Wednesday, November 18 brought forth a night of Native American empowerment through music and performance. Sponsored by the UCR community garden, Native American Student Programs, Native American Student Association, ASPB, the Highlander Education Referendum and the California Center for Native Nations, the event lasted from 5 to 9 p.m. and featured a variety of performers. The event offered to UCR both the hidden gems of musical talent within the community’s Native American population as well as a platform for many of the contemporary issues and misconceptions concerning the general Native American population.
The first performance was heralded by the Traditional Cahuilla Bird Singers. Several members of the group stood on stage with shakers in hand as they chanted and sang in unison. Invited to perform, the small group was led by Kim Marcus, a Traditional Ceremonial Leader and Bird Singer. Marcus’ group sang traditional and ancient songs concerning the great migration of his people. For Marcus, these songs “tell a story … of events that happened in the past,” and singing these songs “brings the power out to the current times we’re in now.”
“They’re social songs, but they’re also sacred songs,” Marcus explained alongside his son Raymond Marcus.
They also went into detail about the end of their set, where the stage performers gathered with the Arviso family and danced. “The sacred coyote dance pays honor to our lineages, the coyote and wildcat.” The ceremonial performance is difficult to pull off and very few people know it, which has resulted in these individuals being highly praised and valued. “We’ve been conditioned and disciplined in the ways of ceremonial singers. My son is one of the last ones who learned from our elders.”
Joshua Thunder Little, a third-year history and Native American Studies double major and student assistant for Native American Student Programs, attended the event and spoke of his experiences with the program. “I’ve been working with them for three years,” Little said. “We started planning this in the summertime, getting all these ideas for different rappers and artists to get together, and after getting all the paperwork done, we sent out flyers and let everybody know about tonight.” He loved the opportunity the Jam Night gave for broadening people’s perspectives on the Native community.
“People get to know Native people, learn about our culture and learn that we’re not a picture of the past,” Little explained, pointing out to the event. “As you can see, we have rappers, people in education; come talk to us — we’re friendly people.”
Native American rappers Zero and Nataanii Means brought some edge and emotional truth to the night with their performances, dramatic monologues and politically-charged lyrics. Means performed his single “Genocide,” a divisive song that takes aim at multiple targets of oppression: the oppression of Native people from both outside political forces and the inner, self-imposed oppression of hopelessness that ensnares many Native youths. Means was acutely aware of this nightmare as he rapped, “You do it for the fame, I do it for the cause / You do it for this game, I do it for ya’ll / That’s the difference between us, who you think you saw / I’m the product between genocide and law.”
In an interview, Means explored how much hip hop meant to him and its role in defining his voice for Native empowerment. “I fell in love with hip hop when I first listened to it. I was 12 when I first started writing poetry, and I first started releasing music when I was 19. During my dark times, if it wasn’t for hip hop … I don’t know what I’d do.”
He elaborated on the ability for Native American rappers like himself to utilize the empowering voice of hip hop to fight against oppression by telling their stories. “Native Americans have such a unique story … the culture of hip hop is kind of at a standstill, and I believe that our stories are gonna bring it back, because hip hop was born for the culturally oppressed, for people in the Bronx, in Compton and now in the reservations.”
The last performers of the evening were a single father and son pair. Each holding a drum by rope in one hand and a drum stick in the other, they chanted indigenous songs that vocalized resilience, and the call for strength and unity against adversity: “We were raped. We were loved too, but we were also raped.”
“We’re all one mind, one heart, one life. We have to take care of each other and mother Earth.”