Joy Harjo John Trudell NYC August 2007
Courtesy Joy Harjo
John Trudell and Joy Harjo are seen here in New York City in August 2007.

Joy Harjo: Tribute to John Trudell

Joy Harjo

One of our beloved messengers left this world December 8, 2015

In the early hours of the morning,

When the dreamers and teachers walk the earth

Speaking to us as we imagine the new day into being,

All of us here essential to the story in the great imagining.

They took John with them. It was time.


And he was ready, he’d said his goodbyes, only for now

Because we live in eternity together.

And was circled by those he loved: his children,

People whose lives he shared from his many travels

In this world to speak and sing the dreams and visions

He’d been given to take care of, to share.


And contingents of young warriors, from all over the country

Including Hickory Ground or Oce Vpofv people, from one of the last

Calls John answered for justice from the East, and other groups

From the North, West, and South arrived to pay respect

Because he was one of them, grown older and wise

After paying the terrible costs of being human

In a society broken by lies, greed, and our failures.


Everything has a cost.

Carrying a vision out of such massive tests demands the highest price of a prophet.

And we are human beings only after all.

And some visions are relentless.

To know the images and words you have to live them.

And they will not let you rest.


In every season are given messengers.

They rise up to carry a voice for a nation, a people, a time.

They emerge through holes from broken history, from bloody grounds,

stirred from the collective dream field by a need to rectify

the difference between earthly injustice and holy vision.


John Trudell was born of the need for someone among us

to stand and speak, from the Santee Sioux

Out of the heartbreak of this country, on February 15, 1946.

He grew up like other young native men, wandering these lands

Fed by water, trees, stones, and education that didn’t include them.

And in the middle of the age, when natives began gathering

Together from their tribal fires


Around the common need to affirm our mutual presence

As caretakers of our lands, our families, our existence as distinct nations

in an age of the rise of multinational corporate overlords,

and the continued loss and theft of our children to the greed carnival,

John stood up with his generation of change makers,

Questioners of evil, and warriors for justice.


He was there at Alcatraz, on the Trail of Broken Treaties, he traveled widely

as a wise witness in Indian country, in the aftermath of the aftermath

as the people stood for water rights, human rights, the right

to be human in a time when people were forgetting

What it means to be human.


“We must go beyond the arrogance of human rights,” he reminded us.

“We must go beyond the ignorance of civil rights.

We must step into the reality of natural rights

because all of the natural world has a right to existence

and we are only a small part of it.

There can be no trade off.”


We need these words more than ever now.


He was John Lennon, the son of Crazy Horse, Dylan of the urban rez, the rez rez, the world rez.


“I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human.”


John knew that art and culture were the ways to raise us up.

Our creations hold memory so we can know who we were, who

We are, and how we are becoming—he said that the artists and warriors of the heart

are the poets, musicians, rappers, dancers, actors, painters... those who create.


He was the original thinker who said:

“Think more. Believe less.” (Believe has the word “lie” in it.)

“We don’t need more leaders. What we need are thinkers.”

“We need to make peace with the earth.”


John roused an army of young native spoken word artists, and made it okay for a warrior

To write poetry. Poetry is the love a man and woman make when they create

A planet together. Poetry is a cleansing rain bringing water to a thirsty land.


John said of his poems, “They’re called poems, but in reality they’re lines

Given to me to hang on to.” And hang onto them we did,

from Tribal Voice to Heart Jump Bouquet, to AKA Graffiti Man to Blue Indian, Bone Days, DNA: Descendants Now Ancestors, Madness and the Moremes, Crazier than HeIl, and Wazi’s Dream, and many others.


And hang on to his words we will, for they remind us that:


“No matter what they ever do to us, we must always act for the love of our people and the earth. We must not react out of hatred for those who have no sense.”


These are good words for making a trail through this beloved earth

Into the next world, a road we are all traveling together.


A very human prophet carried these words, to share, for us to continue to share.

Thank you/Mvto for honoring us with your gifts, your smile, your laughter.

John Trudell and his family ask that people pray and celebrate in their own way.

“… I appreciate all of your expressions of love. It has been like a fire to my heart. Thank you all for that fire. But please don’t worry about me, I know what I’m doing…”

We won’t worry. We will look forward to hearing that next concert with you and Jesse Ed Davis in the sky. Don’t look back. Keep going. We will see you on the other side.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee/Creek Nation, Hickory Ground Ceremonial Ground, and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her newest collection is a book of poetry, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings,” from W.W. Norton. You can find her at

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Beautiful words from a Native poet on the death of another Native poet. Thank you, Ms. Harjo for reminding us all how important John was to our cause.

spiritof's picture
Submitted by spiritof on
My candid, meaningful, intimate conversation with John Trudell