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May 26, 2009

Native American School Band Rocks the Oldies–and the Ancients


“What we do is get a flatbed truck,” said Kim Cournoyer, Standing Rock High School band director. “We put a generator on there, we plug in the electric bass, and we play.”

Standing Rock High School visits the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to perform an ancient Lakota warrior song, “The Land You Fear”.

By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

New York—Ten years ago Kim Cournoyer answered an ad seeking a music teacher at the high school on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Fort Yates, N.D.

An urban Indian, Cournoyer was raised in the Chicago suburbs, far from the rural reservation of her forbears, which straddles the border of North and South Dakota. But the University of South Dakota-trained clarinetist had a dream of starting an all-Indian high school band.

On June 5 at 1 p.m., the Standing Rock High School Band will perform a free concert at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. For details, visit http://www.americanindian.com/.

The museum appearance is part of a tour on which the band will play an ancient Lakota prayer song called “The Land You Fear.” Cournoyer spent the spring transcribing it from the oral tradition and arranging it for the band.

“I believe the students need to embrace their culture, kind of like I did,” said Cournoyer, 45, who is Standing Rock Sioux, like most of her students.

Learn more about the Standing Rock High School Band by going to www.myspace.com/standingrockschoolband.

American Indian marching bands emerged in the boarding-school era, when students were trained in European musical instruments and patriotic marches. From the 1930s through the 1950s, dozens of Indian nations had their own marching bands made up of musicians trained in boarding schools. A few of these bands survive, such as the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Band of Arizona and Nevada, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006.

But today all-Indian high school bands are rare, said Georgia Wettlin-Larsen, director of the First Nations Composer Initiative. Musical education, beyond culturally-based drumming and singing, is almost nonexistent in tribal schools, she said. That makes Cournoyer’s program both distinctive and important.

“I was so excited when I first saw them,” Wettlin-Larsen said. “Native kids playing instruments. Like other high school bands, they play high school band music. Now, they are incorporating traditional Lakota music.”

The high cost of music instruction is a common barrier, but the Standing Rock Sioux community, where unemployment hovers around 70 percent, does not let that stand in the band’s way. The school district buys all the instruments, although the band lacks marching harnesses, equipment to support massive instruments such as tubas.

“We don’t have tubas, so I substitute with bass lines,” Cournoyer explained. “What we do is get a flatbed truck, we put a generator on there, we plug in the electric bass, and we play.”

“The Land You Fear” is a song that Courtney Yellow Fat, lead singer of Grammy-nominated powwow drum group Lakota Thunder, introduced to Cournoyer. Yellow Fat is also the culture and language teacher at Standing Rock Middle School.

The “Land You Fear” is old, probably from before Columbus landed in the Americas. It was recorded in the early 1900s by anthropologist Frances Densmore (1867-1957). But like most indigenous music, it had not been written down before.

“That song was meant for a warrior to go off to war and not have any fear,” Yellow Fat said. “In contemporary times, we put out a warrior who must be a well-rounded person, who must be a warrior for the people.”

Those close to the band say they hope the song will become a bridge for understanding between Native people and mainstream America.

New York City composer Maurice Patrick Byers, former composer in residence at LaGuardia Arts High School, the renowned “Fame” school, likens the potential of Cournoyer’s program to what happened in the 1990s when the Soweto String Quartet began transcribing the traditional music of its members’ South African tribe and performing it on stringed instruments.

Hear the Soweto String Quartet at http://www.sowetostringquartet.co.za/

“Imagine apartheid in South Africa, and these four African musicians show up with this (indigenous) music on the string quartet,” Byers said. “Blacks and whites go crazy for it. That is the same kind of bridge-building that is necessary in the United States.”

Once the song is written, it has the potential to be published as sheet music other bands could perform. Standing Rock High School’s rendition of “The Land You Fear” promises to be dramatic. In addition to the student musicians, Cournoyer will play the cedar flute, Yellow Fat will sing, and powwow dancers will perform.

Byers said, “You could create something that sort of sounds like it, and is superficial. But that’s not her at all.”

What most concerns Cournoyer, speaking between classes late in the school year, is her students’ future.

In the 10 years since the band started—with 14 kids—nearly 100 percent of the band’s students have graduated. Some of them have used the discipline they gained in learning to play music to go to two- or four-year colleges. Most are employed, and living productive lives in the community. Yellow Fat said many are involved with their culture.

Cournoyer hopes this tour, into which she has built time to explore New York City, will broaden her students’ horizons. It is the Standing Rock Sioux teacher’s prayer that her students, as the ancient song that she transcribed says, will learn to walk with victory, instead of fear.

“I want them to know that this world is bigger than they think it is,” Cournoyer said. “And they are capable of so much more than they think they are.”

Hear Lakota Thunder by going to www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwQFmTwbQpE.

Visit the First Nations Composers Initiative at http://www.fnci.org/.

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Fantastic! Bridging cultural divides using the universal language of music. I believe this will penetrate stereotypes where mere talking has failed.

That's a very ingenious way to play other arenas. The generator does not make to much noise?.

Very interesting. I was unaware of the great history and tradition of Native American high school bands. It is a shame that the number of these bands has decreased. Kim Cournoyer, Standing Rock High School, and the Standing Rock Sioux community should be applauded for their determination, hard work, and support to keep this tradition alive. The fact that they incorporate traditional Lakota music into their repertoire is terrific. Maybe some of that gaming money that some Native American tribes are bringing in should be used to sponsor more of these bands.

marching bands is cool then Native School Band Rocks is so load i think...awesome

May 13, 2009

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America

Members of the 4 Wheel Warpony skate team (White Mountain Apache). Photo courtesy of Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), 2008.

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America
June 12, 2009–November 1, 2009
NMAI on the National Mall, Washington, DC

Ramp it Up celebrates the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture. Skateboarding combines demanding physical exertion with design, graphic art, filmmaking, and music to produce a unique and dynamic culture. One of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, skateboarding has inspired American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to host skateboard competitions and build skate parks to encourage their youth. Native entrepreneurs own skateboard companies and sponsor community-based skate teams. Native artists and filmmakers, inspired by their skating experiences, credit the sport with teaching them a successful work ethic. The exhibition features rare and archival photographs and film of Native skaters as well as skatedecks from Native companies and contemporary artists.

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I find this very interesting. I grew up when the skate board culture was reaching it's popularity in the early 80's. It at the time was a white kid suburban type thing ofcourse some of us joined in. It is now a very popular past time. I enjoy it. I however just don't see it as part of our culture. I think there are many other things that our youth could focus on that could keeped them focused our give them a better work ethic. Maybe learning some of and reviving some of the traditional ways.


Young people always have taken the things they come in contact with and changed them to fit their world view. Horse was a big dog for the People brought over by new immigrants, and yet Horse became part of the Way. Young people who find a vehicle that helps galvanize their identity should never be diminished or ignored, particularly when it empowers them to grow and build themselves on a good road as this exhibit shows.

Any activity that keeps our youth not in front of the TV is excellent. Skateboard is much of our culture now then any other recreational sport.

Now for us "old" guys who grew up in the 80s skating, but are now too lazy to push, they've got electric skateboards.

I think skateboarding is unlike any other activity because it promotes a positive lifestyle that can be applied to any group, ethnicity, or nationality. Having been raised here but born elsewhere I always struggled to reconcile the 2 world's as I could only assume Native Americans do on a much deeper level. Skateboarding, I believe, acts as a vehicle to understand yourself first, then have the strength to go back and understand your past, so you can shape the future. Skateboarding saves the world!

This is so rad. Applying art and culture into a sport that teens are stoked on is something very rare these days. It's kinda like the tahoe paddle fest for peoples on the west coast. What are the names of the artists and companies? I'm sure a skate magazine such as thrasher or transworld would love to hear about this and get these kids some promo. Thanks NMAI for covering this!

I used to skateboarding when i was in college.Me and my friends used to do skateboarding in weekends.I thank you for this article, you brought back my memories.

In regard of Shoshone, Skateboarding requires an incredible amount of focus. It also requires a huge commitment of time to be just average. Anyone that skateboards, has to know commitment and persistence very well. I do believe that there are values that are learned from skateboarding.

This reminds me of this time when I was 15 and skateboarding. I tried to do a trick of a picnic table, the board went straight down and I landed on top of it. Let me tell you this was the worst bruise I have ever had in my entire life. LOL

Do you weblinks to the artists, both those who may have documented the work and those creating the work?

I used to skateboard when I was in college. Me and my friends used to do skateboarding on weekends.I thank you for this article, you brought back my memories.

Hi people, all man's situations have their ups and downs.

Keeping kids busy with a sport activity they like is important for their health and to keep them away from troubles (drugs, street gangs...)

Thanks for sharing.

Skateboarding is something kids really enjoy and I think this is really important. But the kids need to realize how important it is to have their helmets on.

Wow...I've never heard of native american skateboarders...this is news to me....interesting article.

Skateboarding is great for kids. Our localpark has recently been renovated and now has a complete skate area. It gives the kids something to do. They can use their energy in a positive way.
We sell products to a lot of skateboarders and think these guys really love what they do.

Interesting culture Skateboarding is. It is not just a habit anymore :)

I am from Brazil and we have a nice ramp built in the middle of amazon jungle, where native people from there used to skate, but it is so hard to get skateboard parts that they quit skating.


This is a great project for indigenous Indie filmmakers to follow up. We will make sure our community promotes the work.


Dingi Ntuli

Kids and adults enjoy skatboarding. We really need a skatepark here but the local council hate yet to begin work. It was agreed that our park would be open this year but it's not looking too good at this point!

Well done. There is absolutely no doubt that active involvement of sport, in all its forms, can be a positive influence on all involved - both those who are actively involved as well as those that support them.

Great to hear and see that the sport of skateboarding is inspiring and helping these young people of two great cultures.

Golfing News

hi, i am Tony.
Discovered this site when I was browsing for material for our webpage, clearly it’s not all relative however its interesting how you can reach a web site accidentally and find yourself looking through something completely different but just as helpful. I am inclined to get distracted a quite a lot this way.

Wow it just goes to show how small minded people are (myself included) that would never even have entertained the thought of native americans doing something that is so common and that so many of us enjoy... great post :)

Skateboarding is a great way to not only express yourself but also meeting new like minded friends and having a great time. Im a skater from the 70% from way back with the old plastic board and wheels but now im all about my nike sb trainers and plywood boards. How times have changed.

thanks for sharing this great article

Interesting article, very educative and mind opening.

that's a really cool idea, never thought skate boarding could be an effective cultural tool but obviously it can...

I had no idea that Native Americans were into skateboarding. It is nice to hear that they are doing something positive and constructive as youth. Hopefully we will see some of them on ESPN one day.

Hey there i think thats a great idea we need more skate parks everywhere but especially in places were it could not just motivate people to skate but to motivate and show that anyone can accomplish anything they set there minds to whether it be getting good at skateboarding or by proving to themselves that it was by getting better at a really hard sport to get the hang of thank you so much
henry james

Interesting article,
Honestly havent heard about skating on this level,
but it could create lots of fun and joy.

This looks like incredible fun for the kids, and anything interactive is sure to be a hit with young people. Skateboarding is a great sport to become involved in.

Thanks for this nice post

Nice info.

Nice post with great information i come to know about through this article

May 12, 2009

T Dolls



We have legions of dolls waiting to be dressed and fixed up by little hands at this weekend's Children Festival.

I asked Cody why we sometimes call them Comanche dolls. "Because a Comanche lady taught me how to make them." she explained. The bodies of the dolls are made from tea-dyed muslin, just like in the old days. Kids will get to pick out their colors and dress them up.


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