By Alli Moran

There is a reason why Tašunká Wítko (Crazy Horse) said: “Strong hearts to the front and weak hearts to the rear!” Right before they fought Custer and the U.S. Seventh Calvary in order to protect our children, our people, and the overall prosperity of our future generations. The government took our lands – our resources, divided our Great Nation, and placed the faces of America’s iconic “Mount Rushmore” in our most sacred place, our origin place Hé Sapá (The Black Hills) of Western South Dakota.

Now they want more! They want oil, they want to run a pipeline through our lands, through our reservations, and it once again is all in the name of “progress” and nowadays “economic development” for this great country of the United States of America – a country that was built off of disrespect, greed, genocide, slavery, colonization, and assimilation of its original peoples.

It’s 2015 and we’re at it again! Fighting this Keystone XL Pipeline and essentially the government, it’s corporations and their greed. Some people may not care, they may not worry, but will take the next tribal disbursement check, and that’s okay. Some people are going to stand up and do whatever they possibly can to protect our land, our water, and our future generations, and that’s okay too. Ultimately this pipeline will no benefit us as the corporations may say, and the reality is that it will ruin our land, our water tables, and will deplete our natural resources. The corporations will fight hard to come onto our land and pass their pipeline through our state of South Dakota, and even try to turn our own people into the perpetrators in this mess of a project.

This is real and now is the time to be strong, bléhíčiya! (take courage!) and come together to work with one another in our Óčetí Šakówín (Seven Sacred Council Fires) of our Great Nation – so that our future generations of our nations too will prosper in the sake of “progress”.

Protect our land, protect our people, and protect what our ancestors fought so hard for – for us!

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By Talon Ducheneaux

Hau, mitakyapi, I want to start by saying pilamaya yelo, thank you, for

everyone and everything that granted me permission to be here and speak today. I

find myself waking up to this thought more and more each morning: “I shouldn’t

be here.” I plan on showing you that this thought actually has a positive

connotation behind it.


Over the past few years I’ve had here at Penn, I’ve come to have somewhat

of a spiritual awakening, if you will. For background context, I come from South

Dakota. I am a proud Lakota and Dakota having grown up across many different

reservations in the state such as the Crow Creek Reservation, the Cheyenne River

Reservation, and the Rosebud Reservation. When I was born, my father chose to

be one of the first in his family to step into college, where he’d then earn a Ph.D. in

clinical psychology. He and my mother went onto do their best to raise me and my

little brother as best as they could. We would soon return to the reservation after

my father earned his degree.


After a few years of being home, I began to learn about the make-up that my

perceived difference actually was during those years of being a minority back in

the schools that I had went to near my father’s old campus. I started to hear of the

ancestry and history that I came from more and more, and simultaneously, I

unfortunately became all too familiar with what seemed to plague us as a result of

such a stripping history.


Part of this history that we each live with as indigenous peoples is one that

threatened and shook our ways of life, our physical beings, our mental beings, our

emotional beings, our religious and spiritual beings. It seemed as though anything

that could be categorized eurocentrically as “injun” or “savage” was direct target

for eradication or assimilation. “Kill the Indian, save the man.” We see the

remnants of such a historical colonial attitude through the existence of the United

States government, the existence of the reservations and tribes, through the

existence of the United States in general. I look at these statues outside with a

confused attitude most of the time; are most of these figures my national ancestry,

or are they the ones who wanted to kill my grandparents the most? This history can

also be seen through the existence of boarding schools like Carlisle, one of the

more infamous boarding school examples being just a few hours’ drive from where

we stand today. This little factoid in particular continued to stick out in my mind

more and more throughout my undergrad years here in Penn. In the modern world,

we have a common misconception of this history being over, complete, done,

history. However, through the existence and the resistance of indigenous peoples

we can see the true effects and life that history exemplifies in our very beings.


As I said before, my parents did really well for themselves during the initial

years of mine and my brother’s lives. I was lucky enough to not witness my mother

leave and to not see my father violently remorsefully drink his life away until I

turned about 13. The superheroes I once had growing up didn’t slowly die before

my eyes until I was about that age or so. Though, after that first night that my

father tried to fight me, I knew it could only be downhill from there. Such traumas

followed me to Penn, as I began to randomly shake myself awake in my dorm bed

at any sudden thud, sweating in worry and fear almost every night. Back then, I

used to pretend it was just the bass in my speakers. On these more recent nights,

they actually were just my speakers.


During the years of my parents’ descensions into addiction, alcoholism, and

neglect, I tried my best to grow up quick. I learned how to do everything on my

own. Simple things. Wash dishes, cook, clean up the party messes, put my brother

to sleep, tell him that everything will be okay, ‘The monsters in the living room

can’t come in here.’ Simple things. Budget money to get all the cosmetics I

needed, get over to my bus so I could escape to school each day, deal with losing

some of the closest cousins and comrades I grew up with to suicide, violence,

depression, addiction. Simple things.


We were funny kids, you know? Teasing each other, maybe a little bit too

much at times, but we were family. I remember one time at the annual county fair,

a cousin and I had teased our other cousin for being stood up by his then girlfriend,

only to find out that I’d suffer the same exact fate at the same fair. He got me back,

of course. We were funny like that. It was during my sophomore year in high

school when I got a call saying he had tried to kill himself. They caught him in

time, but the head-trauma consequences and brain damage ended up taking him

away from us for good; they said his head looked like a pumpkin. While listening

to it all at school on the phone, the only thought on my mind was ‘Who’s next?’

and ‘Will it be me?’


When I came to Penn, these issues didn’t stop. My little brother, who is now

a freshmen in high school, began to face them alone. I stood with great pride and

guilt as he told me how he’d handle each situation alone ‘just as I told him.’ He

knew how to do everything I wished he’d never need to know. I wanted to go back,

but I was never ‘free’ there, nor here, nor there. Instead, I found that my presence

at home only brought more from my parents, more neglect, more nonsensical

issues that dealt with them seeing me as the pass to leave and return randomly in

fury and sadness. On top of that, I knew that I was in no shape to help anything.

After a summer’s visit that resulted in sending my own father to jail with a

fractured rib, and a following winter’s visit of driving days with little to no sleep

next to a belligerent strung out man in the passenger seat to barely catch my flight,

I told myself that I could not go back until it was on my own terms. For everyone’s

sake. My heart longed for home, while my mind did all it could to erase the scream

I heard from my father as I knocked the knife from his hand and stomped on his

chest. It’s been over two years since I’ve seen my beautiful home now. My large,

beautiful, extended family, along with all the little cousins and nieces and nephews

who still don’t really know who uncle Talon is.


I came back to Penn with a deep anger and frustration with narrow-

mindedness, the same acts and attitudes that wrought destruction and chaos onto

many tribes, just like mine, resulting in the greatest attempted genocide and

holocaust this world has ever known. Watch the domino fall and hit a new

generation of neglected children forgotten in the eyes of everyone, fighting to even

be proud of who they are as indigenous. Yes, even today, we tremble at the fact

that just a few nights ago we see even our children as young as 11 attempting

suicide. All thanks to the colonizers we’d read about in the classes we were told to

go to, because “You injuns can’t make it in this world without our education.” I

cried day and night, through the pages of my writings, the tracks to my songs, the

performances of my voice, knowing that there were and are still many kids like

myself and my brother going through bad and worse due to this thing we call hate.

Segregation. Categorization in the first place. Assumptions based upon skin color.

Assumptions based upon dress. From then on, I questioned everything about

anything including these assumptions, I felt a clear frustration and anger for what

attitudes and assumptions can ultimately lead down to do to beautiful people, and I

believe we are all beautiful. From the kid eating ketchup sandwiches because mom

is strung out, to the kid being enrolled to one of the best pre-schools in the country.

I believe we are all beautiful. I know that we are all beautiful. My reasoning was

correct, but still, my relatives, I needed to learn something.


It was around the time that I got these tattoos you see on my wrists that it hit

me. I was walking over to South St. I told myself, “I can spend a few dollars. I

need to celebrate!” As I walked down nearly the entire street, I couldn’t decide on

anything, and the rain started pouring down hard! I had no umbrella, so I just

walked into the nearest building I could. It was a little bar/grill type place, and

since I was by myself, I took a seat and ordered from the bar. Next to me sat this

middle-aged man, having a beer and watching baseball. As soon as I sat down he

started chatting to me. I didn’t really feel like talking, but I figured I’d be polite.

He goes on and on, and then he says, “Man, you know, that Keystone Pipeline is

horrible. They don’t even realize that they’re breaking treaty rights by going on

tribal lands! Tribal lands!” I sat shocked. I got excited and found myself having the

one of the best two hour conversations I’ve ever had in my life. I never expected an

Irish man from Philadelphia to know so much about my own culture and have so

much respect and openness about it. I never cringed once while talking to him, this

stranger. Yes, my relatives, I still needed to learn something.


When I decided to grab the circles, to symbolize the equality of people,

whether we choose to act it or represent it each day, I feared judgment from the

tattoo artist. When in fact me and that tattoo artist ended up talking about it nearly

the whole way through, and then some. Yes, my relatives, I still needed to learn



When I walked out with my circles, to symbolize equality, I feared judgment

from cash registers, bank tellers, professors, colleagues, passerbys. “Minorities and

tattoos don’t make people comfortable, Talon.” I ended up having some of the

kindest and deepest conversations with complete strangers and their curiosities

about what my tattoos meant. Yes, my relatives, I still needed to learn something.

I had to learn to let these social constructs go, to stop allowing their

consequences from harming my body anymore. My mind became reeducated as an

interviewer once asked a big inspiration of mine, Saul Williams, the following,

“Has the conversation about the civil rights movement gone away in America. And

the racial conversation… should it still be had?” Williams replied, “I think that the

racial dialogue in America on one hand is necessary to an extent, but then you have

to leave it alone and acknowledge that it’s a social construct. And that if you

become too engaged, too reactionary, then you start basing your life and your

principles on this idea, that is simply that: an idea. And the endpoint has to be

humanity as one. We are one. So if we don’t push beyond the idea of race, then

we’re stuck.” My relatives, I cannot afford to be stuck anymore.


Now, in my culture, we hunka people a lot; we adopt people a lot. While

here in Philadelphia, I have hunka’d a few people. My hunka auntie, Valerie

DeCruz said something to me over and over again as we resonated with each other

over this recurring discussion that I am talking about. If you ever get into a

conversation like this with her, you may hear that beautiful quote by Audre Lorde:

“For master’s tools will never dismantle master’s house.” And relatives, I cannot

and will not try to end hate with the tools of hate. I still needed to learn this.


Now, I had every right to be mad, to be mad at myself, my parents, my

history, this government, this world. Here in Philadelphia, I’ll sometimes close my

eyes and remain haunted by the eyes of my father as he raged drunkenly through

our lives, my brother as he cried for love, my mother as she cried for drunken

hopelessness. And I don’t see them anymore; I look in their eyes as I close mine,

and instead I see the colonization. Because the laws of motion saw ships land

before and after 1492. The laws of motion witnessed an entire continent of people

become identified as savage and devil-worshipping. The laws of motion witnessed

human beings speak of other human beings, saying “Take away their hunting

rights,” and “Let them eat grass.” The laws of motion observed as the tides washed

out the mouths of children with soap and vinegar for speaking their own language.

Those laws of motion only saw fit to then bring about the equal and opposite

reaction, a loss of hope. From this stripping of religion and spirituality, culture,

language, what better fit than to insert suicide, depression, violence, self-violence,

dependency and abuse, and more.


I have every right in my entire body to be mad; I have every right to hate,

but I cannot do that. I refuse to do that. I can’t show the opposite of love

pretending to claim that I stand for it. I cried out loud and deep inside myself as I

heard a wonderful man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talk about the

absurd philosophy that endorses this irony. The philosophies that come about

during the time of midnight, where the only thing right is to get by, and the only

thing wrong is to get caught. Dr. King said, “According to this tragic philosophy,

it’s alright to lie, but lie with a little finesse. It’s alright to rob and exploit, but be a

dignified exploitist so that it becomes embezzlement rather than just stealing. It’s

alright even to hate, but dress your hate in the garments of love and make it appear

that you are loving when you are actually hating.’Just get by.'”


We have a lot to be angry about, we have a lot to cry about. I find myself

crying every day for my lost brothers and sisters, including the young girl of eleven

who tried to end her life just a few nights ago. The family I never met due to

unnatural death, and the family I cannot spend time with until I make the journey

they took long and short ago. I think of those moments where hope was nowhere to

be found at this hour of midnight, knowing that I myself was just a few minutes

away from it. We have a lot to cry about, my relatives, but we cannot allow our

many reasons to cry to diffuse our abilities and our rights to smile, our rights to



We must love one another, but do not worry, for love is not silent. Love does

not allow hate to go unnoticed. Your beloved relative loved you when they told

you, “Get out of my kitchen!” because they were cheffing you up the best damn

love you’ll ever find. Love is the ability to tell your relative, “You’re hurting me.

You’re killing me.” Love is to tell the world about the Keystone Pipeline, about

Vernon Traversie and the KKK those surgeons marked on his body, Leonard

Peltier and the Mandelic bars he still stands behind, Mary Brave Bird and the

power she brought to the world, our stolen children and the families who cry for

them back, our killed children and the families who long to be next to them again,

our wronged and our wrongs. Love does not hold back, and love does not lie, even

when we feel that it must in order to avoid negativity and uncomfortability. Love is

real, and can never be successfully faked without dire consequences. Love is

approaching the wrongs about yourself and those around you while acknowledging

that you are still related and that you are still beautiful.


And history is not history. 99 percent of the horrors in my life come from the

brutal domino that colonization pushed a long time ago. My tears are those that

gather from the men, women, and children who were shot at Wounded Knee, at

Sand Creek, at the Trail of Tears, at South Dakota, at Montana, at North Dakota, at

Minnesota, at Mexico, at New Mexico, at Arizona, at Pennsylvania, at Wyoming,

at Washington, and everywhere. My tears are those that drop on it all again, hoping

to show the love and compassion that was then replaced only with hate and

separation from those in which we cannot separate from, and that is everyone. My

relatives, we have every right to cry from the bad, but those tears must not blur our

vision away from the fact that we are still here in spite of it all, that all of us have

the ability to acknowledge our survivals and our abilities to love one another, that

all of us can still be as one, for we can never separate from one another. Look into

the reservations of historical trauma and see extended families laugh with another,

utilizing one of the things colonization could not take from us: laughter.


There’s another thing from MLK that resonates deep inside of my soul as I

say this: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the

starless midnight of racism and war, that the bright daybreak of peace and

brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and

unconditional love will have the final word.” My relatives, I wake up nearly every

morning shocked yet thankful that I am alive once again, because history told me

not to. I didn’t listen, and instead woke up with tears of happiness in my eyes, for it

is another day’s worth of chances to give that unconditional love the final word

that it deserves.


Hau mitakuye oyasin. Anpetu waste yuha yelo.

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By Talon Ducheneaux


​Without music, I don’t think I would have made it this far in life. That’s a bit dramatic and cliché isn’t it? Allow me to explain.

​My name is Talon Bazille Ducheneaux. I am 21 years old, studying psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (in Philadelphia). I am a proud Lakota and a proud Dakota. There are three reservations in which I call home. The Crow Creek Sioux Reservation where my mom’s side of the family is from, the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation where my father’s side of the family is from, and lastly, the Rosebud Sioux Reservation where I ended up graduating high school from.

​Currently, I am hoping to do work within adolescent counseling and guidance counseling. On the side, I write spoken word and I also try my hand at making free music. My involvement in this hip hop medium, and within music in general is one that I can honestly attribute to my well-being, be it mental, spiritual, or emotional. Through it, I have been able to do anything from study, to survive a night of trauma, to withstanding a 7 hour drive on an unknown bus, to writing this piece that I am right now. Of course, I have other mentors, leaders, idols, and role-models who’ve helped bring me up to the man that I am today, but without music I would have not endured the moments I had to go through alone.

For as long as I can remember, I was a geeky kid. Music was an extreme obsession in my life. I couldn’t just know what songs I liked, I had to have them studied. Song origins, band origins, complete discography, sample origins, lyric meaning, metaphor usage, and so much more were a must to me. So much so that I remember an uncle teasing me once, “What’re you gonna do when you meet a girl you like, huh? Go up to her and say, ‘Hey baby, come here. Let me tell you a lyric.’”

​Part of my initial love for music and recorded audio came from my parents. My father, one of the first in his family to go off and earn a PhD, showed me his head-banging material from his younger days when I was still a toddler. By the time I was 8 years old, I knew the controversies surrounding songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “One”. I learned what the lyrics hinted at, what messages they portrayed, and what messages people thought they portrayed. “You ever listen to Led Zeppelin backwards, man?”

​My mother was a little more slick. Her preference of music was smoother. From her, I had tapes of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” and Ginuwine’s “My Pony”. I recall nodding my tiny head to the beats in songs like LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity feat. Dr. Dre”. This is how we did it, because we just had to come on and slam when we wanted to jam.

​My older cousins presented me with what I think ignited the deep desire in me to know every song possible. Sometimes I’d get to cruise around the rez with them, making mental notes in hopes of finding played songs by Method Man, Tupac, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Triple 6 Mafia, Da Brat, Richie Rich, Too Short, Luniz, Dru Down, Tech N9ne, Scarface, MC Eiht, Redman, Nas, Celly Cel, Knoc-turn’al, Sugawolf, Wu-Tang, and whoever else they had on at the time. As I put the burned CDs in my small booklet, I felt like I was that much closer to becoming as cool as they seemed to me.

​After a while, though, the music I was being presented with just didn’t cut it anymore. The metal that my dad had introduced to me was too “weak” now, and overall, I just needed something more. I needed something that was my own. I ended up listening to Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Mayhem, Slipknot, Rob Zombie, Atreyu, Cradle of Filth, and others. On top of that, I needed more hip hop, now becoming a fan of Rza’s pre-Wu work, like Gravediggaz. MF Doom, Madlib, Immortal Technique, Necro, ICP, Jedi Mind Tricks, Brotha Lynch Hung, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Killa C, Freeway, Eminem, Mr. Doctor, and so many others became artists that I was obsessing over at my own finding.

Where most kids spent their time playing outside, being social, I was mostly just thinking about music. An all-around geek, it was even the soundtracks of video games that initially sold my heart for whatever game I placed nostalgia and love behind. Bomberman Hero on the N64 will forever be my favorite video game of all time, in large part due to its soundtrack. When June Chikuma (the artist behind the Bomberman soundtracks) followed me on Soundcloud, I nearly fainted. Soundtracks of certain movies became what I remembered most from certain flicks, particularly horror. Anything I could stick in my ears was for the taking whilst growing up.

​Part of me truly fears falsely perpetuating stereotypically negative aspects of life on the reservation, but the following has been my experience and is in part what has made me into the person that I am today, thus I must speak the entire truth. While my father was successful in receiving his PhD in clinical psychology, working with mental health at home in whatever way that he could, something happened that changed everything. As the distancing between him and my mother increased, their divorce eventually ensued. Following the divorce came the downward spiraling and sudden changes within the parents/superheroes whom I had once known.

​I will never forget the sight I saw one day in the living room of an old I.H.S. house, a house which would change drastically in the months to come. At the couch sat my father, a bottle of liquor in his hand along with a sunken head. In his ear was my grandmother, speaking of the woman who had just left for good, “I told you that bitch was a whore!” Kids ran around the house, aunties vultured over the belongings that my mom had left behind, some on the computer taking whatever music they couldn’t find elsewhere, and there I stood watching it all chaotically play out in slow motion. ‘Last time, dad got in a car accident and I didn’t see him or mom for a good day or two’ I thought to myself. I couldn’t be inside any longer. I stood outside waiting for what would come next.

​What came next involved violence from the man I once looked up to, a physically busted up home, fear and trembling on school nights, becoming a master at counseling my younger brother, making up reasons explaining that ‘mom and dad do still care about us, little brother.’ Inside I grew hatred for my youth, wanting to be independent and free away from the horrors I knew at every home I took part in, every floor that I slept on, every hammy-down that I settled for and then eventually was embarrassed about. Every time alcohol was chosen before me or my brother. Every time I had to be a parent, cook, do laundry, clean up party messes, budget borrowed money for cosmetics, and whatever else I had to learn to do and do well, or else.

​Accompanying my struggle was music. I’d listen to Tupac’s “Do for Love” every time I walked down Rapid City’s downtown area, pretending that I could one day have enough money of my own to take a woman to one of the restaurants that I window-shopped at. I’d blast South Central Cartel’s CD “Random Violence”, a CD that I found on the ground when walking home in Eagle Butte one day, pretending that the thumps heard from the other room weren’t from yet another fight, just the bass from my speakers. I’d walk down Bad Nation Road jamming out to MF Doom’s “Rhymes like Dimes” pretending that I had a few myself. Music became the therapeutic soundtrack for life’s problems. My journey into making music and writing lyrics of my own would only further the therapy I didn’t get.

​Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a lyricist of some sort. Me and my cousin would pretend we were in a band together, and I was the singer/songwriter. I’d write ABC-level rhymes and together we’d take apart CD jewel cases, putting them back together with our own drawn and cut out labels. It wasn’t until I entered the 4th grade that I actually started writing lyrics to rap. I practiced and practiced, but the possibility of it going anywhere never came to mind. It was always just something I did.

​Two major events in my life that sparked my hope and aspiration towards recording music came from my cousin Zane Azure, and a hip hop artist known as Maniac: The Siouxpernatural. I remember sitting in a room with my mother and her sisters, each gasping, “Ayes!” and “Wurr johns!” when talking about the apparent lyrics that Zane had used in a song that he released. I never knew my cousin did that. I grew excitement as they continued to gasp over his explicit language.

​Before his untimely death, I sat inspired by him as we’d try our bests to plug earbuds into microphone jacks, seeing if we could record that way. He showed me what persistence was, what it meant to just keep trying and to keep dreaming about something that was so fun to do. When I finally had music of my own put out, I placed the CDs into the ground that he lay rested in, hoping he’d like what he heard. “Rest in peace, cuz.” Rest in peace.

​This same feeling washed over me when I heard about Maniac: The Siouxpernatural. As I listened to his “Nightmerika” album, I thought to myself, “This really is a possibility.” I was so happy that voices from places that I was familiar with were on a beat like that, messages that I could directly relate to. The expressions and tonalities that were natural to me in the place that I grew up and knew the most. Receiving inspiration from both Zane and Maniac, I began to write more, to try more, and to push more towards music. Within the context of the struggles that I was enduring in my life, I finally had something better to hope for, something positive and reflective that I could reside in.

​As I began to make songs, I noticed that each high school mixtape involved a distancing going away from the real me. I wasn’t being myself, and I wasn’t saying what I really wanted to say. It was amazing for me to now be passing out CDs, but the artists and messages that I grew up learning about made me realize that portraying a true and personal message meant more than simply passing out a CD to someone in hopes that they’d like it. I had to take a break, so after three years and around ten 20-track mixtapes, I took a break mid-junior year in high school. I had to find myself and understand who I really was. Something told me I needed an awakening of some sort.

​A few years after taking a break from releasing music, I found myself beginning my freshman year as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I started to finish this process getting to know myself, and through the inspiration of the artists that I came across while conducting a hip hop show on the school’s student radio station, I went back into releasing music. Through artists like Frank Waln and Nake Nula Waun, Illmaculate, Def-I, Supaman, Asharri the Vagabond, NightShield, and so many more, I received a final push to get back into the swing of doing what I love.

​Music became my addiction. I am not a party-goer. I don’t go out too often. My Friday nights usually include me writing or listening to music at some point in time. Thus, I found refuge in the radio show that I had and the music that I was constantly working on. Since freshman year, I have now released 20 various projects onto my bandcamp page online.

​Through the radio show, I managed to work with the indigenous group Natives At Penn and the Greenfield Intercultural Center on campus to make one of my dreams come true. As we went on to host the 2013 Spring All Ivy Native Conference, we flew out indigenous hip hop artists whom I have come to idolize and look up to over the years. Frank Waln & Sam Sampson, NightShield, Def-I, and DJ Garronteed came through to discuss and perform their music for the attendees of the event. It was that night of the performance that a childhood dream of mine came to life. While daydreaming of flying away from the situations I had encountered on and around the reservations where I grew up, I had pictured and envisioned performing alongside the same local and rising artists around me. Countless hours were spent on YouTube and other sites listening to and watching these idols around me. That night after the performance, I sat on the stage as the room cleared and began to tear up. I never thought that something like that would actually happen, that I’d get to open up for these guys at a venue in Philadelphia, let alone to even be a college student in Philadelphia in the first place! Music continued to fill my life with joy.

​Simply going to college far away did not resolve the problems that I faced at home. As time went on, I found myself worrying of what my younger brother was now enduring alone without me. Guilt constantly swept over me, as I could only be an ear and send whatever little money I had at the most. My appearance was now gone, and I almost constantly beat myself up for it. I was free, and yet I wasn’t.

​On top of stressors from home, I also found myself undergoing post-traumatic stress, if you will. Any thump that I heard while sleeping in my dorm room resulted in me jumping myself awake. I had nightmares, recurring memories and flashbacks of what was. I couldn’t seem to get over what I now had the space to think about. I began to despise the mirrors I looked into, as I felt I could slowly start to see the people who didn’t care about me for so many years at a time. On the phone, and in public, I tried my best to repress and mask any feelings that I felt while alone. I found myself damaged and depressed; I was in a lower slump than I have ever been in before.

​It was hip hop that I used for therapy, because experiences with actual therapy seemed to only result in shocked expressions by whatever person I was signed off to. Sometimes, my problems and issues were just waved off with immediate responses of, “How are your grades?” Music, on the other hand, did not express shock when I spoke the truth. It didn’t disregard my problems. It was just there, so with it I exhaled every issue I had in my life past and present.
​I grew to be a bit of recluse in college, and a summer spent alone didn’t help anything. I found myself mostly alone, not wanting to go out much anymore (not that I really did in the first place) after a recent 4-year breakup with my ex-girlfriend. On top of that, I had begun to realize that I would not be able to venture home for a visit for some time, and this brought more depression. My schedule now became wake up, mope to the shower, go to class, go to work, take the bus back home, eat something terrible, and go to bed. It began to become a chore to even write anymore. It became a chore just to wake up in the morning, to even have my eyes open anymore.

Things changed that summer when I bought myself a record player. It was a bit of a hefty price, but I felt it was worth it. I began to understand and become more fascinated with samples and music from past technologies in which I could discover. Suddenly, I found myself going to the flea markets and record stores in Philadelphia every weekend. At home, I’d have a stack of dollar-records ready for me to listen to, sample, and study. I became a late night viber. This went onto maintaining the projects that I had been working on. I wasn’t necessarily happy, but I was definitely getting by. The vinyl and I went onto having many conversations alone in that summer studio apartment. It all told me that things were going to be okay, conversations that I truly believed in.

Towards the end of that summer, I began to get a little desperate in the music that I was releasing. As a low-budget, internet-based, unknown rapper, I found myself getting little to no reception, as per usual. Depression increased in me, until I remembered something very important on the release day of the end-summer project that I put out.

​The messages of Zane, my older cousins, and just life-mentors in general resonated in my memory. “All that matters is you’re out there and putting yourself out there. Everything else is secondary and not necessary.” The night of the release, I chose to stop moping for one night and instead headed down to South Street. I bought a few comics, ate pizza, enjoyed being out and around people. I found myself stopping at a park in Philly plopped down on a bench. Something told me to just look up, so I did. In the sky I counted 7 of my ancestors. Usually, I could only see one or two stars in the sky at one time. I smiled to myself and began to head to the bus. “I’m alive, and I’m doing this. Everything else IS secondary, isn’t it?”

​At the beginning of the next summer, I found myself in the same park finishing up writing for a short mixtape. The breeze of that day felt amazing. Clouds began to roll in, and so I went back to South Street to find a place to eat out at by myself. For some reason, while walking down the street I couldn’t make up my mind. The rain began to pour heavy, and I just went in the first place to the right. I found myself at a bar table next to an old Irish man, who almost immediately began talking to me. I didn’t want to talk, but just acted friendly and as nice as I could be.

​Suddenly, he said to me, “You know, that Keystone thing they’re trying to do is wrong, man. People who don’t realize that are idiots. They don’t even realize it goes over indigenous lands, man. Indigenous lands!”

​I sat in shock. He knew? He cared? I responded, “I actually just went to a protest about it in DC a month or so ago. A big idol of mine performed there and everything.”

​“Lakota?” he asked me.

​“Yeah, and Dakota too.”

​“From South Dakota?”


​“Man… that is a beautiful place over there isn’t it?”

​“It sure is….”

​We went onto talking and sharing, culturally exchanging with one another for at least an hour. As I left, still amazed that I met someone so knowledgeable, open, and respectable for once, he said to me, “I hope to see you again, my friend.”

​“Me too, sir. I’ll see you again.”

​I went home and wrote one last song that night. Maybe another solo summer wouldn’t be so bad, especially with the life lessons and openness that hip hop and music had taught me.
​One minute, you’re just another kid from the rez. The next minute, you’re the spokesman for an entire continent of indigeneity. In college, I have faced almost every question about native peoples, each with a response of, “I can’t speak for everyone, because we are all different, but in the way that I was raised…” I felt like a douche. How could I even try to speak for a whole people?

​I chose to instead wrap this frustration in my music and into an art form that I never really tried before: spoken word. Slowly, I began to express my frustrations, be them social, political, about class, about poverty, about the kids who I fought for, about the brother I fought for, about everything that I myself fought for. I took refuge in being able to speak loud and proud about my own experiences, trying my best to prevent anyone from generalizing things about the people I came from, about the communities I came from. Music helped me do this. I remembered Chuck D’s words, Immortal Technique’s words, Asharri the Vagabond’s words, Tupac’s words. The teachers I had while growing up helped me see how to react to all of this in a positive and appropriate way. I found my voice on my own terms.

​With the frustrations that came from moving to such a different area on the east coast, something positive came from it as well. I was forced to understand and hash out my own identity further. Who was I, really? How do I walk in this world?

​I am myself. That is what hip hop told me. It didn’t tell me to “pop nines” or “fuck b#%$@#$” like so many said it did. I learned from the best to be myself, even if it meant I had to do it by myself. I refused, then, to perpetuate any stereotype around me. I refused to allow the fear of any stereotype to control my behavior either. I went in, no braid or long hair (my choice), no buckskin or feather, no fake costume that I didn’t wear before, no suit that I had to use to impress a “more sophisticated” crowd. Hip hop and music gave me the confidence to do that.

​I began to love myself for who I was. I knew who I was. I was a rez kid from South Dakota, born into a beautiful, yet active and loud family. I was a kid who loved music, video games, and comic books, and who wasn’t afraid to lose attraction from girls because of it. I knew a woman would love me for all of it one day, and that that would be more worth it. I would rather walk away with nothing but my integrity than leave with everything but. Hip hop and music helped me keep that integrity close to heart. This didn’t restrict change either, rather, it helped facilitate it.

​And so, there is just some of the journey that I have went through so far. My life wasn’t the best, but I know it wasn’t the worst, either. I am a Lakota. I am a Dakota. I am a human. I am a being. A true geek at heart, with a sense of humor that only those who I love can handle.

​I pay respect where respect is due. Without my family, my tiospaye, my oyate, my extended relations everywhere, I would not be here. Without the endurance of the ancestors before me, I would not be here. Without the guidance of those by me, I would not be here. But also, without music, I would not be here either. Through experiencing it, ingesting it, and living it, I have kept sanity, spirituality, peace, and endurance within myself. Hip hop is more to me than just breakbeats and egoism. It’s everything to me, and without the works of other indigenous artists around me, other independent artists around me, and other artists in general, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have held my morals in place as I do today. I wouldn’t have stayed myself through every life change and transformation as I do today.

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