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Carmen Davis on 'Reaching the Rez' with Litefoot in 2012

Carmen Davis, President of the Association for American Indian Development and wife of the rapper Litefoot, discusses the Reach the Rez tour.

The group Reach the Rez (RTR) has announced plans for its 2012 RTR "RISE" motivational tour, which will make stops at 48 reservations around the country and reach potentially 75,000 Natives. Reach the Rez was started in 2005 by the Cherokee rapper Litefoot and his wife Carmen Davis (Makah, Yakama, and Chippewa Cree), who is president of the parent organization Association for American Indian Development, and in that year traveled to 211 communities.

Gus Palmer (Kiowa, at left), side gunner, and Horace Poolaw (Kiowa), aerial photographer, in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress. MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida, ca. 1944. © 2014 Estate of Horace Poolaw

Carmen Davis, President of the Association for American Indian Development

"RISE" stands for Revitalization, Inspiration, Sustainability and Empowerment. At stops on the tour, Indian leaders, entertainers, athletes and others speak and perform, delivering positive messages to the tribal communities. We spoke with Davis (who also runs the Native Style clothing line) about her thoughts on this latest leg of the journey to, as she put it, "inspire and empower our Native people and promote self-reliance and sustainability."

Indian Country Today Media Network: Now that you've been doing this for a number of years, do you hear stories from people who say they were inspired by previous events?

Carmen Davis: Absolutely. We hear from people immediately after a Reach The Rez event is over; expressing to us what it meant to them. You can view the Reach the Rez Documentary film trailer on our website and see the impact its had on people. There are literally hours more of those kinds of testimonials from our Native people all over Indian Country. We still hear today, stories from people nationwide who were helped and strengthened through the messages of the tour back in 2005. In regards to lasting relationships, we are blessed with family on every reservation throughout the United States. And that's not an exaggeration. To us, it is such an honor to be blessed with that much extended family across the country. It's also very humbling to know that we have the support of so many people who keep us in their prayers and thoughts. It just makes us want to work harder.

There are people who come up to Litefoot and say, “You changed my life” and “thank you for the encouragement”. One of the most beautiful quotes came from someone who has been following Litefoot from the beginning and she is now a friend but she started out as a fan. Cherrah Quiett, Muscogee Creek Nation Council Representative, posted this to Litefoot's Facebook page: “Thanks for taking us on this journey with you & speaking the same truths you have from the get-go. Thanks for keeping Tulsa on the map and representin Natives worldwide! I've been a fan for over 18 years & look forward to seeing what's next. Much love brother.”

How did you come up with the idea for Reach the Rez?

After having been on the road with Litefoot from reservation to reservation for the first seven years of our marriage, I was able to develop a very clear understanding of the commonality with regard to the concerns and issues that Tribal Nations across the United States were dealing with. It helped bring clarity as to what was missing and what so many of our Native people were expressing to us, was missing in their lives and in their communities. Litefoot had been hearing the same sentiments expressed to him for twice as many years. So, it was very clear to us what the message of the Reach the Rez Project needed to be in order to promote self reliance and sustainability in Indian country. We just focused on that understanding and built the effort around what we continue to believe is the solution, instead of building an effort that looks for a solution. It's about doing what you believe to be best for the future of our people, not what people deem to be relevant now.

This is a huge undertaking—how (or perhaps why) do you and Litefoot manage to find the time while keeping up the recording career and Native Style?

Yes, it is a HUGE undertaking, but this project is something we are extremely passionate about. It took us four years to introduce the concept, gather support, fundraise and plan the 2005 Tour. Many of the professional opportunities that Litefoot had presented to him at the time had to be turned down because of his commitment to the Reach the Rez Project. It was very important to him that we accomplish the mission not only because he had made a commitment to so many tribes who believed in him and supported the Reach the Rez Project. In many ways, I guess you could say that he co-signed the effort with his credibility. So there were a lot of personal and professional sacrifices that were made so that the Reach The Rez Tour could even exist. In the beginning, The Reach The Rez Tour was thought of as nothing more than a great concept, and many people deemed it too ambitious or logistically impossible. The success of the Reach The Rez Tour, is a testament to the Reach The Rez message: If the Creator has something for you to do, it is up to you to make it happen, and the only person that can stop you is you. We put everything on hold to ensure the viability and success of the Reach The Rez Tour. We believed in it and we saw it though and it has now helped thousands of our Native people nationwide. I’m pleased to say, we have assembled an amazing team of board members, staff members and a great roster of presenters to carry the initiative forward.

How can a person find out whether the tour is coming to his or her community? Is there a way to request a stop (and if not for 2012, is there a way to request for 2013)?

Yes, there is a contact form on the website and you can request a tour stop.

You now have two sons—the second born just over a year ago. As you move through the journey of parenting, does that inform your instincts about how to accomplish the goals of Reach the Rez?

Yes, having children really gives you a different perspective on the changes you wish to see in Indian country. When the tour started in 2005, we knew we were going to be away from home for the entire year, so we took our son Quannah out of school and homeschooled him. When the tour was over he had to receive tutoring after school for almost the whole next year to catch up in math. He had to make a sacrifice without fully comprehending it.