Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Influences: John Trudell

Shi Zu has encouraged us to introduce wisdom that we have encountered, through one means or another, be it scriptures and books we've read by the sages, or what have you. One significant influence in my life has been the Santee Sioux artist John Trudell. In First Nations circles of North America, he is a significant figure, but others may be completely unaware of his teachings, because Indigenous people are perhaps the least socially-empowered people in the world. During the late 1960s and through the 1970s, he was the key spokesman for the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.), and so in this respect is much like our version of a Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, but in my opinion he speaks more to the global context and to human beings broadly. Though the F.B.I. keeps a 17,000 page file on him, John Trudell was never assassinated in the way that other significant and threatening sages of his time were. Rather, the government of the United States decided to make him suffer more painfully by killing his wife, his three children, and mother-in-law, burning their house down around them on the same day Trudell made a political statement by burning an upside-down American flag in Washington D.C. After that event, he withdrew for about a decade, and began privately expressing his mourning through poetry. Around the time I was doing my undergraduate training in Boston, Trudell decided to come back into the public eye, putting his poetry to music, and once again standing up to speak his truths publicly. I have been following his work ever since. I don't agree with everything he has to say, of course. But I do really appreciate his understanding of some of the key cognitive and socio-structural obstacles that are contributing to our failure to truly identify as human beings, and to really represent that identity, in an ecological sense. Trudell justifiably directs a lot of his critique toward the partnership of government and industry, the same partnership (I would argue) who have primarily corrupted the martial arts - on the government's side by legalizing violence as sport, on the industry side by selling it. I have listened to many of John Trudell's speeches over the past twenty years. One of the most thorough summaries of his thoughts can be found in the talk he did for the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in 2010 (embedded below). If you have forty minutes to spare, I'd recommend it. 


  1. Thank you for sharing! I believe I actually came across one of his documentaries before you have mentioned him. His life & work sounds very interesting, I may take a look at this video when I get a chance.

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  3. Yeah, there is at least one good documentary about his life, and I think it can be found on YouTube as well, along with a lot of his poetry, interviews, and speeches. Of all of them though, this one I've posted is pretty much the most thorough survey of his core message

    1. Just finished watching the video. It was interesting. What happened to his family is a tragedy. I just read up on his Wikipedia info. as well. Thank you for sharing

  4. My Mom was a friend of John's back in the late 60's/early 70's. She always spoke fondly of him. I've never met the man, but would love to! She said he was intelligent, observant, & well thought out. One of my favorite things to do is listen to his poetry over music. Cheers, Belinda


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