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Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska on February 14, 1946. Son of a Santee Sioux father and a Mexican mother, he grew up around the Santee Sioux Reservation located in northern Nebraska near the corner of South Dakota.
In 1963 when he was only 17 years old he dropped out of high school and left the Midwest by joining the US Navy, and served in the early years of the Vietnam War. He served in the navy until 1967. He attended college at San Bernardino, studying radio and broadcasting. After six years of college, he was unable to find employment. Disillusioned, he sought a better life through political activism.