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John Trudell, Native American Activist and Artist, Dies at 69

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John Trudell.

John Trudell, the Native American activist whose long pursuit of justice for indigenous peoples included writing, lectures, music, acting and organizing, died Tuesday night in Mountain View, Calif. He was 69.

In early December, it was announced that Trudell had entered the final stages of terminal cancer. According to those close to Trudell’s family, a small gathering and ceremony took place Tuesday at his home.

John Trudell's 'A.K.A. Grafitti Man.'
John Trudell’s ‘A.K.A. Grafitti Man.’

Born to a Santee Sioux father and Mexican mother, Trudell grew up near the Santee reservation in Omaha, Neb. before joining the Navy in 1963 and serving in Vietnam. In 1969, Trudell joined the United Indians of All Tribes’ occupation of Alcatraz Island, serving as spokesperson. Throughout the 1970s, the FBI kept a file on Trudell that reportedly exceeded 17,000 pages.

Trudell’s life took a tragic turn on Feb. 11, 1979, when suspected arson burned his home on Nevada’s Duck Valley Reservation. His mother-in-law, his three young children and his wife, pregnant with their fourth child, all died in the fire. For years, Trudell maintained involvement in the fire by the U.S. government, who ruled it an electrical accident.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Trudell released a number of acclaimed albums, including A.K.A. Grafitti Man, with friends and supporters Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt. Trudell also appeared in the films Thunderheart (1992), On Deadly Ground (1995) and Smoke Signals (1998), and was the subject of the 2005 documentary Trudell.


Memorial services have not been announced as of press time.

Watch Trudell in 1970, speaking with KQED News about the occupation of Alcatraz:

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