December, 1983

John Trudell Interview
By Paul DeRienzo

What happened at Oglala?

I have to begin with this, for anyone who is connected to what is going on in America in resistance: I still have a hard time understanding why the story is not better heard. We’re talking about some real things going down.

It's because the government’s robbing us and there is genocide going down against the natural world. That’s why we rebel.

Our rebellions have always been of our physical presence and consciousness. The government responded to this with violence. So there is a lot of violence, at times extreme amounts of violence. When the government is away from us, there isn’t any violence, but they bring it upon us where we live.

This led up to Wounded Knee, and to me it was between the natural worldview and the industrial worldview. The real thing is the natural world must live. There is a way that it can live, but the way that’s being done now is not that way.

America doesn’t live. America is death. If s all that it feeds on, lives on; it's not living. If s just death to each generation. There’s no connection to the past or the present whatsoever.

In the physical taking of Wounded Knee there was a shooting war, and people got killed In the course of the occupation. Then negotiations were held and people were let out and we went through political/legal courts. But on the reservation the FBI presence remained and the violence was real intense.

At that time on the reservation if you were pro-American government then you really didn’t have a lot to worry about I mean, your physical survival. But if they didn't know that, then you had everything to worry about I mean physical survival. Intense violence being brought down on ones around you. It didn’t matter if you were on a side or not, if they didn’t know -- that's all.

The AIM people, the most active ones, are tied up in the court system, and the war is continuing. In June of 1975, because of these conditions, two elders, Grandma and Grandpa Jumping Bull in Oglala, SD, asked some of the AIM boys to come and stay with them.

AIM had a camp on their land. Peltier was one of the people In the camp.

On June 25, for reasons that are still unclear and the government cannot seem to satisfactorily explain --even through two trials --what were their agents doing In Oglala firing their weapons?

Incidentally, there was a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) SWAT team practicing not tar away-but they didn’t go in. The firelight starts and the people in the camp are defending the camp because they’re gonna get the women and children out They don’t know what's going on.

You have to understand the general climate. Somebody fires on you its open warfare. You’re in your camp where you belong, and someone fires on you-you gotta take care of what you can. That's the only realistic thing to do.

So they got the women and the children out and this firelight takes place, a lot of firing. Some people stay behind and provide cover as others leave. By this time, all sorts of law enforcement Is there, the enemy, the cops. The last group literally escapes through a hall of gunfire by climbing up the side of a hill. This was still in daylight also.

The two agents got killed and one of our people got killed; nobody was captured. Later, Peltier, Dino Butler, Bob Robideu and Jimmy Eagle were indicted as co4ekndants on two counts of premeditated, aiding and abetting, 1st degree murder. Butler and Robideu were acquitted in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by an upper middle class, all while jury on self-defense grounds. The jury's decision said, "Yeah, we understand that you have to do that"

Where is Leonard Peltier's case right now?

Leonard's case has been through the appellate court system once and the Supreme Court refused to hear It The only other legal option he had was to file a writ of Habeas Corpus to petition the court

Now, this is all legalese; I don't necessarily understand it but I have a general Idea.

After Leonard was convicted, he filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for his FBI files. His attorneys received 12,000 pages while the first appeal was going through and being denied. From the 12,000 pages of internal FBI documentation they discovered the how and some of the why behind the falsification of evidence against Leonard. Faced with no evidence against him, the FBI made it up. They also did things like submit perjured testimony to the Canadian court system in order to extradite Leonard back to the U.S.

Them were many violations of the law that we can document through the FOIA. On the basis of these revelations a writ was tiled for a new evidentiary hearing on the basis of the new evidence. We had to go back to the trial judge, who was Judge Paul Benson in North Dakota, and start it all over again.

What the FOIA files show is that Judge Benson had sat down with the FBI and the prosecutor, a U.S. attorney, and strategized on how they were going to prosecute Peltier before he went on trial. So now we have to go back to this judge. He was a pig anyway; now we know he actually did sit down with them. They acknowledged it

We have to ask him to hold an evidentiary hearing, a new trial, and to remove himself. Of course, he says no to all this. We appealed his decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court gave a hearing on Sept. 13, where both sides presented oral arguments; that’s where it stands now.

This is the last time Leonard can go around on appeals, and if they can shut the door on him this time, that’s it. We have gone to the Congress in the course of all this, and 50 members signed an amicus brief as friends of the court. They basically wrote a letter to the judges supporting a new hearing.

Have you been going into the prisons?

I go into the prisons as little as possible. I have this physical aversion to hanging around them. I don’t rule out the possibility they may put me in one of those things against my will. If they can capture me, they may do that.

The State has this absolute, totally paranoid fear of Indian people exercising their spiritual consciousness. They fear it to the point of making us go through "religious" terminology. They’re trying to limit our spiritual consciousness by redefining it in religious terminology; that’s the biggest struggle that’s going on.

We must use that means to get inside so some of our people go in under the freedom of religion. Dino Butler, the Peltier co-defendant that was acquitted of the FBI charges-he’s in jail in Canada right now. When he stood trial, he refused to present a defense. He stood mute in the court, because they wouldn’t let him bring the pipe to the courtroom. He didn’t present a defense, with his brother Gary. They told the judge "it you don’t recognize the pipe, the spiritual base, then you will not allow us to totally defend ourselves because this is a part of us. This is our truth; this is where we will bring the truth.

"If you say we can’t bring the truth in by keeping the pipe out, then how can we defend ourselves? We’re not going to pretend that you’re giving us any justice. We’re gonna stand mute in court," and they fired the attorneys. They made the judge conduct the trial, but they didn’t acknowledge him.

Did he ever allow the pipe in?

He never did. Twice they were denied the pipe.

Once in Oakalla Prison in British Columbia, --where they were held for trial --the same place Peltier was held, incidentally, while he was waiting to be extradited. The prison authorities agreed to give 11 to them; this was leading up to their trial. The authorities then broke their agreement. This is why, when they went to trial, they said they weren’t going to play with this anymore.

Because of that position being taken around the pipe, Eagle feathers and prayer ceremonies, Dino and Gary were taken into the maximum security section of Oakalla prison and placed in the second floor wing. They were isolated; the whole place had been cleared out.

They welded chains on the doors into the wing and on the doors to their individual cells, chains with padlocks. They lived in this condition for six months while they were waiting to go to trial. Their fast took place under these conditions, and then they were convicted and sent to a place called Kent, which is also in BC, ten miles east of Vancouver.

This year, in the struggle with the State to realize their spiritual life-we’ve been waging this freedom of religion struggle-again, then, they had to go into a fast. This fast spread out into the U.S.-into Washington State and some other prisons.

They got the ceremonies in and they’re trying to get the sweat lodge in -on the 34th or 35th day of the fast the elders stepped in and said the whole thing was becoming too political. So they asked them to call off the fast, and said they would deal with the prison officials. They didn’t get the sweat lodge, but it's my understanding that they did get pipe ceremonies.

It’s going on everywhere. They got these men locked up in maximum-security setups and they’re even afraid of that. They’re afraid.

I feel that there is so much to be learned from how the State treats the Indian people: no guilt no sympathy, no anger-just how they handle the Indian people.

Indian people don’t really have anything, In a material sense. Collectively they don’t, although there is a class system evolving, but, generally speaking, they don’t have anything in a material sense.

But yet the State is so afraid of us. They go to these extremes in the prisons, they go to these extremes to convict a Peltier and to attack a people on a racial basis because this group of people is saying, "It’s all how we live with the land, and you gotta honor the law, honor the treaties, but it all comes back to the land." Terrifies the State, no matter how powerful it appears to be.

We are part of the natural world, and all life comes from the earth, not governments and things. All life comes from the earth. Our power connection is to the earth. There’s a flow and there’s consciousness-spirit to us. What the industrial invader has turned around and accomplished is to redefine what power is.

Because we live from this industrialized perspective, we consider all wealth to be power, and we consider their military and repressive laws to be power, and we consider their political systems to be power. But all the money is greed, not power. The military and laws-laws that are no more than rules of war: It's not power; it’s violence and brutality, but it's not power.

We should never give these negative things the image of being power. It's how they rob us. The only way all this can be power to us is if we do not understand our connection to the earth.

Power is an earthquake and if s a tornado. Its that spirit. We’re connected to that same life flow, force, energy spirit. We’re a part of that same balance. They’ve used technology to blind us and dull our senses.

It’s not that the technology should go away. It will not go away from its own voluntary will; we won’t let it. I know we won’t. It is not being used as a healing thing. It is a destructive thing the way that it is now. It must be used to heal; we make that choice.

On an individual basis, a lot of human beings are going to have to really examine themselves and how they consume. That’ s an integral part of the struggle: if we consumed less, that is itself an act of defiance and non-cooperation to the enemy. They’re trying to make us consume.

We’ve got to think in terms of non-cooperation vs. non-violence. Non-violence will not get us our liberation. The non-violence movement that I see in America doesn’t understand violence. They march down the street and they are polite to the police, the police are polite to them, and they behave themselves-no matter how many of them are marching-they consider that nonviolence.

What the ruling structure of the State considers it to be is dissension kept under control, and not out-of-hand. Therefore, they say, "It we can control it then fine, we control the nukes, ha-ha; we control the money, fine; we control the dissension, that’s the trip!"

A lot of people are confusing non-violence with actually being controlled. It’s time for people to open up their minds about non-cooperation. That is really what we are talking about We can non-cooperate in a non-violent manner.

If we’re against the nukes, the State and all these things that are going on, why don’t we consider organizing to not spend any money for one day? --to oppose the whole trip being run down on humanity.

We feel it in the cites, in the country; we feel it everywhere. Whether we’re rednecks or redskins. We feel it whether we’re men or women old or young, we feel it through all the dimensions and class lines and physical barriers that separate us. We can feel It-some people support it. Most people don’t like it, and when you look at the economic and political realities going on now-it as much time and money were put into non-cooperation, it would have more effect than having a million people march in Now York to the UN

\We are the past disguised as the present. Non-cooperation is something anybody can do; they don’t have to expose their identities. What can I do? Well, this is what you can do. This is our human earthquake, this it our human blizzard.

You're saying their existence is temporary?

In natural time, extremely temporary. Dinosaurs were here 30,000,000 years by our year count. Man’s recorded history is what? --50,000 years or 100,000 years, in the industrial world.

In the natural world, everyone’s history goes back to the beginning of time. To the very beginning of time. Back to the creation stories. The industrial world has a limited history-because it wrote It down and then it reinterpreted It and confused it. Everyone’s fucking berserk in the sense that they don’t know who they are anymore.

We see that what is a natural defense to what the Nazi is creating is a natural defense. Lets just remember the earth. We will find others this way that will remember the earth and as the corporate war continues. These are where our allies will be.

\They will understand the realities, too. Political alliances-you deal with the politics in a physical way because you have to, but you understand where your power is. You also have to do that. That's what we see. We’ll make our mistakes and 110 our human lives, but we will stay connected to Me. Life outlasts death.

Our ancestors said, "Look out for the 7th generation." That's what we’re dealing with. Life outlasts death if we just hang in there.

There’s a natural world full of spirit and a diseased one. We’re created naturally with ways to keep those sicknesses away. Our body just carries the systems in us. When we live more naturally we can do it better. But we get pumped up with this shit and if s harder for us to do it.

The creation is made that way, too; the disease spirit comes in among the good undiseased spirits. It's not good and bad.

The source of the life will purify herself to live, to continue life. It may come in the form of them throwing all the nukes in the world and poisoning us all off. The earth will continue to live: 100,000 years for plutonium to pass away. The earth’s got the time.

It's real obvious in looking at the limited history of civilization --they’ve had all the great civilizations. That's what I remember most about going to school. They told me they had ‘ all the great civilizations. The question that comes into mind is if they were so great, how come there’s so many? If you have the answer, why do you keep pulling yourself down?

Tell me about your poetry.

When I first started writing, I didn’t consider it in terms of poetry, and I do not consider myself to be a poet. I write what is called poetry. I do other things. It wasn’t till 1979 that I started to write these lines.

In February of 1979, there was an arson attack on my wife’s home in Nevada, and my wife and my kids were killed, and my mother-in-law. It was in relation to all the stuff that’s going on-FBI, the Peltier thing, all this. Anyway, my wife Tina used to write poetry before she met me.

When she met me, she stopped. She never wrote anymore, and we were together for 7 years before this happened. Within a matter of months after she had left, I started writing lines. That’ s how it is.

Then I put them away; I let some people who were my friends see them. It made sense to them, and they encouraged it. I have a poetry book that is being distributed out of Minneapolis by the North American Water Office. The name of that book is Living In Reality: Songs Called Poems. I have this LP called "Tribal Voices," which is also the name of the group. It is some poems put to traditional Indian music.

What the poetry is about to me in my own mind is life and the Illusions. What is happening, what the human spirit must go through, what all spirit must go through to some degree? It speaks of experience we all go through at one time or another.

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