Indian teens use rap to bare tribal problems

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EVERETT, Wash. (AP) – A 16-year-old boy with a red-and-black-checked bandana knotted around his neck leaned over a notebook and penned rap lyrics.

“I went to over 10 funerals in 1 year people had ODed,” Kyle Moses wrote. “Running around getting keyed/Are they thinking it’s going to be better for them/80 bucks for 1 pill. ...’’

Around him, other American Indian teens sat on a porch overlooking Port Susan Bay and wrote their own lyrics about prescription drug abuse and problem gambling.

“It’s really easy to rap about because I’ve seen a lot of it,” said Moses, a Muckleshoot. “I usually rap about the truth. I think it helps me because I like putting it out there and having other people see how it is.”

He spent the last week at Warm Beach Camp, attending a music academy for Indian teens that focused on ending prescription drug abuse and problem gambling. Around 50 teens participated, including a few from the Tulalip Tribes. They recorded their own CDs in a bunk-room-turned-recording-studio, helped create music videos about gambling and drugs, and bounced lyrics and poems off each other.

The camp, called the Tribal Youth Music Academy, was organized by the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling with grants from the state Attorney General’s Office and the state Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, along with support from several Northwest tribes.

“What we want to do is train young people, so they themselves live the model of being clean and sober and avoiding addictive behaviors,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “They can go out and credibly present that to other young people.”

He addressed the teens July 24, urging them to take what they’ve learned back to their tribes and schools to help save lives.

Rapping or writing poetry to help prevent drug and gambling abuse may seem contrived, but many of the teens said the issues – especially prescription drug abuse – are relevant to their daily lives.

Several teens said they have parents, siblings or friends who abuse over-the-counter drugs.

Carrie Rincon, an adult mentor with the Muckleshoot Tribe, said she lost a niece to OxyContin and has other family members currently battling addiction.

“I know from experience what prescription drugs can do to your community,” she said, as she worked on a song. “It’s really bad. I think that prescription drugs took over the reservation. At this point, it runs our rez.”

In 2008 on the Healthy Youth Survey, 13 percent of high school seniors in Snohomish County and 12 percent statewide reported using painkillers to get high in the last 30 days. On the same survey, 34 percent of Snohomish County seniors said they had gambled for money or possessions in the last year.

Prescription drug abuse is no more prevalent in Tulalip than in other Snohomish County communities, said Angel Cortez, a Tulalip cultural specialist who works with youth. Still, he sees value in teaching teens more about addiction and helping them learn to express themselves through music.

“I record music, but I don’t really consider myself a musician,” said Cortez, who prefers hip-hop. “But it is a tool that can bring the kids in and grab their attention.”

Several musicians, including fusion artist J. Ross-Parrelli and the American Indian group Savage Family, worked with an Olympia-based group known as Music Mentors to run the academy. Music Mentors hosts similar camps throughout Washington to help kids create songs about a variety of issues, including planning for college, preventing violence and earth science.

In the makeshift recording studio at Warm Beach, Cherisse Sulkanum nervously recorded her first single. The shy 13-year-old Nooksack girl has sung in her school choir, but rapping into a microphone about being an American Indian is something else altogether.

“We’ll be marching as one in this faceless movement,” she sang.

Singing with other tribal kids has encouraged her to try to connect more with her ancestors.

Her aunt, Candace Kelly, said Cherisse is usually so quiet she won’t talk to people unless they start the conversation. The camp has given her confidence.

“Most of the youth, they’re trying to be American more than Native American,” she said. “This helps them to realize they can be Native American.”

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