Wampum and its importance to Eastern Woodland Native Americans

Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Native American tribes of the Eastern Woodlands. The beads are harvested from the shells of Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clams and are typically white and purple. Native Americans would harvest the clams in the summer and eat their contents before working on the shells. The process of creating wampum was long and hard, usually taking a full day to make just one bead. Shells would be ground or drilled down very carefully using rocks. Not only was the process difficult, but it was also somewhat dangerous, fine dust from the shaved off shells could cut up the lungs if ingested so Native Americans would often use water to limit the dust.

Wampum belt made of shell beads, buckskin, & ribbon. Anthro #A738.1

After the beads were made, they were placed on strings made of either plant fibers or animal tendons. They were often worn decoratively and sometimes even formed into belts which were used to tell stories and mark agreements between peoples. There were usually only two colors of wampum, white and purple, each having their own meanings. White wampum usually denoted purity or light while purple wampum typically represented war, grieving, and death. The two colors would often be combined to represent the duality of the world. 

 

 

Wampum strings and belts had many uses such as currency, gifts, and a means of telling stories. Tribes would often trade wampum with each other in exchange for other goods. Due to the meaning of each color of bead, wampum was also used as a gift, white wampum being given to celebrate things like births or marriages and purple wampum being used for condolences after the loss of loved ones. Moreover, mixed belts, which represented the duality of the world, were given as peace treaties and used to tell stories to others and future generations. 

 

 

 

The worth of wampum was also recognized by many European settlers. A letter written to Thomas Penn from James Logan in 1937 shows that the Europeans knew the significance of wampum. In a proposal to meet the chiefs of the Six Nations at Albany, Logan proposed that Governor Gooche accompany his letter with 2 to 3 fathoms of wampum as a peace offering. Wampum beads and belts even became a commodity in Europe. In a receipt written from Isaac Low in 1769, a paper bundle of wampum was sold to someone in Europe for £15 11s. 6d. 

Although the significance of wampum has dwindled for non-Native Americans, wampum and the process of making it is still unquestionably important to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. This video shows the traditional process of making wampum by hand, still followed by Native Americans today.

References:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to [Jelles Fonda, Caghnawaga]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b8a373ad-28d8-942d-e040-e00a18065263

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to the Proprietary [Thomas Penn]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/bb4ebb8a-0e86-c85e-e040-e00a18063bc4

Scott Dressel-Martin. Wampum belt. 7/26/2010. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dmns.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/DMNSDMS~4~4~11333~100798. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

Traditional Wampum Belts. PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/video/traditional-wampum-belts-gy05in/. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power.

Wallace, Anthony F C. “The Iroquois Wampum Belts.” Anthropology News (Arlington, Va.) 12, 4 (1971): 7–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/an.1971.12.4.7.2.

Wampum Belt. 1682. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dlgadmin.galileo.usg.edu/iiif/2/dlg%2Fguan-dpla%2Fartsus%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26-00001.jp2/full/1000,/0/default.jpg. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

 

Alice C. Fletcher and Ethnomusicolgy’s Origins

As a class, we recently learned about Frances Densmore’s ethnographic research on Native Americans, in which she recorded and documented myriad songs and information about the culture of multiple Native American tribes in Minnesota and the US.  Densmore approached her research on these groups as a scientific endeavor—viewing Native Americans through a nineteenth-century racialized lens that perceived them as tantamount to the natural landscape and representative of a primitive European past. However, she was not the first, nor the only ethnologist learning about and extracting the sonic resources of Great Plains tribes at that time. Consider Alice C. Fletcher, who “began collecting ethnological and musical data in 1883 among the Omaha and Dakota Indians.”[1]As both Fletcher and Densmore’s work perpetuated cultural imperialism, understanding how it contributed to the development of ethnomusicology at the expense of native cultures perhaps leads to a better understanding of the discipline’s tainted, yet prolific, roots.[2]

An 1893 news clipping from the scrapbook of Ely Samuel Parker describes Alice C. Fletcher as  “A Woman Who Worthily Stands for Her Sex,” referring to her work as President of the Anthropological Society.[3]  Having studied “Indians in our Western Territories,” the writer declares that “there is no one in this or any other country whose knowledge on the subject approaches hers.”[4] For her research, Fletcher “…spent years among the Indians, living in their camps unprotected, learning their language, studying their customs, music…”[5] The writer states that at the time of this publication, she was in the midst of “revising…an important work on the music of the Omaha Indians…”[6] Two decades later into her career, she published a 600+ page work on the history of the Omaha Tribe that I tracked down in the library.[7] Like Frances Densmore in numerous works like Chippewa Customs, she notates indigenous songs using western notation (reinforcing its colonial hierarchy), and uses a social scientific lens to try and explain their culture. Yet in the 1893 clipping, the writer assures us that her “work among the Indians has a benevolent as well as scientific side”[8]

The article goes on to describe her friendship developed with the tribe, and how she leverages this to “secure for the Peabody museum trophies and relics from the different tribes which had never ever been seen by a white man.”[9] Ultimately, this transactional relationship unfortunately outlines how researchers of her era thought it ok to exploit the trust of tribes. Native Americans fit a Western narrative believing that “these supposedly primitive musical cultures were part of a dying world that was succumbing to American civilization and that scholars needed to preserve what they could before their assumed extinction.”[10] Fletcher’s work was profound—she published the first ethnographic presentation of a Native American tribe’s music in 1893 (the aforementioned work on the Omaha) and she wrote more than 97 entries for the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico in 3 years—however, it was predicated by racist assumptions all too common at the turn of the century.[11] It’s important to conceptualize how Fletcher’s work as among the first to record Native American music provided detailed documentation of their history while perpetuating biased beliefs of a racialized musical hierarchy that others, like Densmore, would build upon.

[1] Sue Carol DeVale, “Fletcher, Alice Cunningham,” Grove Music Online, 2001. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000009816.

[2] Krystyn R Moon, “The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair: Frances Densmore and the Racialization of Music,” American Music 28, no. 2 (2010): 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[3] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, The Newberry Library, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alice C Fletcher (Alice Cunningham), and Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, Washington: [publisher not identified], 1911.

[8] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[9] Ibid.

[10] Moon, “”The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair,” 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[11] Alice C. Fletcher, et al., Life among the Indians: First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas  (Lincoln, Nebraska, 2013): 61, 71.  http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1495860.

 

Learning Culture Through Immersion

Francis Densmore was an ethnomusicologist working in the early 20th century to try and save American Indian music which she thought was going extinct. We criticize Densmore’s ethnographies of American Indian music because it uses Western musical notation and form, as well as statistics, to try and describe music which it does not reflect accurately. Native musics cannot be accurately represented by Western standards because the songs were not, in the slightest, based on Western musical practices.

So the question arises: how can we more accurately describe Native American musicking? How do we more accurately describe any historical practice that has been put through a process of Westernization? As practitioners of Western musical notation, form, and math ourselves, we may be at a loss for how to represent music, or any of the aforementioned “historical practices” we wish to learn more about or preserve in a way that is true to the culture from which it came without imparting our unconscious bias, embedded in the way that we learn, onto the culture of another. We must do this not for the mere respect of peoples whom the majority of Americans owe our stolen land, but because we must provide more accurate information based of the findings of people like Densmore. We could not do the work we do without the information that she and others like her have gathered, and at the same time we must make this data more accurately represent the history of the culture from which it came, in a way in which we can understand, if we truly believe in the pursuit of the truth.

So, how do we more accurately describe and learn about American Indian music, given that using Western notation does not accurately reflect these cultures? Furthermore, to expand (and with the aim of avoiding generalizations), this goes for the music of individual tribes as well as American Indian music on the whole as well as any music for which Western music does not accurately represent.

If we choose to avoid Western methods, then what should we use? The first thing that comes to mind would be to use the methods which Native Americans themselves use to learn, teach, and depict their music. Pow-wow, for example, is a way in which members of certain tribes pass along information through generations.

Wendake Pow-wow, 2019

Another method that Native Americans use to depict their music is through pictographs.

Kokopelli Pictograph

By learning what we are able from a certain culture’s portrayal or demonstration of their own art, we can create scholarship about a different culture while avoiding shoehorning their customs into the dimensions of another.  While it may not seem like we can glean much from pictographs, or maybe even pow-wows at first, opening our minds to different expressions of art and culture immerses us more deeply in the lives of other people. It is necessary to go through this process of experiential learning in order to give the correct context for what we discover, not only because it greatly reduces the chances of Westernizing something that is not but also to come to more accurate conclusions.

https://books.google.com/books?id=HyZ6EAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Click to access PowWows.pdf

 

The Studying of Native American Music: Is it Ethical?

When one thinks of Native American music, what comes to mind? For me, I think of powwows which consist of dancing and music and fancy regalia. I additionally think of bison burgers and jewelry buying stations (where I still own a piece I bought 10 years ago). My experience, however, is not the full truth.

Frances Densmore, a name popular in the musicology world for studying Native American music, was one of the first people to attempt to understand more about the world of Native American music. In 1919-1920 (not too long ago), Densmore conducted a study among members of the Skidi and Chaui Bands near Pawnee, Oklahoma. 1  The first treaty between specifically Pawnee and the Government was in 1818 with the Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.

Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.2 

With this treaty, it felt that Natives were becoming more known about and taken into account for living in the United States. But some would say how problematic it would still become. The chart below documents the tonality and takes into account the first note and how that affects the key of the melody.

However helpful this may be to the Western culture in understanding the first hearings of Native American music. It almost disrespects their culture and tradition. It is not ethical or right to fully understand and teach others about Native music through a Western Lens then it would be for Natives to teach classical music through a Native American Lens. It’s like teaching an animal to read a book!

A study done by Mark Evarts, published in 1967, shows a different type of notation after hearing Native American melodies.3  For example, the first melody is titled “A Bear Song of Peter Wood” and “Old Hand Game Song” and explains the story behind these songs by analyzing through explanation with only a bit of notation. Evarts writes that the song symbolizes two opposite parties in war which is acted out emotionally and song on “meaningless” syllables. Evarts says meaningless but how do we know it is or isn’t? He writes the words below and attempts to show the song in stanzas. I believe it is better notation than completely composing it to look Western-styled.

Overall, I feel that as society progresses, the understanding of other cultures’ music will continue to grow with respectful and helpful learning. We have to be able to understand through two different perspectives, ours and theirs, to get as complete of a picture as possible. We will not always be able to understand the meaning or why one part of the song says a certain word, but we can treat them as humans.

1  Frances Densmore, Pawnee Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972 [1929])

2 Ratified Indian Treaty 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818. The Indigenous Digital Archive. https://digitreaties.org/treaties/treaty/162559362/

3 Evarts, Mark. “Music of the Pawnee – Sung by Mark Everts. Internet Archive. (Folkways Records; Kahle-Austin Foundation, 1967).

Ethicality of Researching Native American Tribes

Along the border of New Mexico and Arizona one can find the Zuni people, a North American Indian tribe. Believed to be the descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo, they have a long history of connection to the Pueblo tribe, including the involvement in the Pueblo Rebellion against the spanish. Their culture is deeply rooted in religion, spirituality, and the earth, specifically being known as the “Sun Worshippers”. Additionally the Zuni people, much like many other native tribes, utilize music in order to create a community space while completing activities like fire starting or welcoming the sunrise. The main primary source that I would like to share is a journal written by Castañeda de Nájera as he described his journey to Cibola, New Mexico. The book begins with his departure from Compostela on February 23, 1540 to Cibola. This happened to be the “poor pueblo village of the Zuni Indians”. There are also accounts of discovering as they travel America, but I will primarily focus on the Zuni tribe. Additionally, the later section of this book described the native american tribes including the making of their houses, customs, religion, agriculture, and dress. The book then ends with their unsuccessful expedition back to Mexico.

The infamous 16th century Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an important expedition in 1540 to New Spain in search of gold. Much like many other explorers of the time forced his way into many tribes including the Zuni tribe of Hawikuh, where modern New Mexico remains. This was the first discovery of native tribes for Coronado and it ultimately ended in violence as he attempted to take the town, which caused the tribe to flee their homes. This failure led to further exploration and several more battles with various tribes. As Coronado inserted himself into tribes such as the Tusayan, Triguez, and Acoma, he accounted for more and more traditions that the Native American tribes took part in, leading to the manuscript shown above.

Alongside the score that I have described, attached is a book written by Carlos Troyer entitled Indian Music Lecture published in 1913. This book encapsulates Troyer’s life and experiences as he traveled various spaces in order to discover and share various tribes’ religion, government, and lifestyle. Troyer is yet another example very similar to the primary source journal shown earlier in which an outsider takes initiative to research and implement their presence on a Native Tribe; interestingly enough both Coronado and Troyer both research the Zuni Tribe.

Carlos himself is a musician born in Frankfurt in 1837 who then traveled to America at a young age and began teaching music, composing, and traveling to a variety of countries to learn and share native culture. His contact with the Zuni people occurred when he was entrusted to interpret their songs through his work in California. Instead, Troyer visited the tribe and learned of their sacred dances, ceremonies, and “traditional lore”. His goal of the trip, just like his work with other tribes like the Incas, was to give insight to mainly American and European people about indigenous culture.

While it can be said that he achieved his goal and spread awareness on the tribe’s way of life, the way in which Troyer went about entering the tribe is questionable in terms of ethics. It appears that he gained permission and was well received, but one wording in a letter at the beginning of the book by Charles Cadman claimed that he “conquered ” other tribes. Whether liked or not, it comes to reason that his privilege of power as a white man allowed him privileges to expect acceptance for researching the tribe. Lastly, there is the occasional phrasing that invokes a sense of superiority such as the title of the book which is “an address designed for reading at musical gatherings, describing the lives, customs, religions, occult practices, and the surprising musical development of the cliff dwellers of the south west”. Wording like “surprising” gives indication that little was expected of the tribe and it places indigenous culture in an othering position.

2019 Buffalo dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino

Bibliography

Castañeda de Nájera, Pedro de. “Narrative of the Expedition to Cibola Undertaken in 1540
[Manuscript]: Translated into English by Brantz Mayer.” American Indian Histories and Cultures – Adam Matthew Digital. The Newberry Library, 1851. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_1058/4.

History.com Editors. “Francisco Vázquez De Coronado.” History.com. A&E Television
Networks, November 9, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/francisco-vazquez-de-coronado.

Mateya. “2019 Buffalo Dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=o74Z0ZZOTEI.

Robert Stevenson. “Troyer, Carlos.” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Oxford
University Press, 2001, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.28481.

Stevenson, Robert. “Troyer, Carlos.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Date of
access 22 Sep. 2022,
https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001
.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000028481

Troyer, Carlos, and Charles Wakefield Cadman. Indian Music Lecture: The zuñi Indians and
Their Music: An Address Designed for Reading at Musical Gatherings, Describing the
Lives, Customs, Religions, Occult Practices, and the Surprising Musical Development of
the Cliff Dwellers of the South West. Theo. Presser Co., 1913.

An Exploitative Explorer: Émile Petitot’s Legacy

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, pedophilia, sexual trauma

I found this manuscript 1 by Émile Petitot, a French missionary who conducted research among the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada. His work looks much like that of Frances Densmore, with transcriptions of musics that he observed within the tribes. Accompanying each transcription is the tribe it comes from, a note about what kind of song/dance/game it is, and occasional extra notes. For example, in the screenshot provided, Petitot provides the tribe, “Tchippewayans,” (or Chippewa/Ojibwa), the type of song, “jeu de mains” (hand game- perhaps hand clapping?), and notes below explaining how they whistle the melody through their teeth, and that this example is possibly of Cree origin, though I could be translating the French incorrectly (Petitot, 3). 

A sample of Petitot’s manuscript, Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest, from 1862-1892, 1899. 

Petitot completed significant research on the native languages of Northern tribes, and according to Savoie in 19822, it “remains the best in the field” (Savoie, 446). But however groundbreaking or useful Petitot’s research was, his treatment of the Indigenous people was less than stellar. His notes seem to be overtly subjective and somewhat condescending, and according to Lévy,3 he also showed concerning sexual desires. He was rumored to engage in sexual relations with “young indigenous people,” as well as a woman who became so uncomfortable she attempted “self-circumcision as a way of suppressing his sexual desires” (Lévy, 2014). Clearly his methods were exploitative and harmful to those around him. Lévy also mentions that these acts eventually caught his missionary order’s attention in France, so he was exiled back home to write his “ethnographic and geographical” work (Lévy, 2014).

Petitot, wearing a priest’s collar 4

His research, controversy, and legacy is still discussed. In 2001, Struzik wrote an article 5 in the Edmonton Journal (Alberta, Canada) about the returning controversy surrounding Petitot. Buildings and parks named after him were quickly being renamed at the request and vote of Indigenous voices. Struzik exposes both sides of the controversy surrounding his sexuality and divergent sexual habits (Struzik, 2001). There are those who still consider him a genius for his work and research, and there are many who expose him for his exploitation, abuse, and madness. Some would say that any press is good press, but with all of his controversy exposed and the reason for his exile laid out in the open, I would say the legacy Petitot leaves behind is not one to be celebrated. 

1 Petitot, Émile. Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest. 1862-1892, 1899. Manuscript. Mackenzie: The Newberry Library, 2022. American Indian Histories and Cultures. Medium, https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_715/2. (accessed September 21, 2022)

2 Savoie, Donat. “Emile Petitot (1838-1916).” Arctic 35, no. 3 (1982): 446–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40509367.

3 Lévy, Joseph. “Éros Et Tabou. Sexualité Et Genre Chez Amérindiens Et Les Inuit.” Recherches Amérindiennes Au Québec 44, no. 2 (2014): 170-174. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/éros-et-tabou-sexualité-genre-chez-amérindiens/docview/1681918022/se-2.

4 Image from ‘The Amerindians of the Canadian Northwest in the 19th Century, as seen by Emile Petitot. Volume 1: The Tchiglit Eskimos,’ found on Inuvialuit Living History (https://www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca/wiki_pages/Father%20%20%C3%89mile%20Petitot).

5 Struzik, Ed. A genius … and a pariah: Emile Petitot left a legacy of controversy in Canada’s Arctic. Online Archive. Edmonton: CanWest Interactive, 2001. Edmonton Journal (Alberta). Medium, https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:45HN-N1D0-003N-14GF-00000-00&context=1516831.(accessed September 21, 2022).

The Cannon: Educational Fundamentals, or Cultural Genocide?

First Cherokee Female Seminary

The original building housing the Cherokee National Female Seminary, which burned down in 1987.

In 1951, the Cherokee Nation – having recently been forcibly moved to Oklahoma and re-formed their government in Tahlequah – opened the doors of the Cherokee National Female Seminary.1 The school was run by the tribal government and was extremely well regarded, generally considered better than the public school systems of several nearby states.2 On the Kaw (or Kanza) land3 that would one day become Northeastern State University, young Native women had what essentially amounts to a liberal arts education, including the study of music.

Music curriculum at the Cherokee National Female Seminary (Ayer 1906, 24)

The school’s music curriculum, depicted here, was collected by Edward Ayer, a Field Museum of Natural History benefactor who evidently had some interest in salvage anthropology and Native cultures, and donated to Chicago’s Newberry Library in 1911.4 The text itself states that this donation was for the benefit of the Native peoples whom the school served – that is, in support of preserving their histories. Thankfully, Native communities seem to have been involved in assembling these texts, according to the collection itself, but I’m a touch skeptical of our white sponsor’s benevolence. What seems most likely to me is that this, like Frances Densmore’s work, is a product of good intentions, but would be taken less than positively if produced today. This is supported by the casual white-saviorism of the historical statement that opens the book; a statement which describes a European education as the “seed of civilization” and thereby strongly suggests that the curricula were a product of “civilizing” influence. Really the curriculum is quite similar to what a young piano student might begin with today, assuming their teacher were willing to center their education on the European canon; several technique and method books are employed, and the progression from grades I-VI moves from simple Clementi sonatinas to Chopin etudes and ballades.

Therein lies the interest of this artifact. As beloved as this school may have been to some attendees and some members of its community (according to the testimony at the beginning of the Ayer collection, that is), there seems little doubt that the Cherokee National Female Seminary was complicit in the whitewashing of Cherokee students following the Trail of Tears. If the curriculum is indisputably Eurocentric, implicitly devaluing the Native musical traditions which would have surrounded these students growing up, and taught exclusively by white teachers, how could it be anything else? It was a victory for the community, in a way, but one that was only necessitated by the awful realties of the white man’s westward expansion. The existence and community status of schools such as this adds another shade of nuance to the consideration of education as a tool for cultural erasure during this time period.

What I can say, however, is that this artifact makes a strong case for the rejection of the cannon that’s happening in music education today. If the cannon is part of what we now consider to be a heinous cultural genocide, how could we possibly justify not expanding our musical borders and changing our approaches to pedagogy from the very first days of a student’s musical life? Exclusion of a student’s cultural traditions from their music curricula, while it isn’t on the level of the violence inflicted on too many children at too many white-run boarding schools over the past several centuries, is an act of cultural violence. Music education must be rooted in a student’s internal musical self, in the music of the student’s community, to avoid the racist, classist valuation of music that’s persisted for centuries in the western world. Some pedagogical methods, like Kodaly, incorporate elements of this belief, and are gaining significance in the pedagogical world. But we have a long way to go yet toward the goal of making music education more equitable, just, and culturally inclusive.

Footnotes

1 U.S. Department of the Interior. (2019). Cherokee Female Seminary, OK (U.S. National Park Service). National Parks Service. Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/places/cherokee-female-seminary-ok.htm

2 Brad Agnew, “Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH018.

3 I attempt to name the original tribe here out of respect for the land’s origins and to acknowledge (first steps) the settler-colonial history of the US. But a quick Google search will reveal that even the Kaw people may have immigrated to this area from the east coast in the 1600’s, and it’s difficult to trace the history any farther back than that. I include this footnote as a form of full disclosure and to encourage any interested reader to do some more digging into the topic.

4 Ayer, Edward E. 1906. An illustrated souvenir catalog of the Cherokee National Female Seminary, Tahlequah, Indian Territory, 1850-1906, Printed Book; Tribe Record. N.p.: Indian Print Shop. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_F389_T128_c522_1906.

Contemporary Meets Traditional: Modern Day Native American Music

When studying Native American music, it is common to hear the earliest recordings of indigenous music taped by Francis Densmore in the early twentieth century. As students and musicologists, we turn to these recordings for many reasons. We listen in order to observe and acknowledge the history embedded in this music. We hear both the beauty of the long-standing traditions of Native American people, along with the racist beginnings of our own field of study. Numerous intense emotions are wrapped up in these recordings: awe and curiosity along with disappointment and generational pain. While there are many excellent educational and valuable reasons to listen to these recordings, what if we continued our study of Native American musicking by fixing our gaze on the more recent past, or even the present? Perhaps by observing the recordings and music being created and produced by Native Americans during the more recent past, we can begin to understand what this music sounds like today and what influences and is influenced by this music. By examining a music review from a 1996 publication of Akwesasne Notes along with some of the music that the artists mentioned in the article wrote and produced, we might begin to learn more about what the soundscape of the modern Native American has begun to sound like in recent history.

When reading through Radioactive Indians – Music Reviews by Alex Jones, the variety of musical influences used in modern Native American music becomes operant. For example, Jones describes the music of the ensemble Brian Black Thunder “as country music with some rock flourishes”. The instrumentation of Brian Black Thunder’s music also includes. “mandolin, strings, piano, [and] organ” (Jones 114). A musical feature from the same periodical entitled Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music, also describes the way that genres and influences intersect in the music of Indigenous musicians. In this feature, Lyons’ album Hope and Dreams is described as a combination of “the beautiful rhythms and repetition of traditional native music” and “the acoustic instrumentation and simple melodies of mainstream folk music” (117). Both of these examples, along with many others in these articles, exemplify an effort made by Native musicians at the time to embrace some musical features which would be beyond the boundaries of what might be considered traditional Native American music. 

There does seem to be a variety of ideas about the role of genre bending in Native American music today. In an article in News from the Indian Country, Lyons states, “I would like to stay close to my roots because there is so much that can be said through my music and through our history that people can benefit from”. In addition, Lyons stated that he does not wish to capitalize on the sacred musical traditions of his tribe. While his music is clearly inspired by his identity, he appears to value having a separate spiritual life rooted in the music traditions of his tribe. 

By turning our eyes towards music made by Native American composers and performers in the recent past and present, we might begin to see this music as a living, ever-changing and developing art rather than something stuck in antiquity with Francis Densmore. If we claim to value representation in our field of study, we ought not allow Densmore to clearly stand out as a primary figure for native musics. Instead, we ought to look to present and past musicians and artists who continue to the work of creating this music. In so doing, we can work towards creating more accurate portrayals of what a certain musical community looks and sounds like. 

Bibliography:

Jones, Alex. “Radioactive Indians – Music Review.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 114-116. 

Lyons, Howard. “Howie Lyons Music.” Howard Lyons: Native American Musician. https://www.howielyons.com/music.html. Accessed 21 September 2022.

Murg, Wilhelm. “Musical Spirit Walker – Interview with Howard Lyons.” News from Indian Country, Jul 15, 2002. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/musical-spirit-walker-interview-with-howard-lyons/docview/367717161/se-2.

“Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 117.

Musical Performance or Spectacle? Documenting Native Music and Ritual

I came across a journal kept by George Catlin, an explorer and painter traveling the American West in the 1830s, in which he documents a yearly Mandan ceremony commemorating a great flood, in the American Indian Histories and Cultures database. While Catlin describes the ceremony as a dance and documents the role of singing and drumming in the ritual, he spends far more time describing the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the story they are telling than he does describing the music itself.

This is typical of a wider attitude which prevailed among ethnomusicologists, historians, and the public until fairly recently that Native American musical traditions were little more than primitive chants and drum beats and were certainly not artifacts of high culture like the European musical canon.1 This attitude meant that Native music was often not taken seriously by early observers like Sir Francis Drake and John Smith, whose descriptions of “a most miserable and doleful manner of shreeking [sic]” and “such a terrible noise as would rather affright” the listener echo those of Catlin.2 Even the work of later authors like Frances Densmore and Alice Fletcher, who pioneered serious ethnomusicological investigation of Native traditions, often relied on theories of social evolution to justify the idea that Native Americans and their music could not possibly be as advanced as European culture and music.4

Catlin’s focus on the story being told seems more appropriate to a play or pantomime rather than a musical performance. He does not analyze the music itself beyond a few short comments, but describes at length the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the many animals and natural phenomena they represent, noting that “many curious and grotesque amusements and ceremonies” took place over the four days of the ceremony.3 Besides devoting several pages of text to describing the ceremony, Catlin also preserved it in several paintings. Catlin mentions that large water-filled sacks were used as drums, along with rattles, to accompany a song which is repeated many times throughout the ritual, and notes that it was impossible to obtain a translation of this song, as it was a closely guarded secret even within the tribe. However, beyond these observations he makes no attempt to analyze the lyrics, composition, or instrumentation of the song, focusing instead on the visual spectacle of the bull-dance, which he describes as being “of an exceedingly grotesque and amusing character”.3

As an explorer who was clearly dedicated to documenting the rituals he saw both on the page and the canvas, it is fair to assume that Catlin was truly interested in preserving the details of the ceremony he was witnessing. Of course, Catlin was far from a trained ethnomusicologist, as the field didn’t even exist for fifty years after he was writing, and therefore did not have the same goals or values and was probably not musically trained. However, this amateur status actually reveals that Catlin’s attitude that the ceremony was simply too far outside of his experience to count as music and was not worth preserving or even really discussing was a common reaction to Native music. While these cultural attitudes clearly had nothing to do with formal training or education, they were still taken as scientific truth for decades.