We Are Power
by John Trudell (July 18, 1980)
"The largest gathering in recent years of indigenous peoples and their supporters took place in the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) of South Dakota during the baking-hot late summer of 1980.
I'd like to thank you all for coming to this place, and I'd like to give thanks
for being welcomed here myself. And I would like to talk tonight in honor of
all of us in the struggle who have lost our relations to the Spirit World. I would
like to talk in honor of the wind, one of the natural elements. This is a survival
gathering and one of the things I hope you all learn while you're here is ... to
appreciate the energy and power that the elements are, tha t of the sun, the rain
and the wind. I hope you go away from here understanding that this is power,
the only real, true power. This is the only real, true connection we will ever
have to power, our relationship to Mother Earth.
For those who attended—and participants came from as far afield as Nicaragua, the Pacific, northern Europe, Canada, South America and throughout the United States—it seemed to signify an end to the compartmentalised, often divisive, single-issue movements of the 1970s, and the beginning of new international alliances between previously disparate forces. Red-neck ranchers rubbed shoulders with radical "redskins," white "green movement" activists with native practitioners of alternative technology, militant left-wing political adherents with anarcho-pacifists.
Called the Survival Gathering, and organized by a unique coalition of whites and native Americans (Black Hills Alliance), in a brief six days scores of workshops and plenary sessions were held covering virtually every aspect of land-use, multi-corporate control, political oppression, indigenous self-determination, alternative health, energy and education.
At the opening session of the Gathering, American Indian Movement co-founder John Trudell, in a remarkable address, drew together various strands of the emergent peoples' movements of the last 20 years and put them firmly in the context of an earth-based liberation which indigenous communities have practiced—against tremendous odds—for hundreds of years."
from The Indigenous Voice: Visions and Realities, edited by
We must not become confused. We must not become confused and deceived
by their illusions. There is no such thing as military power. There is only
military terrorism. There is no such thing as economic power. There is only the
economic within these illusions so we will believe they hold power in their
hands. But they do not. All they know how to do is act in a repressive, brutal
The power. We are a natural part of the earth. We are an extension of the
earth; we are not separate from it. We are part of it. The earth is our mother.
The earth is a spirit, and we are an extension of that spirit. We are spirit. We
are power. They want us to believe that we have to believe in them, that we
have to assume these consumer identities and these political identities, these
religious identities and these racial identities. They want to separate us from
our power. They want to separate us from who we are. Genocide.
Genocide is just an intellectual way of saying murder because we live in a
so-called "civilized," industrialized world. And because this world is allegedly
civilized and allegedly has laws, they can't go out and call an act of
murder, murder any more. They call it genocide to throw another illusion in
our eyes. And they have limited our ability to see the necessity for our survival
because they want us to believe that genocide just means physical extinction.
We must consider the spiritual genocide that they commit against us: the
spiritual genocide that white people have been victimized for thousands
of years, the spiritual genocide that told them not to respect the earth—the
spiritual genocide that told them not to respect the life that is the earth—but
to pay all their tribute through the churches to god and heaven, that heaven
would take care of them in the afterlife. They tried to take and suppress our
natural identity, our natural spiritual connection to the earth.
We must move to the time when we truly understand our connection to real
power because these people who deal with illusions and imitations, these men
who have attempted to "improve upon" nature, they want to keep us
confused. They want to keep us confused with sexism and agism, racism and
class. They want to keep us in confusion so that we will continue to believe in
one lie after another as they program them into our minds and into our society.
There is no hope for the American political system. The ruling class, the
exploitative one percent who control world economics today, are not going to
change under the existing political rules. They are going to lie to us and they
are going to create the illusion of "changes," and they are going to push one
face after another in front of us, making promises. We have to understand our
role as a natural power. We have to understand that when our oppressor treats
us this way and do these things to us, we allow him to do it so long as we accept
his lies. As long as we make excuses for his lies, as long as we tolerate his
brutality, then we allow him to mistreat us. We have been allowing it too long.
When I go around America and I see the bulk of the white people, they do not
feel oppressed. They feel powerless. When I go amongst my own people, we
do not feel powerless. We feel oppressed. We do not want to make the trade.
We see the physical genocide they are attempting to inflict upon our lives and
we understand the psychological genocide they have already inflicted upon
their own people ... that this is the trade-off they want us to make for survival,
that we become subservient to them, that we no longer understand our real
connection to power, our real connection to the earth.
Power. They can't stop the wind and they can't stop the rain. They can't stop
the earthquake and the volcano and the tornado. They can't stop power. We
are a spiritual connection to the earth. As individuals we have power and,
collectively, we have the same power as the earthquake, the tornado, and the
hurricanes. We have that potential. We have that connection.
We must be willing in our lifetime to deal with reality. It's not revolution
we're after; it's liberation. We want to be free of a value system that's being
imposed upon us. We do not want to participate in that value system. We
don't want to change that value system. We want to remove it from our lives
forever. Liberation. We want to be free. But, in order for us to be free, we have
to assume our responsibilities as power, as individuals, as spirit, as people.
We are going to have to work at it. We are going to have to be committed to
it. We must never underestimate our enemy. Our enemy is committed against
us 24 hours a day. They use 100% of their efforts to maintain their materialistic
status quo. 100% of their effort goes into deceiving us and manipulating us
against each other. We have to devote our lives. We have to make our
commitment. We have to follow a way of life that means we are going to resist
In the 1980s, we have to start working more realistically with a resistance
consciousness. A resistance, something we can pass on as strength to coming
generations. A resistance where organizational egos do not get in the way, a
resistance where the infiltrators and the provocateurs and the liars and the
betrayers and the traitors do not get in the way. We will not get our liberation
if we do not seriously analyze the experiences of our own lifetimes. The other
side, the enemy, has studied. They understand what we were up to in the
1960s. They understand what we wanted in the early '70s. They have studied
They create certain events, and they manipulate the economics, and they
manipulate the circumstances because they want to smash us the same way
they did in the '60s, so they can come in and smash our movements. We must
become of a resistance consciousness. We must say that, "We will not allow
you to smash us, even if it means that we have to deal with that part of you that
you planted in me. We will not allow you to smash us. This is part of our
obligation to the earth. Only by fulfilling our obligation to the earth can we
fulfill our obligation to the people. Only by understanding our connection to
the earth can we create a fair system that's going to be good to the people."
We must go beyond the arrogance of human rights. We must go beyond the
ignorance of civil rights. We must step into the reality of natural rights because all the natural world has a right to existence. We are only a small part of it. There can be no trade-off. We are the people. We have the potential for power. We must not fool ourselves. We must not mislead ourselves. It takes more than
good intentions. It takes commitment. It means that at some point in our lives
we are going to have to decide that we have a way of life that we follow, and
we are going to live that way of life, even when our enemies totally surround
us, even when our enemies act against us with brutality and harshness, with
lies and bribes. We are going to have to stand up to brutality and harshness,
lies and bribes. We are going to have to stand with our way of life. That is the
only solution there is for us. We cannot reach a point in our lives where we're
going to sit back and say, "Well, we'll make this compromise with the other
They have every intention that they are going to use the nuclearization of the
world to colonize you all. There is a new Indian this time. The new Indian is
white. They don't need you any more because they've got an entire potential
world market with millions and millions of consumers. So, all the lies they've
dangled in front of your faces, well, they're going to start pulling back on these
lies a bit, and they're going to start slapping you all with a bit of reality: the
reality that there are not political freedoms in America; the reality that there
is not religious freedom in America. You all are going to have to deal with
reality and stop making excuses for America.
We Indians are going to have to act as runners and messengers. We are going
to have to run and act as teachers. We are going to have to talk to all the people
who will listen to us about what we believe, what it is that we know to be right.
We're going to have to find ways to become a communication of ourselves.
They are afraid of us. We must always remember that every time they have to
create a system built upon traitors coming in and betraying you, any time they
have to build that system, it is because they understand they have a weakness.
And if we persist in our struggle and become dedicated in our resistance ... we
will take them down through that weakness.
It doesn't matter how many jail cells they build. It doesn't matter how many
racist judges, sexist judges, agist judges and class judges they have. It doesn't
matter how many of their side they put into illusory positions of "respectability."
It doesn't matter what they throw at us because we make the difference.
We make the decision. We are power.
They deal in illusions, and that's all it is. We must not be afraid. We must
never allow fear to be a part of our life. We must always deal with reality. They
have been able to use the element of fear to control the masses of people
through murder and making the rest of the people afraid of being murdered.
But what good is it to live on this sacred place, what good is it to be here if we
can't live with dignity and respect? We are here just for our own purposes any
more than we are here for them.
We have to understand the implications of slavery and that America is a
slave state. One way to understand this is that all of you grew up and left your
homes to seek your independence, and immediately went into debt. And
there went your independence. Slavery is slavery. Whether you are an
indentured servant or in debt, or whether you are in chains, slavery is slavery.
We have to evaluate our values. We have to start stepping away from the
concepts they forced us to learn. We must share knowledge. We must not be
drawn into their traps. Whatever we do, we must do as a resistance; whatever
we do as a people, whatever we do in the name of the people and the earth,
we must do this with humility and with gratefulness for what we are and what
we have. But we should not do it with pride.
Because John Wayne is proud, the marines are proud. People flying B-52
bombers are proud. How are we going to get our liberation if we take on their
characteristics? It is time for us to think. We hate to think about the terminology
we use, [but] we must think about the thoughts that go with our
We must make our resistance totally complete. There must be no last way,
half way measures. We have to learn to put up and deal with the hard times
just like we enjoy the good times. We have to learn and understand that hard
times are necessary for the good times to be here. We have to learn and
understand that all the struggle we will go through in our lives does not mean
we are losing. We have to understand that they want us to be lazy in our minds
and lazy in our spirits and lazy in our thinking. But the nature of the People
of the Earth has always been one of struggle. It has always been. As the
indigenous people of the western hemisphere, we learned to struggle and live
because of the struggle of our living. We learned to live with harmony and
respect for Mother Nature. We never forgot who we were ...
We always had to struggle, so let's not fool ourselves and try to make
ourselves quit what we believe just because it's going to be hard. Let's struggle
for a purpose. Let's struggle for the freeing of the earth because only by freeing
the earth, and those who would attack the earth, can we be free ourselves. It
is the only way we can do it.
There have been many social revolutions in America. There have been many
social organizations. There have been women's rights movements; there have
been equal rights movements; there have been union movements. And look
who's still controlling our lives. We've got to deal with that reality. The people
have risen before. The people have spoken before. The people have tried
before. But somewhere they did not put it all together, the reason being that
they always attempted to change the social conditions of America without
addressing the issue of our relationship to the land. [Yet] they cannot create
a repressive military regime without the land. They cannot exploit economics
without the land ...
We must not take them on just on the fact that we are going to own the
land ... Our concern must be for the land as well as ourselves. If we do not use our minds to think of our coming generations, they will win their psychological
genocide against us. We must not become discouraged. We must never
quit...If they stop us one way, then we must find another way. They are afraid
They always throw issues at us to keep us jumping from one issue to another.
They throw lies and illusions in front of us. We must learn from the Vietnam
War. The white American people said they were against war. That's what the
people said. Then they went and listened to their lying politicians, and their
lying politicians said, "Okay, we will help you. We will declare peace." And
so the lying politicians got the people to settle for withdrawal from Vietnam
as being peace. And meanwhile my people were going through a war right
here, right here on the Pine Ridge Reservation. And all that went unnoticed
in the celebrations over peace being declared. The lie was sunk in, and the
American people accepted the lie.
When the black people were struggling for what became civil rights, really
they were talking about equality. The politicians stepped in and said, "We will
help you all." And the black people settled for civil rights, which is only part
of life. Now the politicians come talking again: "We are going to help you with
nuclear power." We've got to think about our past experience.
If we are going to consciously become power and use our power
correctly ... we are going to have to find a way to communicate our thoughts
and our resistance and our consciousness which will not accept the nuclearization
of the earth, that this goes against everything we know and believe in,
that this time we draw the line. We have to take the initiative. We can no longer
afford to become and remain reactionary ... We should work within our
movements, but we must always remember these are parts of a total resistance.
The resistance is the one thing at this point in our generation which can
give life to the coming generations ...
When we talk about the other side and energy, we can only place so much
responsibility on the shoulders of the enemy. And we do have an enemy. We
can call him Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, or we can call it the Trilateral
Commission. We can call them anything we want, but we've got to come to the
reality that they are the enemy because our friends and the people who love
us would not do this to us. So they are the enemy. We have to deal with this
reality: "the enemy." There must be this consciousness that goes into our
minds and we will start to act accordingly. And we must know what responsibilities
we must place upon the enemy, and what responsibilities we
must take upon ourselves. Because, when we talk about "the energy crisis,"
we must remember that we are energy ... We are energy, so we must, if we are
going to go out with the truth and spiritual connection behind us when we
stand against our enemy—and we accuse the enemy of misusing energy, and
we accuse him of abusing it—then we better think real hard about how we
misuse it ourselves. Because we are energy. We have to deal with that.
We are energy, and its how we use ourselves that allows the enemy to
misuse us. This resistance and this struggle for survival must be total,
absolutely complete. There are no half measures. They have interfered in our
lives since the moment we were born. Look at America. You have to pay to be
born, and you have to pay to be buried. That tells you a lot about our freedom.
And if they've gotten it into our consciousness to accept that, then we've got
a lot of work to do. We really do. But we have the ability to change it because
we are a natural part of the earth ... because we were here. The earth did not put
useless things here. We are a natural part of the creation.
They have been attacking indigenous people, and they have been misusing
white people, and they want to push us all into a position where all we think
about is ourselves. They want us to forget the earth, just like they used early
christianity to make the christians forget the earth. They want to do it to all of
us again, in this generation. They want to isolate us and call us names like
"communist" and "anarchist" and "terrorist" and "criminal." They want to
attack us. They want to use terrorism to intimidate us. We must build a
resistance in our hearts that says we will not accept it, we will never accept it.
As to the indigenous peoples, I don't know how you all relate. But indigenous
people, understanding power, we are the spirit. We are a natural part of
the earth. And all our ancestors, and all our relations who have gone to the
Spirit World, they are herewith us. They have power. They will help us. They
will help us to see, if we are willing to look. We are not separated from them
because there is no place to go. This is our place, the earth. This is our mother.
We will not go away from our mother.
No matter what they do to us, no matter how they strike at us, every time
they do it, we must continue. But we must never become reactionary. The one
thing that has always bothered me about revolution is that every time I have
met the revolutionaries they have acted simply out of hatred for the oppressor.
What we must do is act out of love for our people. No matter what they
ever do to us, we must always act out of love for the people and for the earth.
We must never react out of hatred for those who have no sense.
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