John Trudell


Photo by Matika Wilbur | Project562

[John Trudell, American Indian poet, actor, spoken word artist and political activist passed away on December 8, 2015, at his home, surrounded by his family and friends.

John Trudell was a Santee Dakota activist, artist, actor, and poet, who led a life dedicated to indigenous human rights, land and language issues. He helped spark a spoken word movement that is a continuation of Native American oral traditions. 
Born on February 15, 1946 in Omaha, he spent his early years living on the Santee Reservation in northern Nebraska. His father was Santee and his mother was of Mexican Indian heritage. He had a normal life until his mother died at age 6, and the new rock and roll music resonated with him from ages 9-12. He said high school was not good for him and would enlist in the U.S. Navy from 1963 until 1967, to get away. He married Fenicia “Lou” Ordonez in 1968 in California, briefly attended college, thinking he would go into radio and broadcasting.Everything changed in 1969 when Native American students and organizers, Trudell among them, occupied Alcatraz Island from November 20, 1969 to June 11, 1970. That group became “Indians of All Tribes,” and they issued the manifesto,We Hold the Rock, and eventually the book,Alcatraz is Not an Island. The Alcatraz Occupation became an incubator for the nascent Native American rights movement, including the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis. The legal basis for this occupation was theTreaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, which said that any abandoned federal property would revert to the Indian Nations. This treaty’s legality would also inspire many more actions across Indian country. Trudell has always maintained that all these political actions were not just moral, ethical issues but were legal issues, according to Native treaty rights and federal trust responsibilities.

Trudell used his broadcasting experience on the airwaves of “Radio Free Alcatraz” (a clip from the program can be heard on the 2005 documentaryTrudell). His marriage would end during this period as he become a leading Native spokesman attracting national attention. The negotiations over Alcatraz, the proposed Indian Center and the occupation itself fell apart in 1971, but so many names of Native activists, organizers, artists, writers and actors from that time would become prominent in the ensuing struggles, movement and documentation.


AP Images | Richard Drew

In remembering John Trudell, it is worth paying a note of respect to all the people involved in all the activities that helped define an era and led to many changes we enjoy today. Such as: Richard Oakes (my cousin), Adam Fortunate Eagle, LaNada Means, and Alcatraz veterans Richard McKenzie, Mark Martinez, Garfield Spotted Elk, Virgil Standing-Elk, Walter Means, Allen Cottier, Joe Bill, David Leach, John Whitefox, Ross Harden, Jim Vaughn, Linda Arayando, Bernell Blindman, Kay Many Horse, John Virgil, John Martell, Fred Shelton, Rick Evening, Jerry Hatch, Al Miller, Joe Morris, Stella Leach, Cleo Waterman, Al Rickard, Dean Chavers.

Then there was Fred Downey—Coyote 1, Peter Blue Cloud—Coyote 2, and the actor Peter Coyote, Benjamin Bratt, Jack Forbes, Grace Thorpe, Wilma Mankiller, and so many more who turned out to support in the early 70s like Buffy Ste. Marie, Marlon Brando, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal, Dick Gregory, Muhammed Ali, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Anthony Quinn, Jane Fonda, Jonathan Winters, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael.

A home movie by Bureau of Indian Affairs employee Doris Purdy was made at Alcatraz and captures a snippet of this time, as does the famous LIFE Magazine photo-spread that has Oakes, Trudell and the entire Alcatraz contingent featured. In 1972, the movement was propelled by members of AIM, the National Indian Brotherhood, the Native American Rights Fund, the National Indian Youth Council, the National American Indian Council, the National Council on Indian Work, National Indian Leadership Training, and the American Indian Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse who organized the Trail of Broken Treaties, Mel Thom, Clyde Warrior, Gerald Wilkerson, Vine Deloria Jr., Hank Adams, Carter Camp, Shirley Hill Witt, LaDonna Harris, Suzan Harjo, and Louis Bruce.

The 1973 AIM Liberation/Occupation of Wounded Knee included Russell Means, Dennis Banks, Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Ellen Moves Camp, Gladys Bissonette, Lenny Foster, Edgar Bear Runner, Stan Holder, Pedro Bissonette, Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, Nilak Butler, Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, Mary Crow Dog, Kamook Banks, Lori Pourier, Winona LaDuke, Phillip Deer, Lee Brightman, Sid Mills, Bill Wahpepah, Ingrid Washinwatok, Billy War Soldier, Floyd Westerman, Joy Harjo. These are the names of just some of the people associated with that time, who knew or worked or debated with John Trudell.

We should also not neglect the memory of Frank Clearwater, Buddy LaMont, Joe Stuntz and the over 200 missing and murdered Natives from either side in the FBI/DOJ/BIA repression after Wounded Knee and the Jumping Bull Ranch/FBI shoot-out.] (from Indian Country Today)


A Look at the Greatest Haul of Native American Artifacts, Ever

In a warehouse in Utah, federal agents from BLM are storing tens of thousands of looted objects recovered in a massive sting in Blanding, UT, back in 2009.

[At dawn on June 10, 2009, almost 100 federal agents pulled up to eight homes in Blanding, Utah, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying side arms. An enormous cloud hung over the region, one of them recalled, blocking out the rising sun and casting an ominous glow over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. At one hilltop residence, a team of a dozen agents banged on the door and arrested the owners—a well-respected doctor and his wife. Similar scenes played out across the Four Corners that morning as officers took an additional 21 men and women into custody. Later that day, the incumbent interior secretary and deputy U.S. attorney general, Ken Salazar and David W. Ogden, announced the arrests as part of “the nation’s largest investigation of archaeological and cultural artifact thefts.” The agents called it Operation Cerberus, after the three-headed hellhound of Greek mythology.

Preview thumbnail for video 'Plunder of the Ancients

The search-and-seizures were the culmination of a multi-agency effort that spanned two and a half years. Agents enlisted a confidential informant and gave him money—more than $330,000—to buy illicit artifacts. Wearing a miniature camera embedded in a button of his shirt, he recorded 100 hours of videotape on which sellers and collectors casually discussed the prices and sources of their objects. The informant also accompanied diggers out to sites in remote canyons, including at least one that agents had rigged with motion-detecting cameras.

The haul from the raid was spectacular. In one suspect’s home, a team of 50 agents and archaeologists spent two days cataloging more than 5,000 artifacts, packing them into museum-quality storage boxes and loading those boxes into five U-Haul trucks. At another house, investigators found some 4,000 pieces. They also discovered a display room behind a concealed door controlled by a trick lever. In all, they seized some 40,000 objects—a collection so big it now fills a 2,300-square-foot warehouse on the outskirts of Salt Lake City and spills into parts of the nearby Natural History Museum of Utah.

In some spots in the Four Corners, Operation Cerberus became one of the most polarizing events in memory. Legal limitations on removing artifacts from public and tribal (but not private) lands date back to the Antiquities Act of 1906, but a tradition of unfettered digging in some parts of the region began with the arrival of white settlers in the 19th century. Among the 28 modern Native American communities in the Four Corners, the raids seemed like a long-overdue attempt to crack down on a travesty against their lands and cultures—“How would you feel if a Native American dug up your grandmother and took her jewelry and clothes and sold them to the highest bidder?” Mark Mitchell, a former governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque, asked me. But some white residents felt that the raid was an example of federal overreach, and those feelings were inflamed when two of the suspects, including the doctor arrested in Blanding, committed suicide shortly after they were arrested. (A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his widow is pending.) The prosecution’s case was not helped when its confidential informant also committed suicide before anyone stood trial.

Ultimately, 32 people were pulled in, in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. None of them were Native American, although one trader tried vainly to pass himself off as one. Twenty-four were charged with violating the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, among other laws. Two cases were dropped because of the suicides, and three were dismissed. No one went to prison. The remainder reached plea agreements and, as part of those deals, agreed to forfeit the artifacts confiscated in the raid.

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has custody of the collection, spent the last five years simply creating an inventory of the items. “Nothing on this scale has ever been done before, not in terms of investigating the crimes, seizing the artifacts and organizing the collection,” BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall told me. Before they were seized, these objects had been held in secret, stashed in closets and under beds or locked away in basement museums. But no longer. Recently the BLM gave Smithsonian an exclusive first look at the objects it has cataloged.


With its inventory done, the BLM will give priority to returning whatever objects it can to the tribes from which they were taken. Even though the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has highly specific guidelines for repatriating artifacts, several experts in the Native American community said the process will be complicated by the lack of documentation.

Once the BLM’s repatriation effort is complete, which will take several more years, the agency will have to find homes for the artifacts that remain. It hopes to form partnerships with museums that can both display the artifacts and offer opportunities for scholars to research them. “Part of our hope is that we will form partnerships with Native American communities, especially those that have museums,” said Mahaney. The Navajo have a large museum, while the Zuni, Hopi and others have cultural centers. Blanding, Utah, where several of the convicted looters live, has the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum. Even so, it will take years of study before the Cerberus collection begins to yield its secrets.]

(… more, with a video of the raid, here | SMITHSONIAN)


Don Coyhis and Wellbriety

Coyhis developed Wellbriety, a substance abuse recovery program that taps the power of Native American culture, tradition and community to help heal his people.



[In 1990, just as Coyhis was learning to balance his passion with his paying work, Digital Equipment Corp. announced layoffs. Although his position was safe, his supervisor knew Coyhis’ heart was elsewhere and offered him a $141,000 buyout. Coyhis took it and put every spare penny into building White Bison.

The business model is “to run small, because we can do so much more by training out there,” Coyhis says. “If I died, the organization would survive. The spokesperson isn’t the movement anymore.”

Coyhis believes that many problems in Indian communities stem from the government-sanctioned boarding schools that Indian children were forced to attend beginning in the late 1800s. Children were made to cut their hair, attend church, and shun their native language and traditions. Sexual abuse was rampant.

Many children did not survive the experience, he says. Many of those who did – including Coyhis’ parents – were so traumatized that they turned cold and unfeeling, even toward the younger generation.

Coyhis nearly passed on the legacy of the trauma to his own children. But that’s one more community he worked to rebuild. Although it wasn’t always the case, his eight adult children are sober. “My family has broken the chain of addiction,” he says. “My grandbabies will not know alcoholism.”

Coyhis’ affect on the health, wellness and happiness of the Indian nation is immeasurable, says Henrietta Mann, a Cheyenne elder and president of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribal College at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

“I’ve never known him to waiver,” she says. “It’s a very long time to be dealing with a task of the magnitude that he has taken on. There is no one like him in the Native American community.”]

Read the full story |


Red is Not Black

Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith: Integrity, Ethics, Accountability, Identity

[… a more productive place to begin might be to ask why there has not been any noticeable difference in professional or political expectations of Smith—in her self-presentations, speaking engagements, professional service, and publications? There are certainly many people who knew/know, so why have her ethics and integrity not been questioned or challenged in the same or similar way to those of Dolezal? Why does Smith’s fraud get excused on the grounds of “her good work” but Dolezal does not?

Meanwhile, we’ll all fail to ask why, as Dolezal and Smith present themselves through such complicated personal stories of childhood abuse and family dysfunction, we respond so differently to Dolezal’s blackface and Smith’s redface. We’ll avoid the opportunity to think out loud together about why it seems the entire nation demands accountability of someone pretending to be Black–of literally altering her physical appearance to conform to racist expectations of Blackness–but doesn’t seem to give one iota of concern about those who pretend to be Indian.]

Read the full opinion article | tequilasovereign


Bless me Father, for I have Sinned

[St. Louis University has removed a statue of a Roman Catholic priest and two American Indians that was described in the campus newspaper as a depiction of “colonialism, imperialism, racism and … Christian and white supremacy.”

The statue, “Where the Rivers Meet,” shows Pierre-Jean De Smet, a cross held high above his head, putting a hand on a Native American who stands below him. A second Native is shown kneeling.

“This message to American Indians is simple: ‘You do not belong here if you do not submit to our culture and our religion,'”wrote Ryan McKinley in The University News. McKinley stressed that SLU, a private Catholic University, was “likely unintentionally” committing the racial slight.

The statue will now be displayed in the University’s art museum. The usual debate over “political correctness” has ensued, particularly in thecomments section at the conservative-leaning Washington Times. Some pro-statue commenters feel the move ignores the historical fact that, within the dark context of colonialism, De Smet was unquestionably one of the good guys.

The question is whether the statue, without that context, comes across as a tribute to one of the good guys or an overall endorsement of imposing European culture on Indigenous people.]



Memory Theaters | A Photo Album

Red Tower 2 MARK

SE Utah


Arches National Park | Utah, USA |@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


The Kiss |@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


Unforgiven |@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


Three Magi |@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography


Island in the Sky | Canyonlands National Park, Utah |@2015 Styliani Giannitsi Photography



Utah desert in the winter




Buffalo Panel | 9 Mile Canyon | Utah, USA

Homestead MARK

Manifest Destiny


Hunting Scene | 9 Mile Canyon | Utah, USA


Memory Theater

9 Mile Canyon National Monument

9 Mile Canyon | Utah, USA


Memory Theater 2




Gone Girl


Memory Theater 3

Big Wall Panel MARK

9 Mile Canyon | Utah, USA

Another Snake MARK

9 Mile Canyon | Utah, USA


4 Exceptional Native Films of 2013

[2013 has been a truly outstanding year for Native cinema. In addition to an always-strong slate of documentary films, among them Indian Relay, Urban Rez, and Young Lakota, Native directors and actors turned in exceptional work in a number of movies, and that’s what we’ll focus on here. (By our own ad-hoc reasoning, and despite solid work by Natives in supporting roles, we’re disqualifying the endlessly-analyzed The Lone Ranger and Jimmy P. for casting non-Natives in leading roles.]