Detroit hip hop recognizes Indigenous People’s Day
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
On Oct. 14, Columbus Day, a special evening of hip hop hosted by The Raiz Up was held at 5E Gallery in recognition of Indigenous People’s Day.
The Raiz Up is an artist collective formed in Southwest Detroit in 2012, bringing hip hop artists and activists together for performances and community education. Indigenous People’s Day is recognized throughout the Americas as a response to the day celebrating Christopher Columbus’ “discovery of the New World”, wreaking devastation on and conquest of Native Americans.
Featured were rap performances from Sacramento Knoxx, Subverso and D-Press, local vendors including artists and activists, as well as guest speaker Michael Imhotep of the African History Network. The purpose was to challenge ideas of history beyond what is taught in school history books, helping the people further understand today’s current events.
“Since we know that Europeans have erased 130,000 years at least out of our history,” said Michael Imhotep, who discussed Columbus’ legacy and the African connection to the ancient lands of the America, “I go with the oldest sources I can find.”
Imhotep explained the enslavement of Africans in the Americas was deeply connected to the genocide of Native Americans, who had a history of interacting with Africans for tens of thousands of years before the European settlers. He describes the killings and enslavements as a continuation of the war between Spain and the Moors, which ended in 1492, the same year as Columbus’ voyage.
The influence of African culture upon Native American traditions is evident in the art, social structure and ancient stories. With the rise of hip hop, a culture created by African descedants and Native peoples in New York City, these connections are further displayed.
The art of rap is connected to the tradition of oral histories, similar to African griots and Native storytellers. Their stories inspire the visual art of today’s graffiti and the ancient arts of tapestry and wall painting, works that continue to provide understanding of ancient cultures. The hip hop DJ and the percussions of drum circles provide the rhythm for dancers, who practice skilled movements as a means of expression.
The land of Detroit has a long connection to Native peoples, including the Ottawa, Ojibwe and Huron tribes. History books describe Detroit as founded in 1701 by the French, and the word “D’étroit” translates to “the straights” in French, referring to the Detroit River. During the French and Indian War of 1760, British military gained control and began to pronounce the name as the city is known today. The Huron word for the Detroit area is Ka-ron-ta-en, or “coast of the strait,” while Algonquians referred to it as Yon-do-ti-aa, or “the great village”.
Subverso is a Southwest Detroit resident who grew up with his family in Chile, where he is recognized as a popular rap artist using lyrics for revolutionary education. He is active in Detroit’s hip hop community, and explains that in Chile the story of Columbus is taught to children in the same misleading way as in America.
“Ever since we were children in school,” says Subverso, “they teach about Columbus, they teach about the heroes they have in the history book, the ones who founded your country, the founding fathers.”
He uses hip hop to challenge the myth of Native cultures as savage or ignorant, understanding the story of Columbus has been used by people committing human rights violations.
“It all serves to perpetuate the myth that this is the only way,” says Subverso. “When in reality, the original cultures of America and around the world are the cultures that are the most wise and the most efficient and the most respectful of our planet.”
Dakota Alcantara-Camacho attended to pass information about the United States’ military activities in the Mariana Islands, a stretch of U.S. colonized islands south of Japan and east of the Phillipine Sea. He is a Seattle resident originally from the Mariana Islands and is visiting Detroit to study the city’s cultures of resistance.
“(The U.S. military) wants to take more of our ancestral lands,” says Alcantara-Camacho, “including taking two-thirds of an island and doing live fire range testing there. So that means exposing everyone that lives on the island, that’s 3000 people, to toxic chemicals, munitions waste, etc., and basically destroying our cultural and spiritual landmarks.”
For hundreds of years, native lands in the Americas have been exploited for natural resources and creating urban population centers. The global environmental crisis is of great concern to Native peoples, who value their spiritual connection to the earth.
Loni Weems, a Detroit resident, was at the Indigenous People’s Day event as a vendor with her company Native Kitchen, selling baked muffins and cookies from recipes passed down through her family fit. She is of mixed heritage, from the Apache and Cherokee tribes, yet possessing distinctly African features.
Her grandmother and her mother grew up with traditional Native foods, and she explains her connection to Native food “is from both sides of my family and my family friends.”
When you look at the menu for Native Kitchen, Weems explains, “it represents different people from the family.”