Nearly 60 students and a handful of staff and faculty members sat in the Mountain View Room after a film screening on the evening of Monday, Jan. 23, discussing the occupation they had seen, the overreach of the government, and what protesters called the suspension of citizen rights.
But the group didn’t address a film on the current Occupy Movement happening all over the country. Instead, they discussed the Civil Rights-era American Indian Movement (AIM).
As part of a multi-event program to honor Martin Luther King Day, which was officially observed by the college last Monday on the national holiday, the Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism screened “Trudell,” a film produced by Heather Rae.
The documentary delves into the life of John Trudell, who was an AIM activist at the height of the Civil Rights movement, seeking the justice he said Native Americans are owed by the American government.
“People go around and laugh about how you can’t trust the politicians. The people have to get the government under control,” Trudell said. “The great lie is that it’s civilization. It’s not civilized.”
The film was chosen by Dottie Morris, the chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism, with the intent to expand students’ knowledge of civil rights.
Although she said learning about the struggles of African Americans during the ‘60s during Martin Luther King Day is important, she said there are other groups who struggled for equality too.
“Part of what we want to do is expand your understanding of civil rights beyond the commentary you usually hear,” Morris said. “Trudell is definitely someone who worked really hard during that span of time.”
Morris noted that while King emphasized the African American struggle, he also taught that all peoples in a community are important, using the keyword “beloved.”
“In a beloved community, you are respectful and you think about the impact you have on others,” Morris said. “And one person can make a difference.”
Rae spoke on campus in November during Native American Heritage Month, and gave Morris a copy of the film.
The film starts with Trudell’s birth in Omaha, Neb. in 1946, and through interviews with him and other former AIM activists, details Trudell’s efforts for Native American equality.
Trudell dropped out of high school when he was told by the principal he had potential to become something, feeling as though he already was something. He joined the Navy and did two tours in Vietnam.
In 1964, he went to Alcatraz with other AIM activists to protest, occupying the island and demanding the land be surrendered to the occupiers because it was theirs. The activists began negotiations with the US government, but on June 11, 1971, the police removed all of the protesters, a month after they rejected the government’s first offer.
Trudell continued to occupy lands that AIM activists said belonged to them by treaties not being honored by the US government. He also led the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a week in 1972 and a 71-day occupation of the site of Wounded Knee in 1973. He published a book of poems in 1982, which he later recorded and put to traditional Native American music. Trudell spoke at civil rights rallies and events across the country, continually working to seek the justice AIM looked for.
“A lot of the things he said back in 1969, if you close your eyes and don’t see the footage, it sounds like 2011,” Morris said, adding on to the crowd’s parallel to the Occupy protests.
Before the start of the film, students were asked to participate in a brief survey; most did not know about AIM or Trudell.
“It was very informative,” senior Chelsey Schneeweiss said. She had never realized the effort put forth during the Civil Rights Movement to seek equality for Native Americans.
Sharon Meany, an administrative assistant in the sciences and social sciences department, felt very strongly that too many people are unaware of civil rights struggles outside of the normal lessons taught in school, though she said it is incredibly important to teach.
“It’s human rights,” Meany said. “We don’t get enough American history in high schools and colleges.”
Although most of the attending audience expressed Trudell nobly worked for a just cause, freshman Eric Dicesare said he wished some alternative viewpoints had been demonstrated in the movie. Although he understood the necessity of AIM, he created a larger discussion about the difficulty of apologizing for wrongs, even when done in the past, and the consequences of retribution.
The group discussed, for example, that much of the land Trudell said is owed to Native Americans is currently used to produce U.S. energy.
Ultimately, Dicesare said the importance of understanding difficult and not always symbiotic relationships can demonstrate the manipulation of one group over another.
“It’s important to see something that isn’t normally seen,” he said. “I think that the government will always try to negate the civil.”
The event was one of five upcoming diversity events aimed at honoring King while dealing with civil rights issues on campus.
Allie Bedell can be contacted on email@example.com.