Native American blues festival calls environmentalists to action
Story & Photos By Sandra Hale Schulman
Thousand Oaks, California (NFIC) 9-08
Winona LaDuke with her grandson.
Nestled in the lush hills above Malibu, the Chumash Interpretive Center held a Native American Blues Festival that was more message than music.
You can’t put Winona LaDuke and John Trudell and actress Irene Bedard on a bill and not expect some hard-hitting words to roar off the stage. Prominent author and environmental activist Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg and is the mother of three children.
Winona is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth and Founding Director of White Earth Land Recovery Project. Leading Honor the Earth she provides vision and leadership for the organization’s Regranting Program and its Strategic Initiatives. In addition, she has worked for two decades on the land issues of the White Earth Reservation, including litigation, over land rights in the 1980s. In 1989, she received the Reebok Human Rights Award, with which in part she began the White Earth Land Recovery Project. In 1994, Winona was nominated by Time Magazine as one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch universities, she has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. Her books include: Last Standing Woman (fiction), All Our Relations (non-fiction), In the Sugarbush (Children’s), and just out, the Winona LaDuke Reader.
LaDuke spoke powerfully for an hour about how change starts at home, or on the reseravation, or in any community. Plant gardens, install wind turbines, use bio-diesel fuel, and make healthier eating choices were her main initiatives.
“We’ve used up half of what the Earth has in terms of fossil fuels,” she decried. “How do we explain that? How do we account for that to future generations? When we grow our own food we help the earth and our families, diabetes can be controlled with a healthier diet, we can heal ourselves.”
Bedard, who has young son, sang of how motherhood has made her more aware of the world her child will grow up in. She and husband Deni played some inventive folk pop songs about love, life and heritage.
Headliner John Trudell never disappoints. His powerful voice, message and band Bad Dog are unmatched by any political performer. As an acclaimed poet, national recording artist, and actor he is an activist whose international following reflects the universal language of his words, work and message. He emanates an energy that is indescribable, a combination of prophet, rock star, hero.
Trudell (Santee Sioux) was a spokesperson for the Indian of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971. He then worked with the American Indian Movement (AIM), serving as Chairman of AIM from 1973 to 1979. In February of 1979, a fire of unknown origin killed Trudell’s pregnant wife, two children and mother-in-law. It was through this horrific tragedy that Trudell found his voice as an artist and poet, writing, in his words, “to stay connected to this reality.”
In between songs, many from his new release Madness and The Moreness, Trudell spoke of how thinking and believing are two separate worlds. “You are doing one or the other,” he intoned. “If you only believe, you are in a box whose walls cannot be penetrated. If you are thinking, your mind is moving, it is open. I’ve been watching the politics on TV lately, they ask us to believe. I ask you to question. I say these things because I can. Hey I know I’m crazy, and I’m looking for recruits. It’s my last defense against sanity.”
In 1982, Trudell began recording his poetry to traditional Native music and in 1983 he released his debut album Tribal Voice on his own Peace Company label. Trudell then teamed up with the late legendary Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Together, they recorded three albums during the 1980’s. The first of these, AKA Graffiti Man, was released in 1986 and dubbed the best album of the year by Bob Dylan. AKA Graffiti Man served early notice of Trudell’s singular ability to express fundamental truths through a unique mix of poetry, Native music, blues and rock. Since then, Trudell has released seven more albums plus a digitally re-mastered collection of his early Peace Company cassettes. His 2002 CD, Bone Days, was executive produced by Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie and released on the Daemon Records label.
His latest double album, Madness & The Moremes, showcases more than five years of new music and includes special Ghost Tracks of old favorite Trudell tunes made with legendary Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, another relation Trudell lost too soon. This internet-only release offers a full range of classic Trudell poetry – there are lyrics filled with penetrating insight and others with knock-out humor, all put to some of the best music Bad Dog has ever made together. Madness and The Moremes is available now on www.johntrudell.com.
In addition to his music career, Trudell has played roles in a number of feature films, including a lead role in the Mirimax movie Thunderheart and Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals. He most recently played Coyote in Hallmark’s made for television movie, Dreamkeeper.
The promoter of the event, NDN Promotions, said, “Our goal is to orchestrate an outdoor music event with the intent to create public awareness of the global destruction that threatens the fate of our sacred Mother Earth. With recent attention on global warming and the depletion of our natural resources, we feel it important to create an event to further educate and direct attention to this plight with the support of concerned humans. Since we are the Seventh Generation, we are destined and responsible as caretakers of Mother Earth. Our elders have passed on their wisdom and teachings regarding our fate to preserve this planet for future generation.
“Global warming, endangered ecosystems, vanished species, intensified natural disasters, etc. – all signs of an impending doom! If not now, when? If not you, who?”