John Trudell, who was a spokesman for American Indian protesters during their 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island and later headed the American Indian Movement, died Tuesday. He was 69.
Trudell, who also was a poet and actor, died of cancer at his home in Santa Clara County in California, where he was surrounded by friends and family, said Cree Miller, a trustee for his estate.
In some of his last words, Trudell said expressions of concern and love for him have been ”like a fire to my heart,” according to Miller.
”Thank you all for that fire,” he said.
”John Trudell and his family ask for people to celebrate love and celebrate life. He asked that people pray and celebrate in their own way in their own communities,” Miller said in a statement.
Trudell was born Feb. 15, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was Santee Sioux, and Trudell grew up near the Santee Sioux Reservation.
He became involved in Native American activism after a stint in the U.S. Navy, serving in a destroyer off the Vietnamese coast.
In 1969, Trudell joined American Indians who had occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to demand that the former federal prison should be given to Native Americans under treaty rights.
Trudell, who studied radio and broadcasting at a college in San Bernardino, California, became spokesman for the group that called itself the United Indians of All Tribes, and he ran a radio broadcast from the island called Radio Free Alcatraz.
The protest eventually dwindled, and the last demonstrators were removed by federal officers after 19 months.
Trudell went on to serve as national chairman of the activist American Indian Movement from 1973 to 1979.
In 1979, while Trudell was demonstrating in Washington, D.C., his pregnant second wife, Tina Manning, three children and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents’ home on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada.
Trudell and others long suspected government involvement, but the cause of the fire was never determined.
Trudell later had a relationship with Marcheline Bertrand, the mother of actress Angelina Jolie, before her 2007 death from cancer. She was an executive producer of a 2005 documentary about him called ”Trudell.”
Trudell was a prolific poet, combining spoken words and music on more than a dozen albums, including one released earlier this year.
His fans included Kris Kristofferson, who paid tribute to Trudell with the 1995 song ”Johnny Lobo,” a tune Kristofferson still frequently performs live.
Trudell also acted in several movies, including 1992’s ”Thunderheart” starring Val Kilmer and 1998’s ”Smoke Signals” starring Adam Beach.
In 2012, Trudell and singer Willie Nelson co-founded Hempstead Project Heart, which advocates for legalizing the growing of hemp for industrial purposes as a more environmentally sound alternative to crops used for clothing, biofuel and food.