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On the (Electric) Pow Wow Trail With A Tribe Called Red

A profile of the Native DJ collective A Tribe Called Red, inventors of the pow wow step genre
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I caught up with Indian country’s new supergroup, DJ trio A Tribe Called Red on the road (literally) while they were making their way into Edmonton Alberta for what would be the 3rd to last gig on the Canadian leg of their European and Turtle Island tour. The Ottawa-based electronic and media music artists began their tour on Oct. 12th 2012 in Toronto, Ontario.

The tour itself may have been prompted by recent notoriety and success as they continue to set precedent in the electronic music scene having been the first group of indie DJs to receive a nomination for the coveted Polaris Music Prize with their free downloadable album Electric Pow Wow (get it at Through their collective mixing and mash up skills they have introduced a whole new genre of music to the world; “Pow Wow Step”. This new term is a by-product of the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) era in which we are rapidly becoming enveloped in and is their contribution to cultural retention in an ever-watered down version of “Indian-ness”.

Be that as it may, the kids can’t get enough. And that’s all kids, Black, White, Yellow, and especially the Red. These three large gentlemen strike a powerful image together on the DJ deck in clubs and at festivals. DJ Bear Witness reaches into his massive video library and mashes together moving imagery syncopated to their sounds that range from thought provoking to the ridiculous. Bear resurrects old westerns and re-appropriates new Indian representation in the media. Lucky for him, those images of mis-appropriation keep coming. He admits, he’s just waiting to get his hands on the new No Doubt video Looking Hot, recently pulled from YouTube due to numerous out-cries of racism and offensive cultural appropriation from native communities on both sides of the white man’s line.

I personally look forward to seeing how Bear is going to shred the not yet released Tonto movie starring (is he or is he not?) Native actor Johnny Depp.

To the hipster club-going regular, what A Tribe Called Red is doing appears “cool” and “happening” and definitely something to get with in a pseudo-political way. Ask the guys themselves and they are very aware of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Is it irony when they use Brad Pitt’s speech in the movie Inglorious Bastards? Brad’s character makes the claim “I’ve got a little Injun in me” and inspires his troops to capture 100 Nazi scalps.

ATCR say they are "indigenizing" and "decolonizing" with their tracks. DJ NDN further explains; “If there was any concern about people not getting the humour and sometimes blatant political messages, we have the opportunity through media to articulate what we mean and help people to understand. Bear Witness reports; “Enough people are getting it and they seem comfortable with it” This begs the question, is it the responsibility of these three visibly native men to make it as comfortable as possible for the listener to digest their commentary, leaving them feeling like they’ve just eaten a bag of rice cakes only to get hungry again a half hour later? I want to be fed something more substantial, at the dinner table and on the turntables.

ATCR is not comfortable to rest on the laurels of their recent successes. They have a vision for the next year to bring more Indians into the mix by collaborating with some of their favorite native artists for a new 2013 release. Who’s on that list of favorites? Cree rapper and CBC 8th Fire front man Wab Kinew, creative mix-tape master Lorenzo Sumner, that pioneer of native hip hop Hell n’ Back. Women artists include Ekwol and the incredible other-worldly Inuit style throat singing queen Tanya Tagaq.

Most of their favorites are prairie-based talent, so to spread things out a bit, both Bear Witness and DJ Shub will access their Haudenonsaunee roots to incorporate Iroquois Social Dance songs. I’m sure their promoters are busy tracking a route for their next tour which will include live sets by some of the aforementioned talent.

We're talking role models in night clubs. That’s radical, isn’t it?

Janet Marie Rogers, Mohawk writer from the Six Nations territory in southern Ontario, is Poet Laureate of Victoria, British Columbia. To learn more about her, visit