on an Indian reservation — the loneliness, alcoholism, drug abuse and violence — is being replicated more and more throughout industrial society.  <snip>

We all share a common collective experience: we are all the descendants of tribes.  Back in the time of the original dreams we were all members of tribes and we were all the earth’s children and we all knew that the earth was our mother.  We were part of a spiritual reality.  We were physical in a spiritual reality.  Whoever we are today, we carry the genetic experience of our lineage from the very beginning, encoded within our DNA.  It’s like our genetic memory and somewhere hidden in there we all come from a people that understood that we lived in a spiritual reality and because of that realization everyone of our beginning ancestral peoples understood that life was about responsibility; so we were responsible for the past and the future as well as the present.  So we knew who we were, we understood what we were saying, we knew where we were and we knew our purpose, and this reality lives in our genetic memories.  The purpose of technology is to erase our realities and make us powerless but ancestral power is real.  <snip>

The gift we’ve been given to protect ourselves as humans is our intelligence.  Our intelligence is our medicine.  We were not put here, defenseless, to be eaten up by this mining process.  This mining process takes place through our intelligence, so if we understand the value and power of our intelligence we can influence our evolution.


Rezamerica in the Shade of Blue — A Conversation With John Trudell by Ben Corbett.  This interview went extinct online.

Corbett:  And that means taking responsibility?

Trudell:  That’s exactly right.  That spiritual reality is based upon responsibility.  Religious realities are not spiritual.  The religious reality that exists in these technolgic industrial perceptions are not about responsibility, they’re about authoritarianism and guilt and sin and blame, domination and submission.  They’re not about responsibility.  Look at the situation and condition that the world is in and you can tell that they’re not about responsibility.  They accumulate wealth, they create their own authoritarian systems, they use their authoritarian systems and accumulated wealth to influence economic and political decisions that get made.  They use their resources, they use their authority and accumulated wealth to influence military decisions that get made.  Every behavior they have is really and truly not about responsibility.  <snip>

Corbett:  In other words, by being authoritarian, what you do is you take the responsibility away from the people and then the people feel there’s no need to take responsibility because somebody else is doing it for them?

Trudell:  Well they feel disconnected.  They don’t really know what the meaning of responsibility is.

Corbett:  Do you think that’s one of the biggest challenges facing the human race?

Trudell:  Yeah, actually I do.  It may be the biggest one.  Becoming reconnected to reality.  <snip>

Corbett:  What do you think it’s gonna mean for the future?

Trudell:  That’s still to be decided.  Because when we look at the non-native people here, remember they all came from tribes.  And the civilizing process took that memory away from them.  So it happened 3000 years ago.  Now we’ve been put into that same process, but we’ve been in it for 500 years.  So if we can keep our identity, our spiritual identity, if we can keep our identity as human beings, then we’ll be okay.  But if we can’t keep that identity, then we’ll go the way of the descendants of the tribes of Europe.  The future will be decided by what kind of coherency we pass to the next generation.  <snip>


This interview with WOJB’s Lori Townsend took place on February 28, 1998, before Trudell performed in concert in Kyle, South Dakota, part of the 25th Anniversary of Wounded Knee. 

Townsend:  I know that people have said, this is to commemorate a time of healing, from that time when there was a lot of division.  People were separated by the very nature of the struggle.  What have you seen in 25 years, as people come together, being able to heal from that time?

Trudell:  (laughs) That’s a hard one to answer.  I think we’ve learned more.  And I think that learning is the healing itself.  In pragmatic, practical terms, there are still personality differences and political differences that different individuals have.  So on one level, it doesn’t look like it’s been healed.  But on another level, we can all come back into one environment together and be together.  Whatever our opinions and attitudes are, they don’t get in the way of us all being together.  That’s like, there is some type of healing that has taken place.  But I’ve never really approached it myself so much from the healing aspect, as the survivor’s aspect.  Here’s who survived, here’s who still standing.

I look at it like that.  I think healing, in a way, is an individual process.  It has to happen in an individual before it can happen in a community.

Again, if we learn from our experiences, then we have more knowledge.  To me, that’s always essential to healing — knowledge and understanding.  Very essential.  But on the other hand, you can’t have real healing if one does not look within themselves and start that healing process.  <snip>

Townsend:  Well, how should people pick their battles now?  As you said, if you get too involved in politics, you become a politician.

Trudell:  I said you can get involved in politics, but you don’t have to be a politician.  It’s a mental thing.  People start working on political issues and then, at some point, they say, “I’m a political activist,” and that becomes their identity; that’s where the problem comes.

The question you started to ask, whatever it is that we have to do, how we’re going to approach it, I think we should think it out.  Look at it from every direction.  It’s almost as if we’re stepping out of our minds, out of ourselves, and looking at the whole thing, with us in it, as neutrally and as objectively as we can.  That way we’ll have some clarity to go after it as clearly as we can, rather than emotionally, or limited by these identities that we impose on ourselves around an issue.

It’s going to take clarity to see our way through these things, to the future that is coming.

It is in our best interest to use our intelligence intelligently.  But we don’t do that enough; 99.9 percent of us use our intelligence to manifest our fears, and our insecurities on a daily basis.  <snip>

Townsend:  What can be done?  It sounds too bleak.

Trudell:  I don’t look at it as bleak.  I think it’s best to recognize reality for what it is.

What did I say about the cannibals?  Let’s recognize that reality for what it is and the reality of who we are.  We have intelligence.  We have spirit.  We have the ability to think our way through this.  I think it’s more optimistic to see how dark it really is, and know what reality is, and then I won’t be fooling myself about what I must do.

Wouldn’t it be better to understand that if I’m going to do something, I’m not going to lie to myself about what I’m doing, whether it’s glorious or ugly.  I’m not going to fix it up, romanticize it, or make it clean.  If I’m doing it, I’m going to be as honest about it as I possibly can.  If I can’t live with it, then I stop.  If I lie to myself, then I’ll find ways to live with it and continue to do it.  That obstructs our clarity.

Always tell ourselves the truth.  Learn from mistakes.  Don’t judge ourselves.  We’re not in the judging business.  Trust our ability.  If we use our intelligence as coherently as we can, we will create the solutions.

If we go back in our history, our ancestral understanding, we always understood we had a purpose to be here.  That purpose is to take care of life the best we can.  What has changed is the harshness of the environment.  It was hard, not romantic back then.

The hard now is the predatory civilization that surrounds us.  Our ancestors trusted themselves, they respected themselves.  Pride today is the mask people hide behind when they feel no respect for themselves.

Trust ourselves.  Like ourselves.  I like myself.  I always don’t like what I do.  There is no collective solution without an individual solution.

The darkest thing I see for the future is all these people that are hoping and wishing and don’t want to see what’s coming.  That’s the darkness.  But they say they are bringing light and being optimistic, but to me these people are the ones bringing the darkness because they don’t want to deal with reality.  These are the ones who will perish.  These are the ones that will be fed upon and eaten up.

If one really thinks about it, we can romanticize being here before the white man came.  We were free, we could do what we wanted, we had responsibilities, but I tell you what, you see the storm we’re having right now.  It was hard surviving back then.  So this is just a different hard.  These cannibals are just a different hard.  But they can be dealt with.

I think if we really understand self-respect, we would look at this and say, “this is the challenge and I’m up to meeting it.”


Protecting the Earth — An interview with John Trudell by John Bowling, Earth First! Journal, May 1, 1998.  This interview went extinct online.

Bowling:  The new generation of EF! activists are arguing over whether or not nonviolence is the most expedient strategy for the movement.  People are discussing whether or not it would be appropriate right now to employ more self-defensive, possibly even violent means of defending the Earth.  What effects do you think that would have on the movement?

Trudell:  I think we need to have an understanding of what violence is because a great many people say they are against violence, yet they live off of the fruits of violence...  We live within systems that are violent.  We live in excess.  We are part of an excessive consuming society.  That’s the result of violence against the Earth…  The reality is that even though we say we are against violence, we still consume the products of violence against the Earth.  Anytime that we have more than we need, anytime that we live a life that we are consuming all we want, especially in the material sense, then we are perpetuating violence.

Bowling:  You’re familiar with Gandhi’s work and the civil rights movement.  What then is your opinion of Gandhian-style non-cooperation?

Trudell:  Gandhi was operating in a different situation than here.  So, I think that there are elements of what he was doing that work here.  But, what Gandhi did in India is not going to work here because this isn’t India.  We aren’t Gandhi.  But, I think lessons can be learned.  I think it is really about non-cooperation in the long run.

Say it became Earth First!’s objective, on behalf of the Earth, as a means of raising environmental awareness, to organize on one agreed upon day that we didn’t spend any money.  We went to work.  We did whatever else it is we do...  but we don’t spend any money.  Look on a national level and try to get 25 percent of the population to do it.  Everything we do violently or nonviolently is feeding into the economic system.  We’re attacking the issues but we’re not dealing with the reality of what’s behind the issues and that is the economic system.

Let’s say 25 percent of the population is involved...  That would add up to incredible number that would affect the daily economic reality...  You look at the economic system.  It is in such a fine line balance anyway.  If people would just one day say, “Hold on, I’m not going to consume,” then they would really understand what kind of power they have in this society, which goes way beyond the power of the vote.  I think it could be accomplished...  There doesn’t have to be any party line, no one idea that is prevalent other than protecting the Earth, standing fast with the Earth.  It’s a fast for her.  If somebody’s issue is the river or if somebody’s issue is the trees or if somebody’s issue is toxic waste, they can still talk those issues...  To me it goes into the area of non-cooperation.  It’s not about violence or nonviolence or obedience or civil disobedience.  We just won’t cooperate.


My first blog about Trudell was posted in 2013: HERE.  There are many videos of Trudell on YouTube.  His recordings are for sale at his website.


Riversong said...

"The darkest thing I see for the future is all these people that are hoping and wishing and don’t want to see what’s coming. That’s the darkness. But they say they are bringing light and being optimistic, but to me these people are the ones bringing the darkness because they don’t want to deal with reality. These are the ones who will perish."

I have long said that the New Age Movement is an attempt to go straight up into the light without first journeying into one's own darkness and the darkness of our common culture.

The result of that futile attempt at "enlightenment" is to be blinded by a light that one does not have the eyes to see, as those eyes have not been tempered by the granular, gritty, dirty reality that encompasses us.

Both the Hero's Journey and the Vision Quest are a process of going downward to meet our demons, find allies, discover our strengths and then rise into the light to share our gifts with our people.

Matt said...

Agree with Riversong's post above. Being 'optimistic' for it's own sake can be dangerous. I wrote an essay in college about a decade ago related to this topic, and am happy to see Richard's post, Riversong's comment, and the words of Trudell say what I was trying to say clearly and eloquently.

Thanks for the post, Richard. I'm looking forward to the new book!

What Is Sustainable said...

Riversong, I agree. I haven’t been around New Age folks much lately. I’ve known some who have a strong spiritual connection to life, while also understanding that industrial civilization is sliding into some very dark shadows. They can feel the presence of power and beauty, but lack a strong connection to the places and cultures where their roots belong.

Others seem to live in a dream world and excel at magical thinking. Others seem like profit oriented hustlers. I recall a time 30 years ago, when I read 5 or 6 Lynn Andrews books in about two weeks — her stuff triggered some ancestral chords, and my bullshit filters were still in nappies.

What Is Sustainable said...

Hey Matt! Still working on the book. It will probably arrive in the next couple months. I've also compiled 105 pages of notes for a fourth book, our family history, from our tree nest days to the valley of the shadow of catastrophic climate change.

Trudell said "All of the animals on earth are playing their proper role, except the human people." How did that happen? That's the riddle I'm focused on.

Jan Lundberg said...

Excellent report, Richard, and thank you. We'll share it with our Culture Change readers.
By the way, Trudell's recordings AKA Graffiti Man and Johnny Damas and Me helped get me through the '90s.

What Is Sustainable said...

Hi Jan! Our culture is so thoroughly trained to think inside the box, but Trudell lived outside the walls. He had a lot of important things to say, and he said them well. He helped me a lot. A great man!