Climate change topic for Native American Cultural Celebration at MONAH

Climate change topic for Native American Cultural Celebration at MONAH

It all started as one little boy’s interest in Scouting, which added Native American “history and lore” to what he already knew of his Cherokee heritage.

Over the years since David Bogle founded the Museum of Native American History in his home in 2006, those childhood fascinations have grown into a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts spanning 14,000 years, along with an annual Native American Cultural Celebration that last year drew more than 200,000 participants from around the globe.

This year’s sixth event, scheduled for Sept. 19-21, will be even bigger and better, says Charlotte Buchanan-Yale, the museum’s director, because it will take place both via the magic of the internet and in person at the Bentonville facility that Bogle opened in 2008.

“Through the years, we have highlighted David Bogle’s vision of teaching history through our art collection that honors the artistry and diversity of the First People of ALL the Americas,” Buchanan-Yale explains. “The three-day festival celebrates Indigenous people, knowledge, art, pop culture and cuisine with workshops, performances and meet-and-greets. We are bringing together some of the most joyful presenters dedicated to a serious subject — climate change — joined in conversation with music performances; author events; Coyote and Crow, a tabletop role-playing game created by an Indigenous creative team representing a dozen tribes; and, of course, food.”

The theme this year is “Indigenuity 2.0: Honoring the Lessons of Mother Earth,” hearkening back to a word credited to Daniel Wildcat, a professor of environmental studies at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Buchanan-Yale defines Indigenuity — Indigenous ingenuity — as “a movement” to bring the best of the Indigenous people’s ancient wisdom to bear on modern problems.

As Wildcat said in 2021, the most vital of those modern crises is climate change, although he says he’s “not sure it’s ours to ‘solve.’” But, he believes, “Indigenous voices will be the most important voices in the 21st century if humankind is going to successfully address global climate change.”

“We still have in our traditions such deep insights and knowledge about humankind’s relationship to land, plants, water — in a very practical sense,” Wildcat says. “We need to reinstill deeper awareness of the world around us. If we pay attention, we might learn something from the forest, from the rivers, from the earth and the sky.”

Wildcat says it’s about something “more fundamental” than being a “tree-hugger.” When the culture of the Indigenous people emerged in North America, everything they needed — clothing, food, shelter, medicines — had to come from the landscape around them. That, he says, means they had to pay very close attention to those surroundings or suffer the consequences.

“Our ancestors had a deep and experiential knowledge of the world that too many of us living in the modern world have forgotten,” he says, “and that’s what we need to regain today.”

Six years ago, “we built the first Cultural Celebration around the classic book ‘Black Elk Speaks,’ John Neihardt’s conversation and friendship with the Oglala Lakota medicine man, who shared his visions,” Buchanan-Yale says of the Cultural Celebration’s inception in 2017. “Black Elk as a young boy had a vision that the hoop of his nation would be broken, and in time, Wounded Knee came to pass. But his vision was far reaching into the future when all of the hoops of the nations of the world would come together and the tree of life would flourish.

“To me, ‘indigenuity’ is a movement that crosses over and inspires future generations to build on traditional knowledge with sustainable adaptability and use their creator’s gifts in their future professions to learn how to be good stewards of this planet,” Buchanan-Yale goes on. “The idea is that we do not need a better mouse trap, we need to methodically to think out our solutions, and if you find yours is bad for our air or water, keep thinking.”

Speaker Laura Harjo is a Mvskoke scholar and interim chairman of the Department of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Southern California in geography, while also tracking through the American Studies and Ethnicity doctoral program, and her session at the Cultural Celebration will be “focused on convening as a community to figure out what we care about and what we want to build together.”

“It is an intentional workshop meant to engender a collective conversation to find commonality through that which we cherish,” she says. “First and foremost being Indigenous is bound up in the values we carry out on a daily basis — concepts like respect, generosity, honoring our ancestors and future relatives, helping one another, and caretaking to name a few.

“Indigenous people are not a vanishing people. We have languages, philosophies that have sustained us and will continue to do so. We have lived in post-apocalyptic times many times over, and while climate change is conceived in an apocalyptic way, we will continue with planning desired futures for our relatives yet to be born.”

Harjo will speak at 11 a.m. Sept. 21.

Michael Begay

“These Cultural Celebrations are also important to debunk the Hollywood stereotype of mythical, conquered people and spotlight Indigenous trailblazers making history today,” Buchanan-Yale says. “I have always thought to blow that image out of the water, bring in [as we did] the first Native American astronaut, Commander John Herrington, or Academy Award-winning actor Wes Studi.”

This year, that “trailblazer” is Michael Begay, a Diné performer/composer of chamber music, experimental sound, Native American flute, and metal music. Born in Tuba City, Ariz., on the western edge of the Diné Nation, Begay says he was “very fortunate to learn about my culture and my identity early on while growing up. My parents were very supportive of me learning both traditional and modern teachings. I think we all have obligations to both serve the past, the present and future generations.

“The more I learn about my culture, the more I have an understanding of where I came from and where I want to go,” he adds. “Sometimes, I incorporate Diné elements into my pieces, be it a Diné title with Diné subjects, or it could be a Diné story (if the season allows). I think there need to be more Indigenous voices in music, especially in the classical world.”

This summer, Begay worked with the Torrey (Utah) Chamber Music Festival as a composer-in-residence and performer; taught Lakota and Dakota youth music composition in two weeklong music intensives with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra; and completed a residency with Grand Canyon Music Festival’s Native American Composer’s Apprentice Project which, he says, is the program that started him in music composition when he was a teenager living in the Diné Nation in the early 2000s.

“I have a few new compositions coming out: cello quartet, cello octet, two full orchestra arrangements of some of my older works, and I also have an experimental guitar and synth album that is about to be released, and I also have a couple of big projects on the way,” he says, adding that as part of the Cultural Celebration, he’ll not only perform with guitarist Larry Mitchell but will instruct students from the Arkansas Arts Academy in both composition and ensemble performance.

“We will be working on a new composition that will be performed by the students, [and] I am also working on a couple new compositions to be premiered at the performance,” he says.

Larry Mitchell

Mitchell, a Grammy award-winning producer, engineer and performer who has toured the world playing with scores of well-known artists, says he got his first guitar when he was 9 and growing up in Brooklyn — after his mom threw his toy drum set out the window.

“I didn’t know about or get into Native American music until the year 2001, much later in life,” he explains. “I was asked to do a fill-in guitar gig at a pow wow in Fort Snelling Park in Minneapolis. It was a world I had not been exposed to before.”

As a producer-engineer, Mitchell has won 26 New Mexico Music Awards in various categories from pop, adult contemporary, rap and rock to country and Native American. He won a Grammy Award for producing, engineering and performing on “Totemic Flute Chants” by artist Johnny Whitehorse, who is better known as Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo, and is currently touring with his own trio as well as with Native artists Mirabal, Shelley Morningsong, Dawn Avery and Joy Harjo.

“Being part of a Native festival on my own is an honor,” Mitchell says. “I only have a tiny, tiny bit of Native (Creek) in my family [and] usually when I do Native American events it is with another Native American artist.

“I’m excited to see what [Michael Begay and I] come up with. Our styles are so different, but the intention behind the art is nearly the same.”

Mitchell and Begay will perform together at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21. Like the rest of the conference, the performance is free to the public.

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