A small group of people trickled into the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center screening room on Sept. 30 to watch the first of many film showings put on by Colorado College’s Native American Student Union. The lights went off, and the screen sprung to life with the first episode of a 2014 MTV show — “Rebel Music Native America.”
The welcome-to-my-crib style of the film, complete with hip-hop music and stagger-cuts, was an accessible entry point to Native American Studies. The show did not play around; its first moments contained a montage of the violent colonial settlement of North America, told in the subjective “I” perspective by an unseen indigenous narrator. The music was indigenous hip-hop and pop, the subject was indigenous artists and communities, and the production was also indigenous. This unabashed spotlight on Native art is a rare and beautiful thing in modern pop culture — activism in and of itself. I had trouble putting down my pencil from the moment the montage appeared: everything the narrator said was profound.
The show followed four indigenous activist musicians, all of whom used their craft to speak to something greater than themselves. The focus was not on their music, but on how their music can impact the community. Artistic expression has become their way to spread a message and push a movement forward.
A quick sampling of the issues addressed in the 40-minute episode include the rate of suicide on reservations (seven times greater than average), the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, the reclamation of sexuality, and the destruction of the environment.
Frank Waln, a rapper whose proclamations echo those of 60s activist John Trudell, was particularly interested in combatting environmental destruction. He put his body on the line at Standing Rock in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline; he also walked with Cree, Dene, and Métis peoples to raise awareness of the devastation of the Alberta Tar Sands. For him, “hip-hop is just a new way to tell our stories.”
The protagonists, admirably, maintained hope when confronted by massive issues. They had faith not only in themselves, but in their contemporaries. It is predicted in many indigenous traditions that the seventh generation will be the one to heal the wounds inflicted on the planet and the people. A certain age range of young indigenous people today, which includes the individuals featured in “Rebel Music,” are members of that seventh generation.
The second showing centered on a larger group of indigenous youth around the country who are making a difference in their communities. The show called them “Generations Indigenous.” They were brought together by an Obama-era White House initiative that encouraged youth to start a movement in their communities that addressed a problem and then invited the most impressive of these young people to a yearly conference. During a week of meetings and talks, federal officials at the top of our government agencies listened to indigenous youth to learn how to support them in their endeavors without impeding native sovereignty.
Zunneh-bah Martin ’19, a member of the Diné and Modoc Nations, had a small profile in the show. When she came on screen, people cheered. She attended the conference in 2015 and 2016 for her work with various native youth organizations, including We Are Native and the Urban Native Youth Association. She was also the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Queen, a year-long ambassador role for Indigenous communities in the Southwestern United States, across Indian Country, and internationally.
If you were unable to attend this event, you can watch Rebel Music on YouTube. “AWAKE—A Dream From Standing Rock,” a film screening and panel discussion on environmental justice, divestment, and indigenous rights will be held in Cornerstone 131 on Oct. 8 from 6:30–8:30 p.m. Look out for more screenings and events on the NASU Facebook page.