For indigenous people in Minnesota and, indeed, all members of the human race, we have a few table scraps of progress to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week:
In October, Minneapolis ended years of Columbus Day rule and celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day.
Three weeks ago, Minneapolis hosted one of the biggest anti-racism protests in the nation’s history, outside TCF Stadium before the Vikings-Washington game.
Last week, the Senate narrowly voted down the Keystone XL pipeline, the length of which in April Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinaabe nation from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, road on horseback in successful protest “against the current of the oil.”
That combination of watershed moments is the backdrop to two concerts this weekend at the Cedar Cultural Center on the West Bank, including Minneapolis rapper Tall Paul’s third annual “Cold Flows For Warm Clothes: A Hip Hop Benefit For American Indian Youth” Sunday, and Saturday’s collaboration between acoustic wizards The Pines and poet/songwriter John Trudell, the one-time Minneapolis resident and member of the American Indian Movement.
“It feels to me like Minneapolis has been Ground Zero for the resistance, and for the [Indigenous People] civil rights movement,” said David Huckfelt, co-founder of The Pines.
“Lately, as especially a lot of the problems we have having to do with the climate and climate change, people who have been trying to be stewards of the land for generations have a position of authority in that debate. They’ve been fighting it for a long time, all through the years, so I think that the fact that AIM has reinvigorated itself and that there’s leaders like Winona LaDuke and Clyde [Bellecourt], it makes perfect sense that in these times in Minneapolis, things would stir back up again.
“There’s also support from people like [Rep.] Keith Ellison and [Mayor] Betsy Hodges; there’s a lot of pitching-in and collaborating with what’s going on. It’s not reserved for anybody; if you want to get on board, there’s room for everybody to move something forward.”
That was the impetus for Huckfelt and his partner-in-Pines Benson Ramsey to team with Trudell, who served as chairman of AIM in the ‘70s and lived in the Little Earth neighborhood of Minneapolis and toured with the Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt-led “No Nukes” tour around the same time. The Pines-Trudell collaboration was hatched eight years ago, when Huckfelt took in a Trudell poetry reading at Birchbark Books, the Lake of the Isles haven owned by author Louise Erdrich.
“It’s going to be very special,” said Huckfelt, of Trudell’s first Minneapolis appearance in nearly a decade. “We’re going to do a couple of his songs and we’ll collaborate with him on another song.”
“First of all, [the confluence of activity in Minneapolis] shows that whatever we started out back in the ’70s and ’60s is still very valid; it’s just taken different shapes and put on different masks,” said Trudell by phone from his home in San Francisco. “We’re still dealing with, for lack of a better work, the ignorance and the desensitization of the American public towards the reality of Native people as being human beings, and it manifests it the mascot issue, the land-water issues, and all of it.
“So I think what people are doing is necessary. Protecting the fire of life, so to speak, and it’s not happening in a lot of places. The younger generation of protesters are doing what needs to be done. They’re generating energy that needs to be generated. The predator reality is that they use their energy for fracking and promoting racism; that’s energy that’s accounting for that, and for us as human beings and people who don’t like that, we need to generate energy to put that out there, too. Because that’s what raises consciousness and keeps that flame going, and I think that’s really really good.”
Count Huckfelt, a former theology student, among the flame-keepers. He was forever changed upon discovering Trudell’s poem “Crazy Horse,” and as Saturday’s showcase draws near, his reverence for Trudell’s wisdom is obvious.
“For me, personally, the John Trudell message was the antidote [to theology school]; it was the cold, hard, true other side of the story,” said Huckfelt. “There’s nothing fluffy about it, there’s no happy ending to it. In his worldview, we’re welcome on this planet spiritually but in a physical way, there’s any number of atrocities that we’re going to commit upon each other, and when it’s done by institutions it’s gonna be said it’s good for you and it’s what you need. But [Trudell’s work has been about] keeping a spirit, and making sure there’s a place for that.
“We met at Birchbark, but I had seen him speak at Pine Ridge back in 2003 in an event that was commemorating some members of AIM, and he blew my mind by just basically coming out and flat-out saying there’s really no institution in America that you can trust to take care of your spirit, or your children’s spirit. There’s no place you can put your faith in and lay it down and say, all right, this college, school, this business, or government or anything is going to look out for my best interests. You know, it doesn’t exist.”
At 69, Trudell has long been wary of his own government, due in no small part to a suspicious 1979 fire that took the lives of his wife, three children, his unborn child, and his mother-in-law. Shortly thereafter, he began writing and recording – and inspiring future generations to hold sacred the spirit of the earth that too often gets bulldozed in America.
“One thing I am encouraged by, which is a big change from a long time ago to now, is that there are more young Native artists and they’re raising their voices in the culture and the arts, and I think that’s a really really good thing,” said Trudell. “They’re able to express the reality of who we are. You can’t express the reality of who we are through politics, because the political reality is all an illusion.”