Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Learn about the important work of Native American hemp advocate John Trudell, and how Hempstead Project Heart is continuing his work in Wisconsin and at a national level.
Today is a special day. It is the birthday of Native American author, poet, and activist John Trudell. In this article, Marcus Grignon from Hempstead Project Heart shares about John’s important work in the hemp movement, and how his legacy is carried forward today.
The hemp advocacy of John Trudell’s life occurred between 2012 and 2015, the last stretch of his journey on this place we call Grandmother Earth. John saw hemp as a solution that heals the planet and rebuilds economies, specifically tribal economies. He knew hemp needed to be in the tribal, urban, and rural communities to create quality livelihoods through the development of an environmentally friendly industry for the people and the planet. He co-founded Hempstead Project Heart with Willie Nelson in 2012, organized under the umbrella of the Earth Island Institute.
For over 3 years, John educated the residents of California, as well as a national audience about the benefits of growing industrial hemp for the people and planet. He organized the California State Grange to mobilize their members to act for the legalization of industrial hemp. Assisted by his dedicated team, Anna Owens, Lea Walters, and Linda Delair, John raised awareness about the benefits of industrial hemp through fashion shows, education booths, speaking engagements. Through a collaboration with Hemp History Week as well as countless other organizations in the hemp movement, he produced the Hemp Aide concert in 2014. John thought people needed to make up their own minds about industrial hemp if we are to elevate our collective consciousness. He did this by giving all the facts about the benefits of industrial hemp to the public. Hempstead Project Heart became the vehicle to push the public at large to think about and act for industrial hemp. In 2015, John’s health began to decline. The cancer in his body was slowing him down, though his determination to educate the public about hemp was still strong. He knew his time was short and needed to find an avenue to continue his work. Through countless conversations with his right-hand woman, Faye Brown, John concluded he needed a young indigenous person to take the helm of Hempstead Project Heart and carry it forward. He sent a metaphysical message out into the universe in hopes someone would answer.
A Spark in Wisconsin
During the fall of 2015, John received a letter from a young Menominee in Wisconsin who was part of an industrial hemp project on the Menominee Indian Reservation. The letter stressed help from Hempstead Project Heart to come to Wisconsin and educate the public on the benefits of industrial hemp to build grassroots support for the project before the federal government decided to step in and destroy the hemp field. John phoned Faye Brown, “That’s him! He’s the one I called for. Call him and tell him we’ll help!” Faye phoned the young Menominee and expressed a desire to work with him. After that call, plans began to take shape in the form of an education campaign targeting the Menominee Indian Reservation and Wisconsin. Shortly after this, the Drug Enforcement Agency assisted by County Sheriff’s departments descended on the Menominee Indian Reservation and raided the hemp field. John was enraged by the act and devoted the resources of Hempstead Project Heart to help the Menominee. A few weeks later, John was moved into hospice as his cancer had spread all over his body. With his time being short, John extended an offer to the young Menominee to become the spokesman for Hempstead Project Heart. The young Menominee said he wanted to meet in person because John had always been an inspiration and to discuss the terms of being a spokesman. John honored the young Menominee’s request.
Passing the Torch
On the week leading up to the arrival of the young Menominee, John, on his death bed laid the groundwork for Hempstead Project Heart to live on. He met with major donors and cashed in on his favors. He wanted to make sure the young Menominee had all the resources he needed to be successful. When the young Menominee arrived at John’s house in California, the last rap of John Trudell was handed down. “When I got your letter, I knew you were the one I’ve being waiting for,” John said with that signature smile you see in pictures and the movies he’s appeared in. The conversation continued and John was real about the future for the young Menominee. “The spark to set off the nation will begin in Wisconsin,” John said, “Find the historical record of the Wisconsin Hemp Industry. That will change the perception of the public on industrial hemp.” The young Menominee found out why his heart told him to travel to California to meet with John. He was chosen by the universe to carry John’s work forward and bring hemp back to the United States, starting in Wisconsin. John stressed to the young Menominee to not get engulfed with ego, power, or fame. To work for the betterment of Grandmother Earth and all its inhabitants. “Focus on education that highlights the environmental, economic, climate change, tribal sovereignty, and historical perspectives themes of industrial hemp,” John advised the young Menominee. Four days after the meeting between John and the young Menominee, John crossed over into the spirit world.
The Immortality of John Trudell
Hempstead Project Heart hit the ground running in 2016, beginning with research on historical records of the Wisconsin Hemp Industry. Finding a wealth of knowledge, Hempstead Project Heart formulated a statewide strategy to legalize industrial hemp in the state of Wisconsin and build the hemp industry on the Menominee Indian Reservation. The historical record of the Wisconsin Hemp Industry was instrumental in the Wisconsin Farmers Bureau becoming the lead voice in lobbying for hemp in Wisconsin. Hempstead Project Heart’s statewide strategy #bringbackhemp came to life in the summer of 2016. Through lobbying, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and education, Hempstead Project Heart persuaded over 2,000 Wisconsin residents and built a coalition comprised of farming organizations, tribal nations, student organizations, and the Wisconsin Counties Association to sway the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass hemp legalization. The tagline for people who wanted to know about the #bringbackhemp campaign was “Hemp History Week is EVERY week in Wisconsin.” During the fall of 2016, the state of California legalized industrial hemp through a ballot initiative. The groundwork for educating the public to embrace industrial hemp was built by Hempstead Project Heart through John and his team collective passion. On November 30, 2017, close to two years after John passing, Governor Scott Walker signed Act 100 that allows for hemp cultivation in Wisconsin. Today, February 15th, is John’s 72nd Birthday and the day Hempstead Project Heart sets its sight on the national level. Hemp History Week is every week in America now. Even though John’s not with us anymore physically, his teachings of no ego and disregard for power and fame pushed hemp across the finish line in Wisconsin. It will be the same teachings that push hemp across the finish line on the national level. This is John Trudell’s legacy in the hemp world.
Also known as the "Young Menominee," Marc Grignon serves as Campaign Manager of Hempstead Project Heart. We agitate, educate, and organize people and organizations to form coalitions and advocate to catalyze a shift in American society that embraces hemp farming, manufacturing and entrepreneurship to flourish once again in the United States.