Artist’s Statement

The Native Music Project is an exploration of underground music scenes within indigenous communities throughout North America. Instead of using a traditional film format, like most documentaries, this project attempts to record the history and presence of modern indigenous musicians through the use of new media. This project allows for participation from subjects and viewers via commentary and submission through three key elements: an interactive map, a wiki glossary, and a blog.

The Audience – The Native Music Project, in its current state, is more or less a prototype. My intention is reach out to indigenous-identified musicians and fans with the hopes that they participate by adding to the map and glossary or by leaving comments throughout the site. In “Documentary Uncertainty,” Hito Steyerl discusses how the documentary production “has functioned in the service of a large-scale epistemological enterprise that is closely linked with the project of Western colonialism.” In other words, it has often contributed to depictions of indigenous people that justify their colonization, either by portraying them as helpless or complicit in their own oppression, and this is uncritically passed off as the “truth.” By redistributing authority over production amongst the documentary’s “viewers,” this work seeks to challenge the notion of objective truth obtained from the outside.

The Map – The Native Music Project’s interactive map is powered by ZeeMaps, a free online mapping program. ZeeMaps was chosen primarily because of it’s crowd-sourcing potential. I introduced the map with an initial 75 entries, based on my own knowledge and research, with each marker indicating the location of an artist or band with at least one indigenous-identified member. Any visitor of the site can add entries simply by clicking the “Add” button. My intention is to provide a space for an ever-growing account of indigenous involvement in the creation of contemporary music and accompanying underground scenes. This interactive element is the cornerstone of this project. I know there is a significant history of misrepresentation and misappropriation of indigenous culture, lands and bodies, especially with regards to academic research. Because of this, it was important to me to create a platform where so-called “subjects” could instead become participants in the documentation of their own history.

Currently, the map showcases four overarching genres; it does not currently account for sub-genres (this may be readjusted as the project evolves). Because this project is theoretically concerned with the formation and politics of music-based sub-cultures, I have allowed for the map to display separate layers for each genre. I am interested in how these subcultures, especially Punk and Hip Hop, have been conceived in social discourse as primarily race-driven and yet indigenous voices and perspectives are often ignored, despite their obvious presence. As I discuss in one of my blog posts, indigenous scholar Andrea Smith calls this kind of dismissal of Native peoples as “genocidal logic” – it is the underlying premise of colonialism, in that it conceives of indigenous people as always and already extinguished. The primary objective of this project is to unravel the legacy of genocidal logic and demonstrate how indigenous culture exists within a contemporary (and hybrid) context.

The Glossary The glossary appears in wiki format, so that any user can edit and add to entries. I initiated the glossary with brief definitions for ten key terms that are used either throughout the site or by featured artists found on the map. They include definitions of sub-genres and colloquial terms within indigenous cultures. Again, the intention is for participants to build upon and adapt the current framework set in place.

The Blog – While the intention of this project is to provide a platform for subject-driven creation, it would be naïve to assume that the voice of the artist could ever be invisible. The blog features entries by myself, the artist/director of Native Music Project, as I negotiate with my role in this project and related theoretical/political issues. The intention is to provide context for my personal motivations behind publishing the site and to create the opportunity for participants to engage in discussion with each other and myself directly.

In “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure,” Brian Holmes suggests that “we should conceive the worldwide communications technologies as Imperial infrastructure.” This is an important concept to reflect upon, especially considering that this technology, these maps, and the borders contained therein, were designed by and through the process of colonization. Yet, Jesse Shapins, in “Mapping the Urban Database Documentary,” points out that “explor[ing] artistic avenues opened by new technologies does not mean we have to embrace the use-assumptions of the technology’s producers.” We should not ignore the colonialist context within which this project and most likely its participants exist, but much like a remix, this project works within an established (albeit problematic) format with the intention of confronting its limitations and exploring new modes of creative expression.




Holmes, Brian. “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure,” available at Web. May, 15, 2014.

Shapins, Jesse. “Mapping the Urban Database Documentary,” Urban Geographers: Independent Filmmakers and the City, ed. Mark Street. Berghahn Books, 2011. Web. May, 15, 2014.

Smith, Andrea. “Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy.” Global Dialogue. 12.2 (2010). Web. May, 15, 2014.

Steyerl, Hito. “Documentary Uncertainty.” Re-Visiones. 1(2011). Web. May, 15, 2014.

On “Punk’s Race Problem”


Still from Romeo Void’s music video for “Never Say Never”

If you’ve so much as put a couple of studs on a leather jacket, then you probably know how much people like to argue about where punk started. But here’s the funny part about that argument, it’s always about what white guy invented the genre. A more accurate depiction of punk would be a significant musical shift that occurred sporadically across the globe for both localized specific reasons and as a large-scale reaction to changes in global politics and commerce. Those who stood out in the mainstream were, of course, those who reflected the mainstream – the straight white males. But, punk women of color have played a role since 1977, the so-called starting point. Across an ocean from one another, Poly Styrene and Alice Bag were making music even before the Sex Pistols were on Bill Grundy. But they, of course, never factor into the Sid Viscous versus Joey Ramone debate.

Many people have described punk as a reaction to white isolationism and the loss of community and identity resulting from post-modern malaise. This may be true for particular populations within the overarching umbrella of punk rock, but it does little to describe the involvement of Other (so-to-speak) groups. Punk cannot be seen as homologous and I believe casting punk through such a narrow lens perpetuates the kind of hegemonic thinking that so many punks seek to challenge.

Even critics of punk’s “race problem” continue to frame the genre as being the invention of white men. From this perspective, punk is defined as something originating in whiteness and “given” to the Others with the logic that they could not have evolved (or devolved) without assistance. To describe the entirety or even the inception of punk in this manner is an act of whitewashing that ignores the impact people of color have had in shaping the genre.

As Golnar Nikpour describes in her critique of the book White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race by Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay, this way of thinking perpetuates the myth of the helpless indigenous and the helpless “third world” in need of progress and white enlightenment:

This is a deeply problematic timeline. Most obviously, it is one that utterly excises the essential globality of punk scenes, not to mention the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll as a transnational form long before the advent of punk. This insistence that punk travels from “the West” to “the rest”—a typical imperial trope here espoused by self-proclaimed anti-racists—ironically mirrors and reproduces racist assumptions that “the rest” of the world is living in a belated present, and that their today is not coterminous with “ours” but rather with an era that for “us”—and there is no mistaking who “we” are in this argument—is fully in the rear-view mirror.

At the same time, many of us non-hegemonic punks did enter into a very white, hetero and male-dominated scene, sometimes even a rather racist, sexist and homophobic scene. And many of us have experienced that battle over the right to claim ownership of an aesthetic and musical style that seemed ours to begin with. For me, learning about artists like Debora Iyall (who, yeah, was technically New Wave, but there was still something very punk about) and reading the zines of Mimi Thi Nguyen made me feel like both my frustrations with and desire to be a part of this community were simultaneously valid.

Excerpt from Suzy X’s comic: “Punk Is Not Just for Straight White Guys”

If punk is about revolutionary thinking and confronting the normative forces in society, than isn’t it a much more destabilizing (i.e. punk) approach to consider that this genre may be rooted in something very not white? I think Sara Rene of Native Punks Unite put it best:

Being Punk and Native seems to me the most natural thing in the world. Music aside, the ethics and drive behind Punk have been ever present in Native communities. DIY was not a white invention, and neither was resistance or anarchy. More and more alternative radical spaces are pushing to return to the land, a dismantlement of capitalism, neoliberal exploitation, of oppressive gender roles and the classist and racist systems that try to separate humans into the deserving and undeserving. Punk is a statement that says fuck conforming to this broken system that doesn’t care about us.  But really these have been our way of life, defending ourselves from the colonial institutions that created the dominant culture it is today. For tens of thousands of years our traditional way of life, our entire existence, is a resistance to the bullshit oppressive society that tries to dominant us. We have been resisting with our minds, our spirits and our bodies at the frontlines of colonialism. Punk is what you call everyone else waking up.

Although, the specifics differ greatly, I also can’t help but think about influential hip hop artists, such as Melle Mel, whose indigenous heritage is by and large ignored within social discourse about the genre. Indigenous scholar, Andrea Smith, talks about “genocidal logic” as the pervasive line of thinking that indigenous populations no longer exist (or that they are fully assimilated) and thus settler-colonialism and its impacts are no longer of political concern. I’ve created this project with the intention of striking at the heart of genocidal logic. I wanted to record both a history and an image of the present that is all too frequently ignored or even systematically silenced.


On Passing and Being Seen

My parents & me in 1994

I am a mixed urban Indian of Welch/English and Cherokee (of the Long Hair clan) on my mother’s side and Irish/English and Mohawk Iroquois on my father’s side. On both sides of my family there are fissures between those members who would like to assimilate and those who are dedicated to preserving the teachings of their elders. My mother made the decision to raise me with many of the traditionally indigenous values she learned from her grandparents. Both of my parents made significant efforts to keep me connected to Native communities.

When I was eight, we moved away from the midwest to a Washington suburb where I spent a significant amount of time in a very white world that contrasted greatly with what I was learning at home. Growing up, if I told other kids about my culture, I usually got one of two reactions: either I was exoticized or put into question. Both of these reactions were rooted in an antiquated notion of the “pure” Indian untouched by modernity. I was seen as either a mystic or a liar, but never just as someone who struggled to navigate through many different and sometimes contradicting worlds.

Being someone who, as my mother put it, “has their feet in two worlds,” sometimes I’ve questioned my right to identify as indigenous. We’ve all heard the “white girl whose great-great-great-grandma was Cherokee” story, so I understand the skepticism. The thing is, though, that practically is my story. But, that story is so prevalent because it happened a lot and people invented the concept of a happy and willing Indian Princess bride to cover up the horrendous truth. Throughout my family’s histories there are multiple accounts of indigenous women who were bought as sex slaves or kidnapped and forced into (sometimes polygamous) marriage. The history I come from is a really messy one, so that means when I talk about my identities, it’s going to get messy, too.

I will never make the claim that I am somehow not privileged because of my heritage. People see me as white and while it makes me feel silenced, I know that it opens doors for me and allows me to move freely in spaces where others may not. Passing as white is a privilege in many respects – it gives one the option of avoiding violent and oppressive situations. But it is also the result of a long-standing refusal on the part of white society to recognize the continued existence of indigenous peoples. It is this belief in the extinction of Native Americans that continues to justify settler-colonialism. As an elder-in-training with whom I work once reflected, “All the time people tell I’m white. They tell me I’m ‘not Indian enough.’ They refuse to see me because they refuse to believe we’re still here.”