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
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.