Decolonize Your Scrolling: Indigenous Popular Culture Links

This week, contributing editor Kerri Clement provides links to pop culture roundups created by Indigenous peoples. While not strictly history, these links provide contemporary examples of Indigenous people responding, wielding, molding, or speaking to their own history.

These links cover some of my favorite podcasts, artists, comics, designers, writers, and musicians. I know I have left many artists and mediums out and for that, I offer my sincerest apologies. That being said, I hope to highlight some Indigenous work I have enjoyed over the last year. So put down the history book, pick up the headphones, crack open the comic book, and settle in for some pop culture.

Breakdances with Wolves:  This podcast is one of my personal favorites to listen to as I am driving the endless highway between Montana and Colorado. Founded by Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet and Suquamish), Minty LongEarth (Santee, Creek, and Choctaw) and Wesley B. Roach (Lakota and Dakota), their wit is only outweighed by their straightforward and knowledgeable discussions over whatever topics they choose to hash out. Their topics range from climate change to racial inequalities to alcohol to hip hop. Furthermore, their guests include people such as Kim TallBear, Gary Litefoot Davis, and Winona LaDuke. As a historian, I particularly appreciate their willingness to unpack the historical roots of contemporary issues with a hefty dash of humor and realism, while still bringing the discussion back to the present. Give these fine podcasters a listen! (Also – shout out to Gyasi from a fellow uprooted Big Sky Country kid!)

Native America Calling:  This daily radio program has been around for years and is a center for Indigenous news and cultural discussions. These topics range from Bears Ears to Indian Health Service to wild horses to musical performances. However, I wanted to highlight one episode in particular. The October 24, 2018 episode – “The other S-word” features Dr. Jennifer Denetdale (Diné) and Sunny Red Bear (Cheyenne River Sioux) talking about the contemporary usage, historical roots, and modern co-option of racial slurs about Native women. This conversation centers on a controversy that arose about a white businesswoman using a racial slur as a form of branding for her clothing store. See a news story about the controversy here. These guests provide a nuanced and critical analysis of the controversy from a lens of gender and queer theory. The conversations in the episode are thought-provoking and pull no punches. Highly recommend.

Supaman: I stumbled upon Supaman’s (Apsáalooke) work late in the game, actually as a result of listening to an episode of Breakdances with Wolves. While I am ashamed to admit I did not find his work much sooner, he has swiftly become one of my most-listened-to artists this year. That is saying something for this old-time fiddle player. But Supaman’s well-crafted, honest, and provoking lyrics are engaging on a level that transcends and challenges his listeners, as demonstrated by his recent track “Famished”. His most recent album, the award-winning Illuminatives, features a widespread collection of other Indigenous artists and musical sampling. These tracks, including “Godly Warriors” where Supaman raps in Apsáalooke, or the Crow language, touch on a myriad of topics and musical styles. Every track displays a raw power that often addresses historical trauma, and power, unique to Indigenous people. Give this album a listen. Also, Supaman performs in his dance regalia. His performances are visually hypnotizing and meld many music and dance styles. This artist spreads hope, inspiration, and joy with his dancing and music.

Deer Woman Comic: I was eagerly awaiting this comic after Indigenous ComicCon last year. This comic blew my expectations out of the water. An anthology of writers and artists, the comic emphasizes the power of Indigenous women. Published by Native Realities, a Native-run publishing house, as soon as I received the comic I read it cover-to-cover. This collection brought me to tears to cheers. Be warned – this comic portrays difficult topics and situations like rape and child molestation. But, it is this very realism that highlights the power, healing, and resilience boldly centered by the comic’s contributors. From Indigenous stories to futurisms to sci-fi, these essays present a compelling picture of Native women’s experiences.

Trail of Thunder: Again, I am ashamed to say I am late to table on this book. That being said, Rebecca Roanhorse’s (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and African American descent) debut novel is a page-turner that belongs next to The Hunger Games. Roanhorse paints a vivid picture of a post-apocalyptic world, full of monsters and gods come to life. Based in Indigenous land, legends, and culture, this book drew me in from the first page to the surprise ending. Roanhorse’s world-building is superb, her characters captivating, and her story arc engrossing. I am eagerly awaiting the second installment in this series.

There There:  This much-touted debut novel by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho) has aptly earned its accolades. While my brain struggled to follow story-lines during the first part of the book, my patience was rewarded when Orange masterfully wove all the stories together. Centered on the experience of Indigenous people in Oakland, California, There There offers a poignant look at inter-generational stories. Orange grounds his reader firmly in the greater contextual history that informs both his character and plot development. If for no other reason (and there are plenty), read this book for his deft usage of history.

Ben Pease: I’ve been following Ben Pease’s (Apsáalooke, Tsitsistas, and Hidatsa) work for some time. Some of his main mediums are historic ledger pages or historic photographic references. He produces riveting works that force the viewer to engage with questions of cultural appropriation, racism, exotification, and stereotypes. His compelling compositions grapple with literal layers of history. Pease’s work is not “feel-good.” It’s not supposed to be. Rather, Pease’s work confronts the viewer by peeling back stereotypes and suppositions through his mixing of the historical and modern.

B. Yellowtail: This activist and fashion designer is one to watch. Bethany Yellowtail’s (Apsáalooke) collections feature original work as well as other work from Indigenous designers. The pieces meld historical Indigenous designs with contemporary fashion in a respectful and powerful manner. Her pieces regularly sell out and for good reason. Her “Unity Ledger Skirt,” a powerful representation of Native Women, sells out almost as soon as it’s posted on the site. Look for this designer on runways – she is going places!

 

Finally, by way of closing, I will leave you with Dr. Lindsey Passenger Wieck’s “toolkit” for parents and teachers to begin decolonizing Thanksgiving celebrations in schools. This excellent post provides important and useful tools for parents in helping their schools to shift narratives about Indigenous peoples and Thanksgiving. Wieck describes how activities in classrooms about Native people and Thanksgiving are often, “problematic, because they depict Native peoples in an ahistorical way and perpetuate myths about colonial encounters. These representations of Native peoples are harmful because they compress all Native peoples into a single image of ‘the Native American at Thanksgiving.’ These depictions overlook the immense diversity of Native peoples in North America, while also turning contemporary Native peoples and identities into costumes to be worn.” Wieck’s helpful resources include lesson plans, sample letters, activities, and picture books for parents and teachers to use. As a former Montana teacher, I can attest to the usefulness of the MT OPI lessons. I highly recommend Wieck’s post for anyone looking to up-end harmful narratives and stereotypes about Thanksgiving and Native Americans.

If you are still hungry for more links after this, see some of Erstwhile’s posts and interviews below:

Indigenerds Unite!: Indigenous ComicCon 2017

Erstwhile Interviews Dr. Kent Blansett on A Journey to Freedom

More than a Word, More than a Holiday Meal: Conversations for Native American Heritage Month

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