I had the good fortune to attend From Plains, Pueblos and Tundra recently.
It was a show featuring Native American music, dance and story-telling at the Sommerville Theatre in Massachusetts.
This tour was presented by World Music, a non-profit group committed to world cultural exchange. The show started on Indian time at 8:10 p.m. (10 minutes late!) and it was worth the wait as I found the show to be impressive.
It featured Gayle Ross, a direct descendent of John Ross, who was the Chief’ of the Cherokee Nation during the infamous Trail Of Tears.
Gayle was a warm master of cermonies interspacing the different artists with her legends and stories. She captivated the audience easily with her exceptionally fine storytelling skills.
I particulary enjoyed the story of how the buzzard came to have a bald head. Gayle told me she would send The Nation this Cherokee legend after the tour ends so we can share it with you. Gayle says that by telling the legends of the Native peoples she hopes to convey some of the sacred feeling, love and respect the different First Nations have for the land and its inhabitants.
The first group after Gayle got the show off to a good start was Fernando Cellican of the Zuni Nation from down New Mexico way. A master of the flute, he was accompanied by two other Zuni, Alton Nasticioand Florentine Johnson. During the night they would play music, sing and dance. The Deer and Eagle Dance seemed to be the favourites of the audience. Myself, I enjoyed the Sunrise Song that the Elders in the Pueblo perform each sunrise. There was silence from the crowd during this song as many sensed the power of this chant.
Then it was the man from Eek. I kid you not, this is the actual name of the village that Yup’ik Inuit call home. Chuna McIntyre and his assistant had a naturally open manner that drew the audience easily into their world. You couldn’t help but like this couple.
Because of limited space the Yup’ik have developed a different method of dancing. They dance stationary or even sitting down. You might think that this limits expression but nothing is farther from the truth. It was one of the most expressive and impressive displays of dancing I’ve seen in a long time.
I was blown away as I saw this new form or style. Well, at least it’s a new idea to me. However, theYup’ik have been doing this for thousands of years.
Chuna told the audience that his people loved dancing so much that they used to dance all day and night… until they discovered Seiko watches.
The final part of the show featured people from the Lakota. It started with a mean man on the flute named Kevin Locke. Other people with Kevin included Dale Weasel and his daughter, Jennifer. Dale did a lot of the drumming and singing. His daughter did a jingle dance wearing a dress with 500 tobacco can lids.
Kevin, a member of the Hunkpapa band (same one as Sitting Bull), did some serious movements on the dance floor with a hoop dance that were incredible to say the least.
I also learned that Kevin is heavily involved in battling alcoholism. As such he always includes discussing how to keep the body in harmony during his performances.
The end came too soon as all the members of the troupe came out and sang a Yup’ik song as a finale.
All in all an interesting show I would recommend to anyone and would wonder why there isn’t any of this sort of thing happening in Quebec. A night out looking at some very different Native peoples and their culture was not only illuminating but a fun way to meet another culture.
I’m sure this sort of thing will go a long way to reducing tensions between Native and non-Native people.
I commend the National Council for the Traditional Arts for sponsoring such a charming evening.