American Indian actor, activist, and poet John Trudell died of cancer today at 69 years old.
I worked with Trudell on a project headed by video director Jon Plutte for the National Park Service entitled We Hold The Rock—a documentary about the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969.
Trudell was obviously an impassioned fighter for Indian rights, and although he was a consummate professional and a hard worker, hanging out with him meant you'd get the occasional rant, such as...
"How long do you Europeans need to go back in your history to suffer the genocide of your people? Hundreds of years? My grandfather is as far back as I need to go."
I never felt that any of his historical tirades were directed personally at me — or the other people on the project — but they were all thought pieces that brought up issues I wasn't necessarily addressing in every day life, and they absolutely changed my thinking. He was like that—he'd deliver a finger poke every now and again to remind you about what was true and fair.
It was an education, and an appropriate one, given the subject matter of the documentary we were all working on.
"I appreciate all of your expressions of concern and I appreciate all of your expressions of love," he said recently, when people started worrying about his health. "It has been like a fire to my heart. Thank you all for that fire."