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John Trudell (1946 - 2015)

(Jesse Grant / WireImage / Getty Images)

John Trudell (1946 - 2015)

John Trudell, American Indian activist, poet and actor, has died of cancer, according to The Associated Press. He was 69.

Born Feb. 15, 1946, Trudell, who was of Santee Sioux heritage, came to national prominence as the spokesman for American Indian protesters who occupied Alcatraz Island in 1969. Calling themselves the United Indians of All Tribes, they demanded the return of the former federal prison, located in San Francisco Bay, to Native Americans under treaty rights.

Trudell joined the protest a week after it had begun. A broadcasting student in college, he went on air with a radio show from the island called Radio Free Alcatraz. He became the public spokesman for the group during the occupation, which lasted two years, until 1971. However, the federal government did not meet the demands of the protesters and they disbanded.

Following the end of the Alcatraz protest, Trudell joined the American Indian Movement and became their national chairman from 1973 to 1979. During his tenure, AIM led a spiritual walk, dubbed "The Longest Walk," across the country from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and support for tribal sovereignty.


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In 1979, Trudell's second wife, Tina Manning, their three children and his mother-in-law died in a suspicious fire at his in-law's home in Nevada. His father-in-law survived but was badly burned. Trudell suspected the fire's cause was arson because of the family's political activism. He was in Washington, D.C., protesting at the time.

After the death of his family, Trudell turned to writing poetry. He also became active performing and recording his poems set to music as well as other musical projects. Rock, blues and traditional Native American music influenced his style, and much of his music was spread throughout native communities through noncommercial mixtapes.

In the 1990s, he appeared in three films, "Thunderheart" (1992), "On Deadly Ground" (1995), and "Smoke Signals" (1998). In 2005, a documentary about his life was released called "Trudell."

In his later years, Trudell had a relationship with actress, producer and Native American activist Marcheline Bertrand, the mother of actress Angelina Jolie. They co-founded the All Tribes Foundation and were together when she died of cancer in 2007.

Trudell was surrounded by friends and family at the time of his death, according to Cree Miller, a trustee for his estate.

"John Trudell and his family ask for people to celebrate love and celebrate life," Miller said in a statement.

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