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Reflections on a man of the people, John Trudell

My niece graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts last week. John Trudell spoke at their graduation and it reminded that I had this piece that was shared on the NWIC home page.

Northwest Indian College was honored to host the noted Indian activist and artist, John Trudell on April 25. John is a remarkable individual with a long history of activism on behalf of the rights of tribal people, including being at the forefront of the occupancy movement during the early days of the American Indian Movement. Over the years he has become increasingly engaged with the stories of tribal life through words and music, publishing his poetry and sharing his songs throughout Indian country and internationally. He is a well respected public speaker who in recent years has spoken most eloquently, with thoughtfulness and humor, about the many challenges faced by American society and, in particular, by Native people.

During his formal talks at NWIC and in his visits with students, community members and staff, John stressed the critical and urgent need for us to be watchful of the ways that we as human beings are being turned away from our humanity. Although much of what he had to say was very thought-provoking, there were a few things that stood out to me. John pointed out that all people come from tribes, including people of European ancestry. He said that the desire for property and resources caused some people to dominate others through warfare and inquisitions and that turned people away from being human beings. Just as tribal people refer to themselves by their traditional names, which translate into “the people”, so did Europeans at one time have those same names for themselves. The risk that tribal people face today of losing their sense of being human beings is great and he called upon us to be committed to the traditional knowledge that names us as “the people”.

John also stressed that it is important to be people who use our intelligence to think about what we believe and not to just “believe” without thinking about it. His point is that our intelligence is a powerful energy force that can move us into any direction that we want to go – so we should use our intelligence to ensure our survival and prosperity as tribal people.

I think everyone who had the opportunity to meet John, who is a Santee Dakota, enjoyed his humbleness and sense of humor and appreciated the courageous way that he shared himself with us.


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