…That night Pablo and a Black anarchist friend jammed in his living room. I watched as they created a new track with Pablo rapping as the anarchist quickly scribbled lines for him for a piece that railed against the FBI campaigns against Black and Aboriginal
….Activists like Geronimo Pratt, Leonard Peltier and Anna Mae Aquash. Over raw jagged hip-hop beats Pablo rapped lines that were very pertinent at the time. “State police power increasing every hour, black men shot with their hands held high.”
….The high number of fatal shootings of unarmed black men in Canada and the United States weighed very heavily on people’s minds.
….Frequently during my travels in North America, I
would encounter aboriginal youth who were hip hop fans and rappers who were also heavily influenced by black political figures like the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. Aboriginal rappers like Julian B and his CD “Once Upon A Genocide” and Funkdoobius were just few of the aboriginal rappers emerging at this time. At a Toronto Pow Wow I was blown away by the knowledge of an aboriginal hip-hop designer named Cyril Sunbird who was conversant in radical Black politics.
….As we spoke he revealed to me that his aboriginal father had grown up in the American Deep South. Not having a chapter of the American Indian Movement in his area his father joined the local Black Panther chapter. What can occur when hip-hop radical black politics and conscious aboriginal youth converge was further illustrated by what I witnessed one night on a downtown Toronto street corner.
…. A group of aboriginal youth was hanging out after a concert. Among them was ‘Hip Hop Mohawk.’ We had met after an aboriginal sovereignty meeting. While I was leaving the meeting, I noticed that the person walking beside me was wearing a baseball cap with a beaded Public Enemy insignia on it. I inquired where he got his cap. He responded that he had beaded it himself because he was a long-standing fan of the rap group and hip-hop in general. ‘Hip Hop Mohawk’ (who was indeed from the Mohawk nation) was also well versed in the spiritual practices of Black and Aboriginal people.
….One of the other aboriginal youth present that night was my friend, Sid Bobb. He had been buying Public Enemy records from a very young age. In fact I used to pass on Public Enemy paraphernalia that P.E.’s Chuck D had autographed for Sid. Both of Sid’s parents had been heavily involved in radical aboriginal politics. His mom Lee Maracle used to work with the Black Panthers when they would travel to Vancouver.
….That night after the concert another aboriginal youth whose uncle was a cop started attacking rappers who were against the police. Sid answered him back with one of the most articulate defenses of rappers with anti-police stances that I have ever heard. Sid had no delusions about the police and their role in propping up the status quo regardless of their colour. He understood that often when rappers attacked the police they were also exposing deeper issues of racism and injustice.
…. That night after the concert another aboriginal youth whose uncle was a cop started attacking rappers who were against the police. Sid answered him back with one of the most articulate defenses of rappers with anti-police stances that I have ever heard. Sid had no delusions about the police and their role in propping up the status quo regardless of their colour. He understood that often when rappers attacked the police they were also exposing deeper issues of racism and injustice. Everyone stood quietly in awe as Sid dropped science about this quoting Malcolm X and the Black Panthers in the process.
…. I spoke with Bob Manning a black counselor who does extensive work with aboriginal and black street kids. He provided me with his insights into the affinity aboriginal youth have for hip-hop. According to him there is a great need for aboriginal youth to have that arrogance that black people have on television. Just recently I was in the Squamish nation in British Columbia, I saw a lot of Malcom X shirts and a lot of flap jackets. These were aboriginal kids imitating black kids in ghetto communities that they see out of Detroit television. Aboriginal kids are going through the same things black kids are. A search for identity, the anger, the need to make something that’s theirs -whether its their own name, their own gang its that need to reach out for the extended family, just like black kids try and do. Some end up in gangs, which become their extended family. Aboriginal youth tend to look to black people as a model because black people are the first to come out with that arrogance. It was the same thing in the sixties -when the Black panthers came out other groups like the American Indian Movement started following the Panthers. Some black people are very quick at saying, “Hey we don’t like this and we are going to change it and if you don’t like the changes -fuck you! It’s this arrogance that got black people out of slavery and which stimulated numerous slaves revolts. It’s the attitude of people refusing to be controlled. The need and want to be free. So when an Aboriginal kid in Squamish sees a black kid in Detroit being arrogant, wearing a flap jacket and saying “Hey, this is me and I’m going to get in your face, I’ve had enough of this, I am going to fight right here, I’m going to take a stance. “Aboriginal kids relate to that and more and more are adapting that stance as we witnessed at the standoff at Oka.
…. When I arrived in San Francisco there was intense political activity as people geared up to protest the Gulf War that was about to erupt. I stopped off at the anarchist book store Bound Together Books to meet with anarchist hardcore band M.D.C. in regards to a Blakk Indian project. I left with the brilliant book, Black Wheels of Anger about radical activist, Tom Mooney by the anarchist writer Peter Plate who distributed his books free of charge in the tradition of the Diggers: anonymous radical activist of the sixties who use to hand out free goods to people in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
….I met with Michael Franti who was also preparing to take part in a Gulf War protest. Speaking with Michael was one of the key reasons I had journeyed to Berkeley. We had become acquainted while he was still with his first band, the Beatnigs. Now he was getting ready to launch his new band Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Michael had just recently discovered the fact that he was of Blakk Indian heritage. He introduced me to two Blakk Indian women Amelie Prescott and Akiba Tiamaya. Both had fascinating life stories to speak about.
…. Amelie began by telling me “When I was growing up I was told I was Creole but my parents never spoke what that mixture really was. As a child some people asked me if I was Black. I lived in Maryland in the fifties and there was still a lot of segregation going on but I never took it personally. It was just kind of interesting to me when I got sent to the back of the bus. So my Mom made me wear a little Aboriginal bracelet at the beginning of the summer so I could show I had a tan so I didn’t have to go to the back of the bus or have to go to the coloured bathroom. In the early sixties I was living in San Francisco and teaching a mixed classroom in Sausilitio. I taught a pilot program in Black studies and sex education. For my Black studies course I felt it would be good to have some of the black Panthers I knew come over and talk about the subject. I spoke to them and they agreed. Twice a week they came and taught Black studies. Now, they used to ask me to decide what race I was because there was going to be a revolution and I would have to take sides. They would say ‘Are you Black or White?’ and I would say ‘I’m brown, I’m aboriginal, I’m black, I’m French, I’m a mixture.’ That was my first introduction talking about that because those things weren’t discussed. Aboriginal people weren’t in fashion then’.
….Her encounters with the Black Panthers prompted Amelie to further investigate her Blakk Indian heritage. She began to teach in East Oakland and discovered that a lot of her students were part aboriginal. As she taught about aboriginal ways, parents of students would approach her and say that someone back in their family was aboriginal but it wasn’t something that was spoken about.
….Wondering about this silence prompted Amelie to do some research. What she discovered was the history of escaped slaves going to aboriginal reservations where they would be together and have babies. Then the army could come and say, ‘Everybody out.’ Everyone would go but Blakk Indians had no tribal rights so they couldn’t say, ‘I’m half Choctaw. I’m half this.’ Those tribal rights were gone and that is what the army and government wanted.
…. Amelie stated that during those times “it was very dangerous to be an aboriginal person so if you could pass for Black you didn’t mention you were part aboriginal since you could get killed because of that or have your children taken away to missionary schools. They would often take the children away and put them in white homes. A lot of children who are mixed Black and Aboriginal don’t know. People like Michael Franti who was adopted, didn’t know until I told him and he went and found his birth mother and she told him he was.”
….Amelie’s friend Akiba Tiamaya had some further observations about this according to her. Amelia said aboriginal people were considered nothing so a lot of time they would be in the Black community and hide out there. They were considered black. “A lot of black people today haven’t seen the necessity to come forth. Its like, so what? My grandmother was aboriginal, so what? It wasn’t any big deal”.
….Akiba herself had experienced some difficulties as she tried to reconnect with the aboriginal side of her heritage. At various times she hadn’t felt welcomed in aboriginal communities. A very spiritual person, she was proud of the fact she was a sun dancer but even in that she had to overcome obstacles from aboriginal people. In conversation with me Akiba disclosed something that I have heard echoed by many Blakk Indian people. She said that she had experienced a lot of inner turmoil because in this time when it seemed to her so many people were falsely attaching themselves to aboriginal culture, she didn’t want to be perceived as being part of that bandwagon.
….She was also acutely sensitive to the possibility that aboriginal people might think that she was claiming this part of her ancestry in order to have access to certain economic rights aboriginal people have. Like so many Blakk Indian people I have spoken to, Akiba felt aboriginal people had been so mercilessly exploited that in no way did she want to participate in anything that could possibly further exploit them. As a result many Blakk Indian people are very quiet about the aboriginal side of their heritage.
….After speaking with Amelie and Akiba, Michael and I went to San Francisco where intense preparations were taking place for a massive demonstration against the US. Bombing of Iraq. Accustomed to and aware of the practice of police brutality and the reality of class warfare at demonstrations some activists were practicing their tactics to deal with the police.
….Later that night as Michael and I took part in a gigantic march, we discussed what Amelie and Akiba had spoken to me. As Michael put it to me, “I have tended to identify mostly with being Black because that is predominantly what other people’s perception of me is. But I’ve always had a sense of a fact that I’m Native American. Being both Native American and African American I feel as though part of me was stolen from my country and I had my country stolen from me.
….The keynote speaker at the march was Angela Davis renown Black activist and professor at the university of Berkeley. Angela gave a rousing speech. I would later find out that she was very aware of the Blakk Indian connection.
….According to her, “It’s really important for us as Black people to stand together with our American Indian sisters and brothers because they really helped us during slavery. A lot of our ancestors were able to escape and set up maroon communities that were created by fugitive slaves that were the result of the work our Native sister and brothers did for us and of course a lot of us have Native blood. I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about it if you aren’t going to do something about it. We have to say that the genocide that was perpetuated against the original inhabitants of this land came around to Africans. We were all together then and we ought to be together today.”