Thank you for getting us through this thing called Life…with your beautiful music.
- Elsie Julian, Dine Nation
Dearly beloved, I think sometimes Natives writers do our readers a disservice. I definitely see it here at Indian Country Today Media Network, but I certainly see it at all the other Native news outlets as well. Sometimes we act as if there has to be an explicit connection to “being Native” in order for us to write about it. Now, I get it—we’re Native people, and so it’s cool to have news outlets that are dedicated to us.
Cool. I get it. We have an obligation to bring Native stories first and foremost.
But to act as if there has to be an Indigenous connection? That’s not realistic. Decidedly Non-Native stories affect Native people. For example, if there were a zombie apocalypse (a very real possibility) we should probably write about that zombie apocalypse and tell you the way to stay alive during that apocalypse (shoot them in the head!!!) and not worry about whether any Natives are amongst the zombie population.
Sometimes big news is just big news, irrespective of ethnicity, and will affect all communities.
But sometimes writing in Native publications becomes a vehicle to show how Native we are. Maybe we mention frybread enough times or mention that we’re from the rez enough times or use the word “ancestors” 23 times or say “decolonization” enough times it will prove that we’re real Indians and not privileged 21st century Natives who have opportunities that previous generations did not.
I certainly am guilty of all of the above.
The reason why I bring this up? Prince, family. Prince. There is no “Native” reason to write about Prince. I just want to.
I am a huge Prince fan. I stopped listening to his newer stuff after Crystal Ball, but Lovesexy, Purple Rain, Under The Cherry Moon, 1999 and Sign Of The Times are freakin’ amazing to me—the soundtrack to my childhood. I grew up deep in the country, and accordingly I normally listened to rez rock (Journey, AC/DC, Quiet Riot, etc), old country (Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Pride, Ronnie Milsap, Ricky Skaggs, etc) and pow-wow music (Kicking Woman Singers, Young Grey Horse, Mandaree). But my older sister Neoma formed a good portion of my musical tastes—in addition to her hand-me-down clothes, I also got her hand-me-down musical tastes.
And she loved Prince. Like, really, really loved Prince.
She is a talented artist and she has this amazing picture of him that she drew—whenever I’d sleep in her bedroom I’d look up and there it was. Kinda creepy but also kinda cool.
Anyway, when I was 9 years old I remember she took me down Ben Franklin and hooked me up with my first Prince tape. THEN, she also bought me Controversy (probably my least favorite Prince album) and 1999 (maybe the best one, objectively.)
That purchase effectively turned a dusty country boy who grew up with an outhouse and looking for money under the bleachers at pow-wows into a connoisseur of urban music. From that day forward, I became a person who—despite my dad’s objections because he didn’t really like a guy who dressed (according to my dad) “like a girl”—zealously followed Prince’s every move.
There is no “Native” angle to this story other than that I was a Native who passionately, passionately loves Prince. I’m not the only one; there are many others. Sometimes a story is not “Native” for any other reason that Native people care. There’s no hidden Native identity or a deep connection with Indian Country—sometimes Native people just care, irrespective of ethnicity. Like that zombie apocalypse.
Therefore, without further ado: These are some of the reactions from Native people around the country who were asked, “What would you say to Prince if you had the opportunity?”
“I would say: Must thou leave me so unsatisfied? You said in 3121 you would get me satisfied. You taught me everything I know about sex, romance, love and now my standards are too high for anyone to meet. You let me know that being yourself, as weird or different that is, is actually cool. I haven't been religious in my adulthood, spiritual … but not religious. But at your concerts I felt like I was at church. Not a normal church, where you get bored and pray that: Damn, I hope there's at least a potlatch today for the trouble I took putting on these stupid church clothes! Nah, your concerts were real church, because you were truly filled with something spiritual and something so fulfilling … that when you sang, you gave us a piece of that energy. My heart hurts so much knowing that, that feeling I will never get again. I'm sorry to be selfish but I really love you. Thank you.” - Jean-Nicole Black, Shoshone-Bannock
“That I love him and peace be with you!” - Maine Degrasse Navajo, Apache
“Just let him talk... I'd like to hear his story and his advice on being a proper human” - Shayna Parker, Salish, Pend D'oreille (Flathead, CSKT)
“If I met Prince, I would say, "Good to finally meet you Prince. I used to pretend I was you by strumming a tennis racket listening to, "Let's Go Crazy," blasting on my tape player on my grandpa's pool table like I was onstage performing to an imaginary audience when I was 7. Wow, you're short!" - Lance FourStar Assiniboine Nation
“Purple … I felt your words in the depths of my soul as if they were my own.
All I wanted was for someone to feel that way about me … Cry purple.” - Jennifer John, Navajo
“Your kind of prodigy only graces humanity every couple hundred years...Thanks for the kind example of LOVE.” - Maria Littlesun, Skokomish
“That every moment of my young life has a Prince soundtrack to it.” - Rhonda Lynne, Siksika
“I had to go up on a butte with my grandparent’s radio just to catch your song, batdance on power 92 from 300 miles away. Was sooo excited when I’d hear it. Wow!” - Mar Tsinnijinne, Navajo Nation
“Why weren't any of your concerts on the Rez?” - Joe Padilla, Yaqui
“Thank you for your living your authentic life … which inspired me and many others to be able to get through our awkward teenage years and into adulthood feeling less like an outcast and more like a unique individual. You are the epitome of cool, talent, fashion, and heart. Plus, you are one funny m****f*****. "You're filthy cute and baby, you know it!" - Brandi Burland, Flathead
Travel well, Prince Rogers Nelson. You’ve changed a lot of lives (and caused a lot of babies to be born.)
Wesley Roach, Skan Photography
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories