Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Debbie, Can you recommend any Native American folk songs?"

This post is long overdue. A few times since launching AICL, I've received a question similar to:
"Debbie, can you recommend any Native American folk songs" (or music or finger plays) "that I can use with young children?"
Each time, I write back to the person but each time, I've failed to fashion the reply into a blog post that I can point the next questioner to, so, today I'm trying to do that.

First thing to say is not a surprise: most of what is out there is stereotypical. I searched the Internet and found so very much---so very much---and it is so very, very bad. I found Hollywood's version of Native music (think about the music you hear in Westerns). I found songs about specific Native people---all of them with lyrics that slot Native people into the mythical story about the founding and history of the U.S.  And of course, I found the "Indian" counting song.

Given that many children walk into the school holding stereotypical ideas of Native peoples, chances are high that they'd be able to hear the Hollywood Indian music theme and say "that's Indian music" (or Native American, or American Indian).

The task, then, is to help them unlearn what they think they know about Native music by pointing out that the Hollywood Indian music was made up by someone who wasn't Native and that what they see in those Westerns is not accurate.

Move, then, to some music appreciation activities where kids listen to Native musicians. You could start with the familiar nursery rhymes---sung by Native singers.

Start by having your students sing Old McDonald Had a Farm. Then, show them this photograph of the Black Lodge Singers. Point out that they dress much like your students do, and that there are times when they wear traditional clothing, but that most of the time, they're dressed pretty much like everyone else.

On the right side of the drum are Kenny Scabby Robe, who is Blackfeet, and his wife, Louise, who is Yakima. The other people in the photograph are their children. They live on the Yakima Reservation in Washington. Pull out a map and show them where the Yakima Reservation is:

Tell students that the Black Lodge Singers are a well known drum group in the pow wow circuit. Read them Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer so they learn what powwows are about:

And then, watch some of the videos of the Black Lodge Singers in action. Here they are singing Old McDonald Had a Farm:

And here they are singing "Kuna Matata." The footage includes Native children getting ready to enter a pow wow arena, and inside the arena, too.

There are other videos, too, but do make sure to buy their CDs. You can also talk with students about the Grammy Awards, and tell them that the Black Lodge Singers won a Grammy for their music.

From there, you can introduce them to Native musicians like Sharon Burch. She is Navajo, plays guitar, and her songs are a mix of Navajo and English. Though it isn't marketed for children, her CD, "Colors of My Heart," has many songs children can listen to, and can learn the lyrics, too.

At the Canyon Records site--an excellent resource, by the way--you can listen to portions of the songs on Colors of my Heart. 

Talk to them, too, about Robbie Robertson, by reading Rock & Roll Highway to them:

In a post I did last year, I pointed to work that Robertson did with The Band, and with Ulali, an acapella group. Check out this video:

Now--I realize that my suggestions don't fit within what you usually do in a music lesson or activity, but that's ok. You're a teacher, expanding what kids know. Give them something like I've suggested. Help them unlearn those dreadful stereotypes. And--for yourself and older children--spend time at the Canyon Records site. Get to know Native musicians.

I'll close this post with Buffy Sainte-Marie, singing Up Where We Belong. You may associate that song with Joe Cocker, but it is written by her, and performed by her here: I no longer recommend Buffy Sainte Marie's work. Details here: About Buffy Sainte Marie

Note: If you have something you want me to consider adding to this post, do let me know! Especially if you use something developed by Native people in your area.

Update: 11:42 AM, Oct 30, 2015

In comments, Art Coulson, author of The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse, suggested Joanne Shenandoah's "All Spirits Sing" for children. She is Oneida. I don't see that CD at Canyon Records, but they do sell three of her CDs and you can hear segments of her songs at their site. Reading the material on the page, I had one of those "Doh!" moments. I failed to point to Floyd Crow Westerman earlier! His songs aren't for young children, but they're definitely among my favorites.

Art also recommended songs by the Mamas and the Papas, because Papa John Phillips was an enrolled Cherokee. I didn't know that! Thanks, Art!


Art Coulson said...

Great post! You might consider adding "All Spirits Sing," the children's disc by Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida). Also, for true Indian folk music, anything by the Mamas and Papas, the '60s folk supergroup led by Papa John Phillips, an enrolled Cherokee citizen, would be right on point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this fantastic post about music, Debbie. During my young adult librarian years, I saw myself as librarian by day, folksinger/guitarist by weekend. Then I became the editor of VOYA and am now a self-employed writer and editor. I started performing in high school in the '60s, and semi-professionally throughout the '70s and '80s. My husband also loves music, and knew about John Phillips. I have loved Buffy Sainte-Marie forever, and consider her "Until It's Time for You to Go" one of the major classics--I loved performing it myself, often struggling to stave off tears as I sang. I can't wait to explore the music of the others that you and your respondents suggest.

Anonymous said...

Here is a young Yupik man from Toksook Bay, AK, who is a sort of "rock star" in the Yupik world. In this video he talks about traditional music and helping modern kids understand it. He has a FaceBook page called I Sing. You Dance where you can find more of his music.

Mary Z said...

Hi Debbie,

As a child at Peace Camp I was taught two "Native American" songs - "Wearing My Long Wing Feathers" and "The Earth is Our Mother."
A few years ago, a teacher asked me to tell some Iroquois stories to her class (I am not Native myself and I wasn't comfortable that I could do this authentically, so I instead found some great Youtube videos of Iroquois storytellers to show the students), but it made me think more about those songs I had been taught.
I was able to find that the first song is actually a pagan chant, but all I can find for "The Earth is Our Mother" is that some websites call it a "Hopi Chant" while others just say "Native American." I wondered if you were familiar with this or had some advice to find out more. I don't want to misrepresent or teach stereotypes.
Thank you!

Ms Dawn said...

Hello! I want to thank you for this post. We are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day (week) virtually with our preschool and this lesson was a great guide! Showing Powwow dances and learning Old MacDonald was on point! Thanks!

Krissy Jensen said...

Thank you very much for these suggestions. I am anxious to incorporate more Black Lodge Singers into my storytimes!

I play a lot of music by The Jerry Cans in the children's area of my public library. They also have a children's book, "Mamaqtuq!"