Friday May 2, in Neskonlith, Secwepemc Territory, the Warrior Hip Hop Tour will pop off a month-long journey down a segment of Turtle Island’s western coast. The intention of the tour is “to begin to build a culture of resistance through hip hop and art, and to inspire and educate others through hip hop.” See this page for details and dates of the tour. And visit this page to help financially support the tour, which has yet to be fully funded. If you’re in the northwest this weekend, see the first show when the tour kicks off at Neskonlith Hall, Neskonlith, Secwepemc Territory on Friday, May 2 at 5:15 PM til late. There will be dinner and admission is by donation. The show will also feature Zro Prpht, ALAS and Shining Soul.
Bay Area Intifada is honored that these musician-warriors were interested in sharing their thoughts and hopes about the tour, why they do what they do slash how they are who they are, and stories from their people. The first artist we talked to is čəpəyətkʷwen, of Savage Family, from Lower Elwha nəxʷsƛ̕ay̕əm (Klallam). Check out one of their videos below.
BAI: So, I said I wanted to “interview” you, but I like discussions more and I don’t want to frame your story with my questions. So But there are some basic things to start with. So, how would you want to introduce yourself and your music?
Č: Our music is directly related to indigenous struggle of decolonization. To us, decolonization is the complete undoing of what colonization does—complete undoing in terms of ideology as well as system collapse. To figure out how to undo even building and dam constructions and to return to a healthy way of living, to mirror the ways of our ancestors. This is completely rooted in the idea of decolonizing the land, not just decolonizing the mind. We are focused on indigenous warriorism and system collapse, which would mean the destruction of what has now become known as western civilization.
BAI: For you, your music is part of that?
Č: For us, where we exist–where I exist–there is a prophecy that, at one point or another, people will return with songs. So the most important songs for us are the traditional songs and also songs that condition our people to directly confront civilization. There are specific people who will return and when they sing songs and bang on drums, the buildings and structures will fall. The contemporary form could be hip hop. When these people bring songs back, they will bring certain ideas. When they bring their words and their songs and hit the drums, those things will allow or force buildings to collapse. They will force the world to transition into the way the world was. People may take that metaphorically–that people will mentally return to ways of being. Or people may take that literally–that all the things that muffle our culture and land will be removed from the soil, from the earth, from our mother.
BAI: And this story of your people?
Č: Yeah. From the Lower Elwha nəxʷsƛ̕ay̕əm people, from the occupied area of the northwest, which is now called Washington. They decided to call us whatever name they wanted, so there is a different spelling for the federally recognized version and there is a different name for ourselves.
The prophecy comes from not just my people but other people in the area as well. Our people don’t see the prophecy metaphorically. Our people see it as a literal thing and we also have agency. We don’t just watch as this occurs. It is an amazing powerful thing but it is also a demanding thing and is an obligation. That is the foundational principle. A lot of people find our stuff radical and some have a difficult time digesting what we’re suggesting. We’re suggesting the sacrifice of our people in order to protect our people. We see where our people are, culturally and spiritually. Spiritually can be defined in different ways. It is functioning in a place and is dictated by the land. That’s what we think spiritual means. We’re IN the center but we are not THE center. Cultural and spiritual are synonymous. It means nothing without functioning in a certain way. We have the highest rate of suicide and overdosing, etc. We have to work to create a better environment. We have to be in place to make that fight by any means, regardless of what that outcome may be. We are being killed regardless. You have to be willing to sacrifice your life and the luxury of western life, from simple things to big things, like moving damns and transitioning into who we are. Our warriors died because of the biological forces brought on by things like smallpox. People who found the power of war for the purpose of protection died, but that doesn’t mean they no longer exist. They are here. Civilization needs to return.
Our music reflects a kind of resistance– people willing to stand up and protect ourselves. Our focus is youth. They are under attack by pedophiles, drug peddlers, and others. We can’t just hope those things are gonna change. We have to live those prayers and stop those things. Its not like we don’t exist. Things are made up of matter. Scientists have come to some sort of conclusion that we pass down a genetic memory. We maintain our stories through our genetics. This is connected to the land we’re from. Things don’t cease to exist. They continue in the cycle and process of revolution. So the rebirth, or what people would call reincarnation, is not lost in the way our people are–the suggestion that someone would still be present and the consciousness would be present. This is not an individual: It’s a collection of ideas and the life that makes them. It’s just like there is a person that is a shell and the thing which the shell carries in it. They never cease to exist. And that’s the way we used to function. But because of colonization, we don’t function that way. We don’t see it that way. We’ve been pushed into Christianity, where we die and to go to some far off place. For us, instead of heaven and hell, we always return to the land, whether or not that is through matter, fertilizer or consciousness. The ideas, the principles and the values stay. They are always there whether or not we choose to follow them.
BAI: What do you expect to come out of this tour?
Č: We said we’d be down for this because in every area, there is usually only small handfuls of people who support or who are willing to indentify with struggle that many people on the tour share. The most important thing is to create networks and find people who are willing to support our inner beings and things we are doing. That is the central point. And not just in universities, but also in different reserves that are facing some of the most significant struggles in their histories. To build support for the things all of us are doing. Creating a culture of resistance. Let people know that these are the things we’ve been taught for so long. It’s okay to stand against the system. We want to connect with people who are on the cusp of trying to figure out what their role is—whether it is music, communication or conversating. To help them transition from the proverbial fence and instead be like, okay, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s what we’re trying to do. Music is a way to make it more digestible and make them more comfortable about what they’re trying. After a while, someone in a suit and tie, talking to them, becomes boring. But society wasn’t created for us; it was created for slaves.
BAI: The messaging going out about the tour talks about creating a culture of resistance. What does that mean to you?
Č: I think this means several different things for different people. I’ve spoken in different venues and different people have different ideas. For me, as a representative for Savage Family and for my people, the stance is that everything you are trying and doing is at odds with everything that persists and is currently in place. When I say system, I mean the dominant system, the economic system and all these things in place that are at odds. Resistance is returning to speaking our language as our first language; understanding our relevant principles and values and ceremonies; understanding what that means in how we act. If we are odds with these things, our task is to resist. So resistance is to push the system’s elements away so they are no longer present and we can grow and strive. Ultimately, it is resisting anything that leads to the ultimate destruction as it has been imposed upon our people in these illegal occupied lands. Other people may see it differently. You can’t just say this is indigenous land. You can’t talk about stripping and mining just because you possess some hereditary existence upon people of that land, just because you happen to want that, just because you want the system in place for yourself. Like, some people think you can function and have equality within the system. The system is the problem, so it’s necessary that we are working for resistance of this system.
BAI: Who would you say you are responsible to in your music?
Č: I don’t separate my work from who I am. It’s always directly the land itself–the land that gave our people life. For us, in our stories, we’re the youngest in existence. We came last. The plants, then the fish, then the other animals came before us. We came afterwards. We were given life for the purpose, primarily (not only as a protector) but primarily to live up to our obligations, to take care of these things in the environment.
The youth are very important to my people. But we have to look at the situation. We have to say, here is what we’re going to hand you off in the future. But without the land and its principles, there is no us. I can make sure the youth have a safe area to live, but there could still be nothing present for how our people lived. The accountability is directly to the land and beings within it, prior to us. With or without humans, there is a culture present. The culture has a certain way of existing. We take our place according to the principles and values from the land itself. My obligation is to that–to make sure that that can be held still and functioning again. My ultimate function is to remove any kind of block that allows land to be destroyed, but also to allow it to be extended in a way that we are complete human beings– to bring back those principles as well. Humans are irrelevant in the situation. That’s the reason it becomes no problem in saying that destroying civilization is no problem. That is the reality of these situations. Our people figured that out a long time ago when we tried to build small cities and they didn’t work. We know we are the most irrelevant in the function and circle that keeps life continuing and even a hindrance to that. It’s amazing when you listen to stories.
Where we are from, we consider ourselves to be salmon people. We made an agreement very early on with the salmon. Salmon provide people with sustenance to survive by them offering themselves to us. We had to make sure their waterways stayed clear so they could return to the river, spawn and return to the ocean. They foresaw what would become the problem. We had the largest damn project built over here: two large lakes for all these people and power for people in the area. So when those damns were built, our people said that the salmon where trying to return and crushing their heads against the damn trying to fulfill their obligations. But we did nothing to knock down the damns. They were offering their life but we were not offering our lives. We forgot our obligations and accountability. My obligation is to all of the things in and around the Elwha River and people and our true relationships with these beings. I don’t matter without these things. I have no purpose without them.
BAI: Does your name come from this river?
Č: Yes. Our whole identity comes from the place where our people were born. They would have a different perception of the world. When the Europeans came into the area, the people were welcoming—the elders talk about this, some from other tribes also—they suggested that our ancestors were cool because we used to visit other places as well and understood our identities as belonging to the place that is giving us life. We always returned. We didn’t think people would want to stay because of the assumption that they would want to return home because everyone would ultimately want to be centered, and would be healthiest and happiest in place that gave them life.
BAI: Yes. That makes sense. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important? That you want to add?
Č: No, not if you don’t have any other questions. Well, I actually asked several comrades for what they would want to hear from you. One compa wanted to know whot your musical influences are. I listen to my kids sing the old songs. That’s really been it. For what I’m trying to do in reaching other people and remind other people of our struggle and what it is, I think that I understand hip hop as a tool to spread our message further. But I’m also very aware that hip hop is just that for me. I don’t knock anyone else for for utilizing performance. But because I’m rooted in my understanding and obligation to the land, when I hear my children sing and their connection to how the wind goes through the cedar trees and the ways the water hits the rock, that helps me communicate in this foreign language, in English, to utilize hip hop as a language to communicate with. I listen to people here or there, butmy most inspiration is my children and them being able to understand and sing the songs that, at one point, were illegal for my people to sing without being put in an institution or killed.
BAI: That’s really beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing these stories with us. We really look forward to chilling in person when you come to Oakland.