Music is a form of art. For the musician it is a way to express their form of originality, talent and or knowledge on the form of art they are presenting. The Emerson Windy song/video, “Peace Pipe”, demonstrates how you could sing without any of these qualities, while being racially insulting at the same time. The video has the creative depth of a puddle and the song’s lyrics plays into the most banal racist stereotypes of Native Americans.
Hip Hop videos are viewed by millions of youth around the world.
Unfortunately, videos like this ensure that harmful and disrespectful notions of Indian people are passed on to the next generation.
The Native American Pipe, Eagle Feathers and Headdress’ are sacred and held in the highest esteem. To see these holy objects (or imitations of them) depicted as nothing more than a get- high- party accessory is appalling.
Not too long ago, it was against the law for Indians to practice these rituals and could be executed for doing so. It took fourteen years after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the First People of America to ‘legally’ practice a culture that was going on thousands of years before the Bible was even written. In 1978, The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was finally passed.
Taking part in a Native Ceremony is not only sacred, but knowing that less than 40 years ago you could be arrested for praying, or worse ; gives it the added value of triumph over bigotry.
But today instead of being outlawed, these ceremonies are belittled with this hipster in a headdress phenomenon. Long before Emerson Windy’s ignominious shtick, there were others.
Ten years ago, when the rap artist Andre 3000 came out at the Grammys in that hideously green ‘Indian costume’ and performed “Hey ya”; Native people were outraged from coast to coast. CBS would eventually issue a subdued apology but mainstream society remained disinterested.
But why, just like ten years ago there isn’t a collective outrage across the country? Some have said this is simply “freedom of speech and to get over it.”
Conversely, people from all walks of life, and political parties came together to castigate and shun Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling for their racist remarks. “Freedom of speech” didn’t seem to work for them. But when it comes to speaking out against Native American racism, the silence is deafening and excuses abound. But this should not just be insulting to Native Americans, right? Any person who holds their traditional, cultural or spiritual values sacrosanct should also understand.
Thankfully though, there are those who do see the unabashed Native American bigotry and condemn it. But there needs to be more, a lot more.
The intrinsic ability to empathize happens when you can clearly see yourself in that person. But, I suppose it’s difficult to envision your likeness, grossly exaggerated as a sports team mascot, or standing topless in the middle of nowhere getting stoned while wearing an "Indian Halloween costume." Or, after an evening dinner with friends and family shouting, “Yo, pass the mother fucken peace pipe!” These images, tropes and the countless other buffooneries are all caricatures Native People endure daily. The Emerson Windy video Peace Pipe is a continuation of the perverted distortions of a culture and people America has far too long ignored, nor took the time to seriously learn about.
Its time more people challenge themselves to learn something about where they live and certainly the people they are trying to imitate. You will surely come to realize, that you can be far more creative, respectful and entertaining than you ever imagined.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann is a citizen of the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts. He is an internationally acclaimed writer, poet, cultural educator, traditional storyteller, tribal drummer /dancer and motivational speaker involving youth sobriety, cultural and environmental awareness. Mann is also a board member of the Nipmuc Preservation Trust, which is an organization set up to promote the cultural, social and spiritual needs of Nipmuc people as well an educational resource of Native American studies. He travels throughout the United States, Canada and parts of Europe to schools, colleges, pow wows and other organizations sharing the music, culture and history of Nipmuc people. He has also given lectures at universities throughout New England on issues ranging from Native American Sovereignty to Identity. In 2010 his poetry was a winner in the Memscapes Journal of Fine Arts and 2013 Nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Tales From the Whispering Basket, as well as the newly released groundbreaking novel, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving.