Word Warriors: An Interview With NIA Contributor Talon Bazille Ducheneaux

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Talon Bazille Ducheneaux. I’m a proud member of the Cheyenne River Sioux and Crow Creek Sioux tribes, I also have a lot of connection with the Rosebud Sioux tribe, where I went to high school. I grew up kind-of bouncing back and forth between schools and reservations, and while I did that pieces of my heart stayed with the friends and family I said tok’sa (see you later) to. People ask me where I’m from, and I always feel compelled to just say South Dakota because of that. I don’t want to disrespect one community by not mentioning them on accident or because people get kinda weird when I start listing off all the places I consider home.

Throughout my life I’ve always been interested in music and writing. Music has always been my “go-to” when life gets difficult. I grew up around a lot of negativity, much of it within my own home, and music not only helped me get through that, but it helped me grow intellectually and spiritually too. It helped me mature to see and acknowledge all the positive I have and have had in my life also, which is plenty.

Believe that.

Listening to and studying music has always been fulfilling, but my spirit also longs to create it as well, as I also feel like a writer. When I was in 4th grade, me and a few friends began to make our first attempts at rapping. By 8th grade I was recording with a few much older and much more skilled uncles. By 9th grade all I was doing was writing lyrics to beats, releasing as much material as I could (but still feeling like I wasn’t doing enough). As I got into my junior year of high school though, I sideswiped it to find myself and to be a better person for a loved one. I wasn’t saying much with my lyrics at the time, and instead of writing about the negativity and the truth in it, I felt like I was instead creating it and not truly being the person I felt I was within it. I needed to find myself a bit, and focus on college. As I got into college, I started doing radio more and more, and that got me inspired again to release the new things I had been writing. I got my feet wet with making beats, and as the years progressed on I have now graduated college with a bachelor’s in psychology and have released a number of projects made solely with my beats or with other collaborators and friends.

So, with all of that, I make music, I write, I’ve studied (and now hoping to work extremely soon, sitting around while job hunting just doesn’t feel happy for me lol), and overall I just consider myself and expression artist and expression advocate. I’ve seen what holding back can do to people, communities, countries, and the world; when people feel they have to put on a different face and are uncomfortable with who they truly are and what they truly feel. It haunted me for quite some time, attempting to “fit in” and “be cool”, but with freeing myself from a lot of the norms and expectations, I feel I’ve been able to make myself happier and more fulfilled by expressing my true feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. I’m not perfect, a savior, or anything better than the next person. I am ikce “common” and try to stay as humbled and unjaded as possible, though I’m not perfect at that either. What I am, though, is honored to be who I am, where I come from, and in being an expression artist.

What was your proudest accomplishment this year?
I honestly didn’t think it would be, but I guess it is having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania – an Ivy League school in Philadelphia, PA. I say I didn’t think it would be, because I don’t want to brag about it, but I’m honestly proud of having done it. It was something that seemed so out-of-reach for me, even though I was determined to go to college while growing up. No, if it hadn’t been for the help and inspiration of a close friend and fellow-NIA contributor, I wouldn’t have even really considered applying there at all.

I remember driving from South Dakota to Philly in my little red Mazda that couldn’t really go over 65 mph even if you wanted it to. It had a busted radio – so no music along with rolled down windows (because no air) for the entire trip. One night during the trip I was at a motel getting ready for bed, and for some reason I just had this feeling like I was going to die soon, I can’t really explain it. I didn’t really and haven’t really told anybody about it, but I swear I could just feel it. I think the unknown ahead had my head convinced that it was inevitable. I didn’t visit Penn once before going and had no clue what was about to happen. When I think back on that, perhaps that was Creator preparing to humble me further, as the road ahead would be so trying, but gratifying. I had to learn to be grateful and appreciative of a lot, especially during those moments of little. I struggled, but compared to how I came up I felt rich most of the time, even during moments of hunger and anxiety over whether I could afford anything.

Overall, I grew so much I think. I feel very matured and yet still open and humbled in knowing that I’ll always be ikce (common) and needing to learn much more. People warn me as I return to the rez (getting experience before going back to grad school) that I should not grow too entwined or attached. I think they all worry that I’ll stop trying, but I’m honestly so focused on going back for more education it’s crazy. I think in completing the first four years I’ve kind of gained this accomplishment that keeps me on that level of “maybe I’ll die tomorrow or tonight, so I better do something before I go into the spirit world.” When I sat on the train back home, I had that similar feeling again, so maybe I’m doing the right thing here.

What motivates you?
Artists motivate me everyday. Writers, musicians, lyricists, visual creators, etc. all fill me with this inspiration to keep writing, making beats, and just keep thinking. Like I said, I constantly listen to music, and in my future dreams I want to have my own home that’s covered in art that means something to me. Lyrics painted on the wall that hit me in some sort of way.

I geek out about the art too. Most of my belongings are old video games, vinyl records, books, art, etc. or things inspired from them. I like to go further and learn about the artists and where they come from and why they did what they did and everything. Artists motivate me so much that I’ve been doing radio solely for the purpose of appreciation for over 4 years now. Right now as I write this, even, I’m listening to Shotty Horroh’s new album “Sixteen Minutes Past 3”. He’s one of my favorite battle rappers and rappers in general from England.

If you could sit down with the decision makers of America, what would you tell them about Native America?
I’d tell them the same thing that needs to be told to any “problem solver” (be them psychological, mental, biomedical, political, etc.) – that everyone is different with different needs and a varying story that needs to be respected and treated as such. As people that strive for a better tomorrow, I feel we all have this tendency to gloss over with “golden solutions” that just don’t exist. Look at me, I’m Lakota and Dakota, but I’m a different one. My hair is super short, I’m not fluent but I try to learn, I rock beads but I’m still struggling to connect with my culture and teachings, I listen to my uncles on the Bad Nation drum group but I also listen to ABSRDST and Joey Bada$$, I grew up around alcohol and drugs but I also grew up around family and love, I can wear a tie but I don’t really want to, I watch anime and read manga but I also read psychological studies and watch my community continue. The person next to me on this rez right now is no better than me, but I swear we are so different that sometimes the generalizations are just too much to handle.

In short, yes, cross-collaboration and grouping helps create great alliances and important connections that’ll help troubles going on, but never think we’re the same or that we desire the same thing or believe in the same thing. We’re greater than that. Don’t be lazy and assume we’ll all comply with simplicity. Our people are far more powerful and wise than that. I mean no disrespect, but it’s truly a thing that must be approached when interacting with different communities, even if they come from the same nation.

What’s the best advice you have for college-bound Native students?
There’s one thing that always kept me calm and collected throughout my journey. It’s what I’ve heard about the Grass Dancers we have at the PowWows. They used to be the first ones out, to tap the grass down with respect and create a path for our people to enjoy themselves. Understand that to walk in a good way doesn’t always mean to use the road paved ahead, you can tap your own grass down too. With tall grass ahead, there’s so many people around that will say you’re doing it wrong or that you aren’t following proper instruction. Be respectful to your elders and listen, but know that in following your own dream you may worry those who do not understand it yet. I think back to what Patrice O’Neal, a late comedian, said about dreamchasing. “You ever wake up from a dream, and try to explain it to someone else? And they go, ‘Really? That’s what happened? Unicorns and what? Yeah, okay cool guy.’.” It’s like that. Our dreams are so new you have to be prepared for people on all sides, urban, rural, collegiate, reservation, family, friends, peers, etc. to worry about your decisions. Do what makes you happy and what you know will prepare you for what you need to do, think hard and contemplate a lot, and stay confident. We’re all figuring life out for the first time here, so stay happy and stay focused. Times are tough but gratifying nonetheless. No matter what, what you are doing is good, so long as you do it with a good heart and a steady mind. As someone who stayed away from some of my communities for 3-8 years with not even a visit, I understand the pains that it can bring being away, but trust me, now that I’m back the same people who truly loved me are giving me welcome back hugs with open arms and warm hearts. You didn’t “escape the rez” or whatever community or city you are from, you simply told it tok’sa ake – I will see you again.