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Musical healing

Youth cultural restoration tour kicks off

LOS ANGELES - A group of music-minded Natives who grew up in urban areas of the U.S. is embarking on a nationwide tour to promote healthy living and wellness among Native youth.

The endeavor, called the Awakening the Warrior Spirit Tour, is aimed at curbing substance abuse, behavioral problems and cultural identity crises among young American Indian people.

''We want to inspire our Native youth to embrace their cultural principles and values and motivate them to get involved with their communities,'' said Hector Perez-Pacheco, a spokesman for the group. ''Our goal is to educate, entertain, inspire and unify the masses.''

Perez-Pacheco, Quecha Native from South America, believes that the sense of isolation and lack of direction experienced by many young Native people are the major causes of drug abuse and high rates of suicide in the population.

''Too many of our young people have gotten away from some of our traditional ways of teaching,'' he said. ''And we think that has caused many problems.''

The musical group is based out of Los Angeles, but leaders have reached out to talented individuals from tribes and reservations throughout the country. Musicians in the troupe hail from a variety of Native heritages, including Lakota, Navajo, Apache and Central and South American clans and families. There are currently about 30 musicians on the tour lineup.

To date, the group has performed several shows in the Los Angeles area, and this summer will expand its performances to areas with large amounts of urban Indians and reservations nationwide. In addition to music, the tour will include workshops and outreach focused on cultural teachings and restoration.

The rising cost of gas has been one of the biggest challenges to expanding the tour so far, but organizers say they're ''close'' to reaching their goals.

Harmony Keepers, a nonprofit organization focused on Native youth development, is the coordinating body for the tour. The organization, which has been around for 19 years, offers several programs and services focused on cultural learning, drum circles, poetry and other forms of performance art.

It's the focus on performance art that organizers believe will most resound with Native youth. They say that when music, whether it be hip hop or traditional drumming, is involved, Native youth tend to tune in better than when they're just being bombarded with a lot of educational words - no matter how well-intended they may be.

''Music is kind of like a unifying message that young people, especially, are interested in connecting through,'' Perez-Pacheco said.

Marcos Cisneros, a musician of Mexican Indian descent with the group, said that many indigenous youth have found hip hop music and traditional dancing to be positive outlets, although he notes that music alone can't magically heal the wounds of the past.

''The music is not the answer in itself,'' he said. ''But it is part of the answer. It's a component to inspire.''

Cisneros, whose stage name is ''20/20,'' believes it's especially important for Native and Central and South American indigenous peoples to begin to unite. He holds strong faith in a prophecy that foretells the reunification of the condor people, or Natives from Central and South America, reuniting with the eagle people, or members of North American tribes and clans.

''We are told by our elders that there is an awakening happening among the hearts and minds of our young people. We feel this is the right time to collaborate with other indigenous people to share what we know. We have to come to the table now to start connecting and understanding.''

Cisneros himself began making music at the age of 5. He said his musical activism communicates a ''sense of urgency to educate the seventh generation to become proactive in the preservation of the indigenous way of life and Mother Earth.'' An accomplished composer, he is scheduled to participate in the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, which will take place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in November.

Another top performer with the Awakening the Warrior Spirit Tour is known as ''Sista Hailstorm.'' She's an Apache woman who was born and raised in one of the toughest sections of Los Angeles and has now committed her life to indigenous youth using underground hip hop music as a tool for empowerment.

Members of Savage Family, a grass-roots movement of indigenous rappers and producers, are also expected to participate in upcoming shows.

Perez-Pacheco said the goal of the performers is ultimately to create a network of grass-roots indigenous youth leadership academies that encourage the development of young people on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.

To date, the Awakening the Warrior Spirit Tour has been funded through ticket and merchandise sales, as well as from a few benefit concerts. Organizers are in the process of reaching out to more tribes and Native organizations regarding sponsorships, so the tour can touch the lives of many more American Indian youth in the months to come.

''I know there are already efforts taking place along these lines in some tribes, and I applaud and support those efforts,'' Perez-Pacheco said. ''We just hope that we can build on and strengthen them. Our kids deserve that.''