John Trudell 1946-2015

Native American leader and poet John Trudell has died in Santa Clara County, Calif.

Trudell, a leader of the American Indian Movement, was well connected with Nevada. In 1975, when AIM leader and federal fugitive Dennis Banks was staying in Winnemucca with little money and at risk of capture, Trudell rescued him. “John took me to Reno, Nevada, and we stayed there with some supporters for two days,” Banks later wrote. From Reno, Trudell moved Banks to the Bay Area.

“A hard-line advocate of armed self-defense, Trudell himself eschewed violence, though he was arrested in Nevada for discharging a weapon while aiding the Duck Valley Reservation [in Elko County, Nevada on July 17, 1975] in a long-running water rights dispute,” according to a Facts on File profile.

Tina Manning, a Duck Valley tribal official and Trudell's second wife, and his three children and mother-in-law died in a house fire on the Duck Valley Reservation. Trudell considered the fire suspicious, part of a federal effort to silence him, but nothing was proven. The fire occurred a few hours after Trudell burned an American flag on the steps of the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, 1979.

Born in Omaha, Trudell's family was Santee Sioux. He participated in the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island, which tribes claimed under a treaty giving federal surplus lands to Native Americans. Alcatraz Prison had been shut down several years earlier.

In July, Trudell performed at Grass Valley Fairgrounds in Nevada County, Calif., to support legal hemp. His work was produced on several record albums.