Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

The Tribe honors its culture through music

American Indian singer-drummers nab Grammy

April 6, 2001


The members of The Tribe gather around a drum in a small apartment off 23rd Street. The beat is strong, the rhythm consistent, and singing harmonious.

The song, written in the Ojibway language by member Wayne Silas Jr., speaks about seeing his late grandfather dancing in the sky. The pine-and-cow-hide drum, made by Haskell Indian Nations University employee Henry Collins, carries an unfinished image of a horse, a symbol of powerfulness.

"We were all taught when we were little that the drum was a circle and it represented life. We were taught to respect the drum before you could touch or beat on it," said Silas, 27, Menominee/Oneida, of Chicago, Ill.

"When you come into the arena and the circle, you respect that person (sitting with you at the drum). All other things leave when you come around the drum, and you sing for the people. The drumbeat represents the heartbeat of the people, and you carry the song from our Creator."

The dedication of Silas and the other members of The Tribe to preserve and perform American Indian music was rewarded recently when "Gathering of Nations Powwow," a compilation of various drum groups in southern and northern styles recorded live at the 1999 Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, N.M., won the first Grammy Award given for American Indian music.

In addition to The Tribe, other groups appearing on the CD include Wild Horse, Sage Point, Seekaskootch, Southern Cree, White Clay, Stoney Park, The Boyz, Flyn Eagle, Bear Springs, High Noon, Maskquaki Nation, MGM, Painted Horse, Northern Cree and Trail Mix.

"It's a feeling I can't describe," said 24-year-old Rusty Diamond, Pawnee/Otoe, of Pawnee, Okla., about the Grammy Award. "We're all very excited."

The group's members said they've received congratulations from family members and friends, e-mail from people they don't even know and requests to play and sing at functions across the nation since the televised Grammy Award show on Feb. 21.

"It's already boosted our name. The group sells our own CDs and it's boosted sales," Silas said.

The Tribe formed in 1997. At that time, all of the singers and drummers were students at Haskell Indian Nations University.

The membership has changed over the years, and current members represent 15 different languages.

"We're not all from one place and it's hard to stay together," Silas said, explaining that Haskell students often return home during the summer months. "Summertime is the most vital, and it's the hardest (time) to stick together.

"The positive side is ... we come from different groups we learn each other's language and can sing in other languages. Few groups can do that."

The Tribe is all-male, but Jancita Warrington, 23, Menominee/Prairie Band Potawatomi, of Keshena, Wis., sometimes sings with the group.

"Certain families allow women to sit at the drums, but usually not," Shannon Ross, 27, Eastern Cherokee, of Cherokee, N.C., said. "They usually stand behind the men and sing at a higher pitch and tone."

The Tribe, which credits Manny King, registrar at Haskell, for giving them sound career advice, recently signed with Canyon Records and will be recording its third album this spring at a powwow at the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona.

The Tribe performs 49 weekends each year. About 75 percent of the touring costs come from sales of CDs and tapes at performances. The rest of the expenses are paid from members' own pockets.

Regardless of sales and Grammy Awards, the purpose of The Tribe is to gather and sing around the drum, aid Reuben Littlehead, 26, Cheyenne, of Lamedeer, Mont.

"We as young singers never forget what it is to sing around the drum," he said.

"It's of happiness and it's of good times because it's a powerful thing for our culture. It's the heartbeat of our people. It's not about always the old people anymore. It's good to see the young generation carrying on the tradition. Young groups today know the songs, and respect and know the ideas behind it."

Silas agreed. "The recognition, money and professional recording is just an added bonus to it," he said.

Other members of the group are Mike King, 18, Navajo/Ute, of Shiprock, N.M.; Kenneth Coriz, 22, Santa Domingo, of Thoreau, N.M.; Verlin Johnson, Navajo, 19, of Shiprock, N.M.; Jay Pewaush, 24, Ojibway, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Samuel Cook, 25, Pawnee/Creek, of Pawnee, Okla.; Jimmy Peters, 20, Oglala/Lakota, of Denver; Lakota Clairmont, 26, Rosebud Sioux, of Lakewood, Colo.; and Ernie Shaw III, 20, Oneida, of Oneida, Wis.

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