From the the historic resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock to numerous celebrity deaths, including Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation music legend Jim Boyd and mainstream icons Prince, George Michael and David Bowie, 2016 has gone down in history as one of the most collectively soul-destroying years in recent memory.
Despite this annus horribilis, there were glimmers of positivity in Indian Country. Messages of strength, resilience, determination, and introspection dominated Native American music in 2016.
Here are eight standouts.
The Pines, featuring John Trudell & Quiltman - ‘Time Dreams’
As December was drawing to a close, transcendental indie folk band The Pines released on the Solstice the video for their ‘Time Dreams”’ a collaboration with the late Santee Dakota activist, artist, actor and poet John Trudell. The video is also a joint effort between The Pines, Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo writer, director and producer Missy Whiteman of Minneapolis-based Independent Indigenous Film and Media and the Trudell family.
The ‘Time Dreams’ video features footage of the Pines performing live with Trudell at the Cedar Cultural Center, clips from Whiteman’s sci-fi/documentary short film, The Coyote Way: Going Back Home and Heather Rae’s 2005 documentary Trudell. Whiteman’s son Louis is featured representing the younger generation’s connection to Trudell and Jonathan Thunder contributes animation.
Whiteman, winner of a Sundance Institute Native Lab residency and a Mentor Fellowship, told ICMN last month, “‘Time Dreams’ honors the life and legacy of John Trudell in a way that speaks to the hearts of all people. I was honored to work with Faye Brown and John’s family Trust. I was so, there’s no words really, it was beyond inspiration to be at the performance that night at the Cedar Cultural Center.” .
Buffy Sainte-Marie - ‘Power In The Blood’
Iconic Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie has a visionary talent that is ageless. She has never been one to do things by halves, as the old saying goes, and the title track from her 2016 award-winning album ‘Power in the Blood’ is no exception.
She told ICMN the song of the same name is something she re-wrote — originally written by Alabama Three. “I thought it would make a great anti-war song. So, I changed their lyrics and I made it about GMO and fracking and military take-over.” A very fitting sentiment in light of ongoing resistance actions against pipelines across Turtle Island.
While there was no official video, you can watch Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘Power in the Blood’ Polaris 2015 performance.
Supaman - ‘Why’
Native hip hop hero Supaman partnered with world champion dancer Acosia Red Elk to ponder tough questions about modern Native life in the official video for “Why,” directed by Tom Clement. “I’m just trying to connect with the audience and spark those questions so that maybe [people] don’t just go along and accept things simply as the way they are, but actually want to do something to bring change in ourselves, or change the way society thinks,” Supaman told ICMN.
DJ Shub - ‘Indomitable’
Award-winning music producer DJ Shub – formerly a member of A Tribe Called Red – took the ‘Pow Wow Step’ genre he pioneered to new heights in his solo debut EP, PowWowStep, released December 2 and the video for the single, “Indomitable.”
In the video, Toronto electronic artist Classic Roots plays a frustrated office worker revitalized by his Indigenous roots as a dancer in full regalia at what appears to be the Grand River Powwow on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario.
“I want Canadians to see that pow wow culture is beautiful in both imagery and spirit,” DJ Shub, born Dan General, explained in a press release. “I also want young Native kids to know that they can find support and happiness in their lives, even if they can’t see it right in front of them. That’s what the video says to me.”
Frank Waln - ‘What Makes the Red Man Red’
Summer 2016 was lit up by Sicangu Lakota, Rosebud Reservation hip hop artist Frank Waln’s searingly astute takedown of the racist stereotypes of Native Americans in Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan and their origins in the 1904 play and 1911 novel of the same name by Scottish playwright and author J.M. Barrie.
“Disney made us look like animals in Peter Pan so I took one of their songs and tore it to shreds,” Waln said on Twitter when he released the track.
While there was no official video for ‘What Makes the Red Man Red,’ Waln was filmed performing it at the American Indian Heritage Day of Texas celebration at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie on September 24, 2016. His appearance was a collaboration with AIHD, SMU Meadows School of Arts, and Ignite Arts Dallas and can be watched online.
Tony Enos - ‘Water Is Life (What About The Babies?)’
The historic resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was one of the biggest stories of 2016 in Indian Country. Eastern Cherokee Two-Spirit singer, songwriter, dancer and native Philadelphian Tony Enos released ‘Water Is Life (What About The Babies?)’ in September, with all proceeds donated to Sacred Stone Camp and Rezpect Our Water.
Michael Bucher - ‘Dark Horse’
Michael Bucher re-recorded his 2012 track 'Dark Horse' in January 2016 after losing three fingers on his right hand in a devastating tablesaw accident in January, 2015. After months of rehabilitation, and riddled by frustrations and self-doubt, ‘Django Mike’ surprised himself and his fans alike with what he was able to do thanks to a tacky adhesive that makes it possible for him to hold his guitar pick while playing.
“I’m throwing myself back out there,” he told ICTMN last April. “I can now pick just as accurately as if I had five fingers.”
Drezus- ‘The Sequel’
Like many of his contemporaries, Plains Cree hip hop artist & Team Rezofficial alum Jeremiah Manitopyes, known as Drezus, is known for not shying away from the harder issues facing Turtle Island in his music. Though his reputation as an award-winning solo artist has been built on a uniquely brutal honesty about modern Native life, he didn’t start out with that in mind.
“Honestly, I started making music because I loved it.” he told ICTMN last April. “The idea of creating my very own piece of history excited me. Once I figured out that I had a real voice for my community, it became more than a love―it was more like a responsibility. One that I felt was necessary to uphold while I grew in the music, and even as a Native man.”
In ‘The Sequel’ Drezus reflects on his parents’ and paternal grandparents’ experiences with Canadian residential schools and the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma from settler colonialism. A lyric video was released and is available online.
Follow ICTMN Correspondent Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IconicImagery