Appreciating John Trudell, Chris Eyre, Jewell James, all Native artists


A revolution in self-expression is setting loose from Indian country. Music of every type and expressive style is flowing from the voices, hands and feet of a new generation of American Indian musicians. The Fifth Annual Nammy Awards, this year presented Sept. 7 in Milwaukee, highlighted this powerful movement, but many other names have come to the fore as well. We applaud this strong volition to continually stamp an Indian imprint on the fabric of American culture.

We salute John Trudell as a representation of contemporary Native activists and artists because he is a veteran of the Indian Wars. We saw Trudell recently at an over-flow concert in the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. An ethnically rich and diverse crowd, with many Native people in the audience, resonated completely with Trudell, who is in a class of his own.

From the days of the Alcatraz takeover in 1969 and his widely heard interviews on local radio, to his impassioned and motivational speeches on behalf of American Indian movements over two decades, to his swift and decisive move from political activist to cultural icon, Trudell has delivered a very personal, very incisive, critique-possessed musical poetry that braids gut and brain and heart into new consciousness.

We appreciate the energy and integrity that Trudell puts into his message, which is a constant challenge to the new generation not to sell out, to perceive reality as clearly as possible. Trudell is onto something basic in the way Native people traditionally viewed and view the world. The sense of connection to the natural world, the understanding of our place in the Western Hemisphere, of which "we were a life form," is profound and genuine. We understood "the world in our own spiritual terms. We had a reality of our own," he says.

Trudell tells of the "Great Lie that brought its illusions." The purpose of the Great Lie is to "fog the memory of who we are ... but we know as Native people, our traditions at least teach us that we are an extension of the Ancient Ones. And that we are the Ancient Ones to those who are coming."

Trudell speaks to the Indian soul. The youth is giving him a good, hard listen. He is telling them, in the midst of massive war potential in the world, to seek the deeper reality, not just response, not just reaction. Protect your Indian soul, Trudell is saying, because, "in order for the Spirit Eater to feed off of you, it's got to dull the memory of who you are."

Chris Eyre is another who is presenting Native perspectives beyond the Indian world and into the overlapping edges of the mainstream, yet stays in tune with Indian country. His recently released film "Skins," based on a novel by Adrian Louis, is exploding across the film festival world. Eyre's innovative and refreshing new contribution, beyond the movie, which everyone seems to love, is his "Rolling Rez Tour," which takes the movie to reservation audiences ahead of the national release date. "Skins" is set and was largely shot in Pine Ridge Village. But there is no movie theater in Pine Ridge Village. Eyre's solution: a mobile theater that will roll with the film to Pine Ridge and around a good swath of Indian country. He is going with it. "I don't think you can call yourself an Indian artist unless you are conscious of what's going on in Indian country today," Eyre said recently in an interview.

Finally this round, in point of pride, we salute Jewell James, Lummi Master Carver, who brought the blessings and prayers of Native peoples to New York Sept. 7, in the form of a Totem pole from his Native territory in the Northwest. His expressed theme of "healing from within" touched the hearts of many who participated in his nationally recognized dedication to the children of the 9-11 victims. The totem was set in the Sterling Forest Preserve, north of New York City. Known at home as Praying Wolf and a descendant of Chief Seattle, James, who is a long-time activist, lived up to his name in his effort to share Native spiritual values with the country at large, during the remembrance for Sept. 11, 2001.

This week, Indian Country Today salutes John Trudell, Chris Eyre and Jewell James. We salute all the innovators, especially those honored at the Sept. 7 Nammy Awards, who are confronting what Trudell has called, "the mining of the spirit," that characterizes much of modern culture.

Vine Deloria, Jr. once said that the Indian value system would in time severely challenge the American value system because it had more humanity. We think Deloria was onto something very important. We too believe that America could use a strong dose of Indian country's compassionate pragmatism. The message, the song is about the need for a more humane system, for a deeper appreciation of each other and of the natural world that we need and must learn again to work with wisely.