Author Archives: michael cebuliak

Missing Pieces and Important Connections in Indigenous Hip Hop

It is near impossible to do any research on a topic and not find the manner in which significant, and complicated, issues are closely related to the particular topic that one is researching.  While exploring the relationship between hip-hop Indigenous identity and self-determination, amongst youth and young adults, it becomes almost impossible to not also uncover issues related to: cultural appropriation; differences between genres of hip-hop that  Indigenous youth gravitate towards; contemporary Canadian Indigenous social and political issues;  complicated relationships between the traditional values of elders and the emerging identity of Indigenous youth; and lastly,  issues of trauma recovery in Indigenous communities and their relationship on the identity of Indigenous youth.  Even though, these are tertiary issues to my primary topic of exploration, they are important issues that impact the contemporary state of Indigenous hip-hop and as such a greater appreciation of them, I feel, could only lead to a better understanding of my primary issue of research.

Historic Trauma and Aboriginal Healing

This is a very thorough and comprehensive resource that examines trauma to Indigenous persons in Canada through the impact of four hundred years of colonization.  The 121 page document was published by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in 2004.  It is interesting to note that the authors explore trauma, defined as unresolved grief, in more scope than the personal emotional toil on individuals; rather, it explores trauma in physical, economic, cultural, psychological and social contexts.  Even though the author suggests that colonialism is not as prevalent a threat in the 50 years preceding 2004, there is much that currently needs to be acknowledged about the historical impact on Indigenous people from its inception to this present day.  There is a powerful quotation in the introduction which establishes the importance of this study:

‘[O]ur sense of personhood is not only shaped by our active or conscious memories, it is also shaped by our conception of “memory” which means that it is not only direct traumatic experiences that can create negative effect, it is also present interpretations of events that can continue to impact our lives (Young, 1995:4)’.

In short, I can’t help believe that the traumatic impact of colonialism can still be found within the hip-hop scene of Indigenous youth.

Indigenous Hip Hop and Performance as Resurgence

This article by hip hop artist Frank Waln discusses how hip hop both helped shape his artistic and political vision.  Again, I wanted to focus on Indigenous hip hop that stuck to the traditional social and cultural changes promoted when the art first emerged within marginalized African American urban populations.  Many voices have coopted hip hop and set it on a course that, for reasons both intentional and unintentional, have undermined the social and political context in which it originated.   Fran Waln expresses his attraction to hip hop best when he says:

“People often ask me why I and countless other reservation/urban Indigenous youth connect and identify with Hip Hop. I’ve been asking myself this question for a few years now. When we look at the foundation and birth of Hip Hop culture, we see that this culture and the art forms that came with it are rooted in various African and Black cultures. Hip Hop was born in the 1970’s in the Bronx during a time when the officials of NYC decided it would be in the best interest of the city to build a new expressway right through the middle of the Bronx, displacing their community. Their homelands were being taken away in the name of “growth” and “expansion”. Their home was being colonized. Out of this time of peril, the roots of Hip Hop and its foundational elements, including dance, music and graffiti emerged alive in well in NYC. The movement’s artists were using the limited but powerful resources they had, such as music, dance, and graffiti, to tell their story and that of their communities. Drawing from African tribal and Black diasporic roots, Hip Hop was born.”

The significance of such an attraction is that hip hop is, in many ways, a social protest that helps empower youth and leads to stronger identity and self determination.

Aboriginal youth hip hop and the politics of identification

The issue of identity for Indigenous youth is of significant importance to removing the “two worlds” metaphor that simultaneously pulls and pushes younger Indigenous persons within their relationship with elders, and their traditional way of life, and contemporary Anglo-Canadian culture.  Although this article heralds from Australia, it does address the seeming inertia evident within the evolution of some contemporary Indigenous cultures and explores the reverence in which younger people have for their elders and the degree to which this impacts cultural evolution. Certainly cultural evolution is not possible without some degree of acknowledgement with the past and it would be interesting to know to what extent the elders believe their traditional way of life has been compromised, or lost,  and to what extent they are pleased, or satisfied, with the course of evolution charted by contemporary Indigenous hip hop artists.

A.T.C.R. – Burn Your Village to the Ground (Neon Natives Remix)

This is a very powerful, and empowering work, by A Tribe Called Red; it’s poignancy lies not just within the lyrics and music, but within the video representation and the many stories it tells.  It illustrates many contrasting elements between Anglo-American and Indigenous ways of life and acknowledgement of the past. Again, as evidenced within the lyrics, this piece is very political and explores how hip hop can be used by Indigenous people as an instrument of change:

“You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, “Do not trust the Pilgrims”

This piece is important as it defies many contemporary assumptions about hip-hop, that are depicted in popular media and illustrates that there are many different genres of hip-hop music, some of which do not enjoy commercial success while being popular through channels such as Youtube.

Droppin’ conscious beats and flows: Aboriginal hip hop and youth identity;dn=426154092859457;res=IELIND

The issue of cultural appropriation in hip hop music is a common one, but usually it is examined in the context of hegemonic cultures, rather than visible minorities appropriating African America culture.  The issue of whether Indigenous hip hop is either appropriating or appreciating elements of African American hip hop is a multifaceted one.  Furthermore, it appears this issue is further complicated when one looks at hip hop as a means of American cultural imperialism.  The author of this article,    George Stavrias from the University of Melbourne, states: “In dispelling the myth of American cultural imperialism, I argue that hip hop’s critical appropriation has as much to do with its internal logic of sampling, representin’ and flow as with oppositional politics it often serves as a vehicle.”  Seemingly representing elements of “oppositional politics” is more about appreciation rather than appropriation.

Exploring the Significance of Body Within Indigenous Hip-hop: Michael Cebuliak

Upon working through the rough copy of the final assignment in ETEC 521, it became apparent that there were many holes within my research.  Many of the articles in which I read, for example D. Dehyle’s “From Break Dancing to Heavy Metal”, B. Bonar’s “Can hold us back! Hip-hop and the racial motility of aboriginal bodies in urban spaces” and A. Woloshyn’s “Hearing Urban Indigeneity in Canada: Self-Determination, Community Formation and Kinaesthetic Listening with A Tribe Called Red”, have explicitly, and rather thoroughly, stated the significance of Indigenous bodies in self-representation and self-determination.  Michel Foucault is widely acknowledged as creating highly influential work that explores the relationship between body and power structures.  Even though his name is not explicitly mentioned in any of the three previous articles, I felt further understanding of the issue, and his work, would be especially insightful when exploring indigenous bodies in hip-hop and the relation to the structures of power; consequently, some of the sources that I recently selected explore the application of Foucault’s work to relationships of power between government/state and Indigenous bodies.

I was also interested in further exploring different genres of Indigenous hip-hop.  A Tribe Called Red courts an entirely different audience than much Indigenous gangster rap.  Dehyle’s article concludes that some Indigenous youth from Dakota have essentially given up on the fight against traditional power structures and embraced the rebellious, fatalistic and highly marginalized world of heavy metal music.  I wondered if the Indigenous youth attracted to gangster rap feel similar to their heavy metal counterparts.

Evan J. Habkirk and Janice Fosyth

Truth Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History

This is an interesting article as it examines the role of the body as a means to assimilation within residential schools.  The authors perceive the body as a cultural text and highlight the difference between traditional Indigenous bodies and those that were sculpted by means of sports at residential schools.  I wonder if similar things occur within hip-hip.  Popular depictions of the male body in hip-hop celebrate muscle, bulk, strength and power.  Although there are many exceptions to this in both Indigenous and African American hip-hop, it does create an expectation for the body that seemingly challenges traditional structures of power.  One wonders if assimilation via hip-hop for the Indigenous body is through association with African American norms, and via support of those norms,  while defiantly challenging, and confronting, the body of traditional Anglo power.

Joanna Ziarko

Marketing Indigenous Bodies in the Fiction of Leslie Marmon Silko, Louis Erdich and Sherman Alexie

This is another interesting article as it illustrates how many non-indigenous peoples romanticize First Nation culture and inadvertently create a romantic notion of the past that paradoxically many First Nation peoples are incapable of escaping: there is a hegemonic interpretation of how First Nation people should live.  I remember within Sherman Alexies’ The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian the comedic encounters the Indigenous people of this novel faced with such romantics.  However this is far from a laughing matter as healthy acceptance by those on the fringes of hegemonic cultures can help strengthen identity and purpose.  Consequently, it is imperative that non-indigenous peoples embrace First Nation hip-hop so that power structures change not through Indigenous peoples fighting the status-quo but rather through non-indigenous persons challenging the status-quo by being respectful, supportive and understanding of contemporary indigenous issues, as illustrated through the art of these people.

Robyn Bourgeois

Colonial Explotation: The Canadian State and the Trafficking of Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

I was interested in this article primarily because it offers an historical perspective to the treatment of indigenous bodies in a colonial context.  The author argues that colonialism long sought to eradicate Indigenous bodies as they were an impediment to settlement.  Bourgeois sees the trafficking of Indigenous women as a continuation of this practice and posits that colonialism is alive and well today because of it.  I was also interested in this article because I am worried about the depiction of Indigenous women in hip-hop produced by those very members that belong to the culture.  It has long been argued that much African American hip-hop has very misogynistic depictions of women and knowing that many Indigenous cultures are maternal, I was curious if this reverence would be illustrated in their hip-hop art, or whether they would merely perpetuate the misogyny of their African American counterparts and thereby reinforce traditional colonial practices by commodifying female indigenous bodies.

And More Hip Hop Style Pow Wow

I cam across this video clip when I was in search of other expressions of Indigenous hip-hop culture.  It occurred to me that I was focusing primarily on music and ignoring graffiti, break dancing and dj’s.  I found this clip rather interesting as it was similar to the typical representations of females in African American rap music. The truth be told, this video made me feel somewhat uneasy.  I’m not sure if it’s because I tend to romanticize much First Nation culture and this seemed to me as appropriation, and perhaps even assimilation, into the oft characterized misogynistic world of African American rap and this is not how I wanted to perceive the current state of Indigenous hip-hop culture.   However, I do remember watching another documentary explaining how the Anglo American’s disdain for the overt sexuality characteristic of other cultures is a means of controlling these bodies.  As many First Nation cultures tend to be maternal in nature I wondered if this depiction of women defied traditional values or is it just a continuation of the Madonna-whore complex, where women are seen as binary in their makeup but men are permitted to embrace their entire sexuality.

Six emerging Aboriginal artists that are inspiring change

Again, this article captured my interest as I came to the realization that I hadn’t explored elements of Indigenous hip-hop other than music. I attempted to search for examples of break dancing, or hip-hop dance, and graffiti.  Unfortunately, there weren’t very many articles devoted to these topics so I did find this interesting introduction to the graffiti of Jesse Gouchey, a Cree artist from Alberta.  I was particularly interested in how, or even if,  Gouchey would incorporate traditional elements of First Nation art into his graffiti.  I was also interested if Gouchey would place his work in public places and make it conspicuous, as the original African American graffiti artists did to promote their culture in a very visible manner.  Again, this ties into the theme of Indigenous bodies that I was exploring this week, as graffiti is an art primarily of cultures that are geographically segregated from the prominent cultures within urban centres.

Warriors Off The Res: Aboriginal Gangs in Winnipeg

Lastly, this video explores the similarities between the American gangster rap aesthetic and that found within Indigenous gangs of Winnipeg.  Exploring Dehyle’s previously mentioned work, it is suggested that many Indigenous youth abandon the positive messages expressed within the origins of hip-hop for the more fatalistic and defiant world of heavy metal and gangster rap.  This may be problematic to liberating First Nation youth from the “two worlds” metaphor that perpetuates colonialism by not permitting the evolution of Indigenous cultures.

Scholarly Articles Exploring Indigenous Hip-Hop: Michael Cebuliak

As I am still exploring my original inquiry, in this most recent web log I have elected to draw my research from more scholarly articles as opposed to electronic media, as in my last log, that is primarily directed to those interested in popular entertainment.  I am interested seeing the differences of perspective between how indigenous youth represent themselves, compared to how academics, either of Indigenous origin or not, represent these youths.  I am also interested in exploring whether traditional hip-hop culture spoke to these youth because of similarities or because of exposure by popular media: What do the academics believe?  It would also be interesting to observe why both the youth and academics account for either the success, or lack thereof, for Indigenous hip-hop.  How have, or why haven’t, these young artists changed their art to garner greater commercial success.  Who is changing more, the artist or the audience?

Deyhle, D. (1998)  FROM BREAK DANCING TO HEAVY METAL Navajo Youth, Resistance and Identity: Youth & Society, Vol. 30 No. ! (pp. 3-31).

Teen angst has long been a foundation for younger fans of popular music.  Certainly, angst has shaped both the hip-hop and heavy metal music cultures.  However, the former has a decidedly social agenda that comes from oppression and racism while the later comes primarily from male hormones and frustration with feelings of disempowerment.  In Deyhle’s article it is posited that some Indigenous youth gravitated towards heavy metal as a fatalist malaise that characterizes so many youth trapped between a hegemonic power that will not accept them and a traditional way of life that has vanished.

Andrew Warren & Rob Evitt (2010) Indigenous Hip-hop: overcoming marginality, encountering constraints, Australian Geographer, 41:1, 141-158, DOI: 10.1080/00049180903535659

Warren’s article is interesting as it explores how urban environments are no longer considered the epi-centre for hip-hop culture; rather, “emerging technologies, festivals, programs and online networking have helped enable unique forms of music making.”  This article also dispels the notion that many Indigenous youth are without ambition, direction, passion and most importantly, hope.  It is also interesting to note that, within this article it is observed that expectations of what characterizes proper indigenous art are seen as stumbling blocks to the voice of these youth.

Kyle T. Mays (2016) Promoting sovereignty, rapping mshkiki (medicine): a critical (Anishinaabeg) reading of rapper Tall Paul’s ‘prayers in a song’, Social Identities, 22:2, 195-209, DOI: 10.1080/13504630.2015.1121574

Mays explores Leech Lake Naishinaabe rapper Tall Paul to examine how some Indigenous people use hip-hop for cultural preservation as a means to address issues of sovereignty.  One aspect of considerable interest to me is the exploration of how urban Indigenous hip-hop seeks to reclaim urban spaces where these artists, and their people, have largely gone unrecognized.  This is significant as more Indigenous peoples are presently living in urban environments than on their traditional lands shared only with their people.   It would be interesting to explore how hip-hop culture addresses issues of culture and sovereignty in both environments.  Also, the essay examines the perception of modern and traditional as a binary construct that inhibits Indigenous people from fully participating, and garnering acceptance, in contemporary, popular culture.

Bonar Buffam (2011) Can’t hold us back! Hip-hop and the racial motility of aboriginal bodies in urban spaces, Social Identities, 17:3, 337-350, DOI: 10.1080/13504630.2011.570973

My primary interest in this article is in its exploration of hip-hop forms of expression that are “distinctly Indigenous” .  In particular Buffam explores how breakdance has allowed these youth from a drop-in recreational centre in the inner city of Edmonton, to create hip-hop art that is endemic to their culture and location.  It is interesting to speculate on why something original, or different, would evolve from such a unique environment and how it is related to their culture.  It is also interesting to note how Buffam believes that these youth are challenging the status-quo by creating their own spaces in a world where hegemonic forces have previously defined them.

Alexa Woloshyn (2015) Hearing Urban Indigeneity in Canada: Self-Determination, Community Formation, and Kinaesthetic Listening with A Tribe Called Red. American Indian Culture and Research Journal: 2015, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 1-23.

There is no denying the impact that A Tribe Called Red has had on the Canadian hip-hop scene and is beginning to have on a global front.  Their popularity to a non-indigenous crowd, has afforded a dialogue permitting important questions of Indigenous people’s self determination, representation and expression in a largely ignorant albeit accepting audience.  Their music called “powwow step” incorporates traditional Frist Nation drumming with dubstep, in an environment that attempts to replicate the community, and vibe, created within a powwow.  Woloshyn attempts to explore if an accepting environment for A Tribe Called Red was of their making or was finally not challenged by the status-quo.  It is also interesting to speculate about the popularity of their music as the club scene is not especially known for creating music, with lyrics that inspire thought, as much as it is known for creating a community where problems seemingly disappear within the midst of music, dance, community and copious amounts of alcohol and other drugs.  Is a Tribe Called Red allowing us to confront a reality or escape from one?

Indigenous Hip-Hop: Michael Cebuliak

Since I have been teaching First Nation youth within the Chilcotin Cariboo school district, I have noted that these students often have an attraction to hip-hop culture and the dance, rap music, and visual aesthetic, found within.

Having researched the origins of hip-hop, it is evident that the impetus for this movement can be found within feelings of disenfranchisement and anger of African American youth living within urban ghettos with little or no hope for the future.  This feeling I suspect is very much like that which can be found by contemporary First Nation youth on reserves and in cities.  I would like to explore what Indigenous hip-hop artists are saying about the world they live in.  I would like to explore the similarities between these two cultures and examine the way in which this movement shapes future generations of Indigenous peoples.

My suspicion is that the Indigenous hip hop movement has more impact on First Nation culture, and more accurately reflects the current state of it, than its academic counterpart.  I am also interested in issues of cultural appropriation within the movement.   Seemingly it is acceptable for members of visible minorities to appropriate the culture of other minorities, but unacceptable for anyone else.  Much of the appropriation is evident in the way in which technology is used within the medium.  Auto-tune, sampling, and scratching are just some of the technologies utilized in creating the music, but one wonders is there contempt inside the larger Indigenous community, for forgetting some of the traditional means of expression and removing oneself from the traditional way of life.

I certainly will need to narrow my focus but at this moment I am interested in exploring relationships and seeing as much as the context for the movement as possible.

Native Hip Hop

Native Hip Hop is a repository for contemporary Indigenous people’s hip hop music.  It is a place to go to find out what has been on the scene for the last eight years.  It features Indigenous peoples from all over the globe, so it provides insight into how Indigenous cultures, and their unique adaption of hip hop elements, differ throughout the world.

Dancing towards the light

Dancing toward the light is a CBC feature on Nunavut youth who ward off suicide, and emotional repression, by dancing.  These efforts have been very successful in establishing the emotional well-being of the younger people and building community.

Beat Nation

This site explores my questions as to how others within Indigenous communities see hip-hop as either breaking away from tradition or taking the next step within the evolution of Indigenous expression.  The administrator of the site argues that hip-hop is not taking youth away from tradition, and supplanting them within pop-based mainstream assimilation, but helping them find new tools to discover First Nations culture.   It is a comprehensive site acknowledging all Indigenous forays into hip-hop culture through dance, music, visual arts and film.  Collieries are made between Indigenous youth exploration of hip-hop culture and Bill Reid’s migration from wood, silver and argillite and into newer forms of cultural media.

Indian Country Today: “8 Great Native Hip-Hop Artists”

Here it is posited that “hip-hop is a response to the struggles of cultural trauma” and the artists represented within have experienced this.  However, despite their cultural differences these artists are starting to garner cross-cultural and commercial success.  In pursuit of their new audience, one wonders if these artists have had to compromise their cultural differences or if their expanding audience has became more understanding and appreciative of the First Nation experience.  Also, several female artists are featured and one begins to wonder how differences of gender are expressed within their works.

First Out Here: Indigenous Hip Hop in Canada

This documentary is unique in that it seemingly examines the political, rather than personal or cultural, role of Indigenous hip-hop in Canada.  It explores issues of the missing and murdered aboriginal women, resource extraction, Indigenous sovereignty, and the national protest illustrated by Idle No More which brought Indigenous peoples together from disparate, First Nation communities and cultures.  The documentary is very informative in it’s exploration of such matters, but the comments on the YouTube page deserve special attention as the Indigenous experience in Canada has always been significantly impacted by the Other; consequently, it is interesting to observe how public perception of Indigenous matters is both changing and not.