“TAKE BACK THE EARTH”: The Empowering Speech of Native American Rights Defender John Trudell

Inspiring words from John Trudell, one of the most recognized and influential advocates for Native American rights

7 Jul 2017

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John Trudell speaking at a press conference during the American Indian Movment’s occupation of Alcatraz Island, 1970. Photo Ilka Hartmann


John Trudell was a highly respected Native American activist and poet. A member of the American Indian Movement during the late Sixties and Seventies, Trudell became one of the most recognized and influential advocates of Native American rights. His charisma and outspokenness incited the FBI to amass a 17,000-page dossier on him with a memo saying: “He’s extremely eloquent therefore extremely dangerous.” Here The Third Eye, we’re pleased to present the following excerpts from Trudell’s empowering 1980 Thanksgiving Day address, in which he called on everyone to “Take Back The Earth”. Nearly forty years later, and in the face of global climate change, it is more timely than ever to reflect upon the words of this great Earth Defender.


“We’re faced with a very serious situation in this generation. There are insane people who wish to rule the world. They wish to continue to rule the world on violence and repression, and we are all the victims of that violence and repression. We as the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere have been resisting this oppression for 500 years. We know that the black people have been resisting it for at least that long. And we know that the white people have had to endure it thousands of years.


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We have to re-establish our identity. We have to understand who we are and where we fit in the natural order of the world, because our oppressor deals in illusions. They tell us that it is power, but it is not power. They may have all the guns, the racist laws and judges, and they may control all the money, but that is not power.

These are only imitations of power, and they are only power because in our minds we allow it to be power.


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Racism and violence, racism and guns, economics – the brutality of the American Corporate State way of life is nothing more than violence and oppression and it doesn’t have anything to do with power. It is brutality. It’s a lack of a sane balance. The people who have created this system, and who perpetuate this system, they are out of balance. They have made us out of balance. They have come into our minds and they have come into our hearts and they’ve programmed us. Because we live in this society, it has put us out of balance. And because we are out of balance we no longer have the power to deal with them. They have conquered us as a natural power.


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We are Power. We are a part of the Natural World.



All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth. We are power. But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless.


American Indian Movement members occupy Wounded Knee in South Dakota, USA, 1973.

We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people, we’re forgetting what the purpose is. The purpose is to honour the Earth, the purpose is to protect the Earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the Earth, the Earth is our mother.

We will never free ourselves until we address the issue of
how we live in balance with the Earth.

Any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion: the Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth.


Indigenous woman at the Standing Rock Oceti Sakowin Camp, a historic gathering of tribes standing in solidarity to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline, North Dakota, USA, 2016. Video still from VICELAND’s RISE series.

Oil spill in Santander, Colombian Amazon, March 2018. Footage via MongabayLatam

They pollute – this oppressor, this machine that has gone mad and run amok, it is beserk. They keep telling us, “progress.” They keep telling us “face reality.” Well, let’s deal with reality. Reality is the Earth can no longer take this attack. We can no longer allow this thing to continue when it’s polluting the air, it’s polluting the water, polluting our food. They pollute the air, they pollute the water, they pollute our food, they pollute our minds. They put us out of balance.


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We are a natural part of the Earth. As a natural part of the Earth, we have the energy and the power that IS the Earth. The Earth will take care of us if we will remember the Earth – in more than just our words; if we remember the Earth in our way of life. We are all here to play a role – and all of the animals, and all of the life on the Earth is playing its proper role except for the human people. Somehow, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion that we live in.



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Nakotah LaRance (Hopi/Tewa/Assiniboine) hoop dancer from OhKay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico.

We are a natural part of the Earth. We are an extension of that natural energy. The natural energy which is Spirit, and which is power.

Power. A blizzard is power. An earthquake is power. A tornado is power. These are all things of power that no oppressor, no machine age, can put these things of power in a prison. No machine age can make these things of power submit to the machine age. That is natural power.


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A still from underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, 1972.


And just as it takes millions and billions of elements to make a blizzard to happen, or to make the earthquake, to make the Earth to move, then it’s going to take millions and billions of us. We are power. We have that power. We have the potential for that power.


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Our power will come back to us, our sense of balance will come back to us, when we go back to the natural way of protecting and honouring the Earth. If we have forgotten how to do it, or we think that it looks overwhelming, or think that we can never accomplish it, all we have to do, each one of us, an individual, is to go and find one spot on the Earth that we can relate to. Feel that energy, feel that power. That’s where our safety will come.


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Indigenous youth leader & activist Nina Gualinga from the Kichwa tribe of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon; as part of a video by Amazon Watch.


The Earth will take care of us. We have to understand that the American Corporate State will not take care of us. They do not care about us. Maximise their profit, that is where their whole life’s balance is placed upon. They will turn us against each other to maximise the profit, because they have done it in the past.


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Acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi’s historic performance to an audience of melting icebergs in the Arctic Ocean; in a Greenpeace video as part of the Save The Arctic campaign to fight climate change, June 2016.

We will not destroy the world. We are arrogant and we are stupid and we are foolish if we believe that we will destroy the world. Man has the ability to destroy all of the people’s ability to live on the Earth, but we do not have the power to destroy the earth. The earth will heal itself. The earth will purify itself of us.

If it takes a billion years to get rid of the radiation the Earth will do it, because the Earth has that kind of time. We do not.

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Audrey Siegl, a Musqueam artist & activist who lives in Vancouver, Canada, stands in front of Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig on its trip north to Alaska, 2015.


Our obligations and our loyalty have to be to the Earth. They have to be to our sense of community and to our people and our relations. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that will not take care of our needs, to a government that has proven time and time again that it is the enemy of the people unless the people are rich in dollars. That has been the consistent history of Western civilization and the American Corporate State Government – that’s reality.

What is racism? Racism is an act of war. What is sexism? Sexism is an act of war. It’s a war against our human dignity and our rights to self respect. This is the war that they wage there. War! They are war-like. And we have to understand that the American Corporate State got to where it’s at through the act of war.


The Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock, a historic gathering of tribes standing in solidarity to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline, North Dakota, USA, 2016.


For 500 years my people have resisted.
For 500 years we will resist again if it becomes necessary.

We want to be able to relate and communicate with all of the people who are living on this land, but we want to be able to relate and communicate from a position of truth. You all gotta face the truth. We have had to face it through 500 years of genocide, we have had to face the truth, we have had to live the truth. We have had to die the truth. Before we’re gonna ever see our evolutionary liberation, the people that call themselves Americans are gonna have to face the truth also.


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Ta’Kaiya, indigenous youth activist of the Tla A’min Nation, British Columbia, Canada.

They tell us to “be realistic,” that “progress” means that all these things have to happen. They tell us that we can’t go back to the old way. They tell us “be realistic.” But there is no old way, no new way, there is a way of life. We must live in balance with the Earth. We MUST do it. We have no choice. If we allow ourselves to be apathetic, or we allow ourselves to be lied to, or tolerate their lies about what they’re doing to the earth, then we are betraying our intention. We are betraying our purpose here. We cannot protect that 7th generation if we do not protect the Earth.



We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the Earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The Earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.


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They want to break our spirit. They will do everything and anything to break our spirit, our will to live. We must learn to resist, we must learn to see, we must learn to look.


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If we start to think we will learn to see, to see what reality really is, and we will outnumber them through the thinking process. We will take our minds away from them. Because through their manipulation of our minds, they control our spirit, and they know this is true.”


– John Trudell (1946-2015). To listen to the full speech, click here.


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