My responsibilities as a Native artist | An interview with Supaman

Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, known professionally as Supaman, is on a mission: to educate, empower, and inspire Native and non-Native audiences all over the world. An Apsáalooke rapper and fancy dancer who was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in Crow Agency, Montana, Supaman combines the hard-hitting lyrics and energy of hip-hop with contemporary forms of traditional Native American dance—in full regalia—and his own positive messages, rhythms, and beats.

The child of struggling alcoholics, Parrish and his brother spent part of their childhood in foster care before being returned to their mother, whom he calls his hero because “she did the work to get her life together.” While still in elementary school he began writing poetry and dancing at powwows, introduced by his maternal grandfather.

In junior high he became drawn to hip-hop as “the voice of the oppressed” and started DJ-ing and beat-boxing. Soon he began writing and performing his own music and, as a young man, reached out to renowned Native rapper Gary Litefoot Davis for advice and support. Litefoot liked what Supaman sent him and the two toured together in 1999.

In 2003 Supaman founded the Native American hip-hop group Rezawrecktion. The group’s very first album (It’s Time) won a Native American Music Award in 2005. Since then, he has released five solo albums and received critical and popular praise for his song Why? (featuring Acosia Red Elk), his hit track, Prayer Loop Song (in which he combines the drum and Native flute, while also beatboxing, rapping, and remixing Native tracks), and his participation in the viral music video and song, Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL, which won an MTV VMA (Video Music Award) for Best Video with a Social Message in 2017. In fact, social messaging is the core of everything Supaman does. His performances educate, empower, and immerse his audiences in the positive energy Christians might call agape love. He has developed a reputation for producing all of his albums himself, doing everything from singing and writing the music to creating and designing the covers. His newest album, Illuminatives, was released on January 1, 2018, and features songs from his viral videos.

Supaman has received numerous awards for his work as a DJ, rapper, and fancy dancer, including the Tuney Award, which he won seven times; the Aboriginal Peoples Music Choice Award; and the North America Indigenous Music Award.

Supaman and his fancy dance colleague Acosia Red Elk came to the Methow Valley for a concert in February and several performances in local schools. All of his performances were thought-provoking, high energy, laugh-filled love fests, infecting Natives and non-Natives alike. He allowed me to interview him once by phone and once in person—and on video. – Leslee Goodman

“I pray for peace, I pray for change, even though things still stay the same.” (Prayer Loop Song)

The MOON: Will you tell us about the road you’ve taken to become Supaman?

Supaman: I took the artistic name Supaman before I was even a rapper, when I was a DJ and a break dancer. On the reservation I was immersed in our Native culture, but we’re also influenced by the culture of the dominant society, including hip-hop culture. I was really drawn to hip-hop when it first came out. It was the voice of oppressed people, which was similar to the experience of Natives.

At the time I was a break dancer, and my B-boy name was Short C, because I was shorter in size and my name is Chris. It was an old-school name. Then I started DJ-ing, started getting turntables and trying to mix and scratch, and just be the best DJ I could. My friend and I were on our way to a DJ battle and I didn’t have a DJ name for the competition. My friend said, “Hurry up; we’re almost there. Just use a comic book character’s name.” We started naming off comic book characters and my friend said, “Man, I don’t know, just use Superman. You don’t drink or do drugs; you defeat your enemies; you’re good, like Superman.” It was kind of off the wall, kind of corny. I spelled it different to make it more hip-hop. Then I won the DJ battle, and it was on TV and in the newspaper, “DJ Supaman wins,” so the name stuck. I started making mixtapes and CDs with DJ Supaman as my name and using comic book characters for my covers. So as an artist, I’m Supaman.

The MOON: Is there a story, too, behind your given name, Christian Parrish Takes the Gun?

Supaman: My grandma named me Christian, and Takes the Gun is our family name on my mother’s side. I don’t know the history. I also have an Apsáalooke name, Akemarshala, which means “Good Fortune on Mother Earth.”

That name was given to me by my grandpa, Frank Takes the Gun, who was a great man among our people. At home, he’s just Grandpa, but he was the president of the Native American Church for a long time when he was younger. He did a lot for the American Indian Movement when the feds were raiding the Native American Church for its peyote ceremonies down on the res’. Nobody spoke English back then, so when the feds threw the men in jail, the older men would say, “Go get Frank Takes the Gun,” although he was just a little boy, because he knew how to speak English. So my grandpa would come and translate for them. He’d even accompany them to court, so they could understand what was going on.

That’s how he learned the ways of the peyote ceremony and became a member of the church. It’s also how he acquired a knowledge of the law. He doesn’t have a law degree, but he has been in so many court cases defending Native American rights. He even went to the U.S. Supreme Court—and won. We can have these ceremonies now without fear of prosecution because of him and his vision to preserve that right. It’s an honor for me to come from that spiritual greatness.

The MOON: Why did he give you the name “Good Fortune on Mother Earth”?

Supaman: He just wanted me to have a good life. When somebody gives you a name they pray for you throughout your life. The name itself becomes a kind of prayer—that you will go in that direction and live up to your name. In the traditional way, your clan—your aunts or uncles or other relatives—name you. But nowadays if you know somebody who’s walking a good road or doing good things in life and you respect them, you can ask them to name your son or daughter.

The MOON: Why were you drawn to fancy dancing?

Supaman; I first started dancing powwow style when I was in junior high. Powwows are a big celebration where various tribes come together and share their cultures. A lot of the dances have a spiritual or ceremonial significance; they carry medicine. As Apsáalooke, our dance is called “Crow traditional” or “hot dancing.” That was the first dance style I learned. It’s significant to our people, the Apsáalooke. We wear a particular style of regalia and we dance a particular way, and people know us by that style wherever we go to dance. No other tribe dresses up like Crows, or has adopted our style.

But the way I dance now, which is fancy dancing, is an adopted style. It’s not Apsáalooke. It comes from Oklahoma, from the “Crazy dance,” or the “Horse dance,” created by two Ponca brothers who watched the way horses sometimes dance in the corral. They would lift their legs way up when they were feeling lively; they looked kind of wild. The two brothers created a dance to mimic those horses. They called it the crazy dance; it’s a contemporary dance. They won a dance contest at Haskell, Kansas, performing that dance, and they took it back to their home in Oklahoma, where it started to spread. People started doing that dance because it was created for the people, to bring joy and happiness—good medicine—to the people who are watching. That’s what I was always taught regarding the purpose of dancing. My grandpa who taught me said, “You can’t come out to the circle to dance just to win money, or to look to cool. That’s not why we dance. We dance for the people who are watching. Some of them may have lost a loved one, and their hearts are heavy. Some of them may be sick in their bodies and need a healing. Some of them can’t dance; they’re in wheelchairs. These are the ones you dance for, the people who are watching.

“That’s why your heart has to be in a good place when you dance, because when they watch you, people can see your heart. If your heart is in a good place, healing takes place out there in that circle. It’s powerful.

“That’s why, if you have any ill feelings towards anybody, go make it right with them first before you dance.”

Those are the values that I—and a lot of dancers—are taught. So, I adopted the style I dance now, which is called fancy dancing. It was hard because we didn’t know anything about the dance, really. There were only a couple of Crows, Apsáalooke, who danced that style. My mom gave me the go-ahead to adopt it. We put together a makeshift outfit, and got out there and looked closely at the other dancers and said, “Oh, I’m missing this. I’m missing that. Oh, man, I look pretty cheap,” but I didn’t quit. I had a passion for it and would practice. At powwows, after we danced Crow style, my brother and cousins would watch the fancy dancers, dancing fast and spinning around; we admired the energy. Then we’d go back to our camp and break cottonwood branches off the trees and act like we had whips or sticks that the fancy dancers used. We’d hit our coolers like drums and sing songs and have our own little fancy dance contest. Our families at the camp would laugh at us. “Look at them, they’re trying to be fancy dancers, trying to be a different tribe.” They laughed, but they liked it, too, and as time went on, more and more people started adopting different styles of dance in powwow culture, and it became accepted.

So nowdays, you can go to a powwow and you won’t necessarily be able to tell the tribe of a dancer by the dance he’s doing. There’s so much adoption going on, you can’t tell whether someone is dancing their own, or an adopted style of dance. I was even at a powwow on the east coast where I saw a young man who was a good fancy dancer, with a really good outfit, too. We danced together and then hung out. I told him I was from Crow Agency, “How about you? What’s your tribe?” And he said, “Oh, I’m not Native.” And I was like, “What?” He said, “Yeah, I hang out with this drum group. They kind of teach me their ways and I wanted to get out there to dance, so they taught me.” He was Mexican, which is also indigenous. He is Native; he just doesn’t know his tribe.

That’s another thing that I see at powwows now—that people and tribes who are losing their culture latch onto powwow culture to try to get some of it back. They have adopted powwow culture as their Native culture which is kind of good and bad I guess you could say. There are different ways you could look at it.

The MOON: I can see why it would be good for the people who are finding their way to something that feeds and nourishes them, but I can also understand why Native people might feel like, “Oh, my God, you’ve taken everything from us and now you’re going to co-opt our culture, too?”

Supaman: Exactly. The way I deal with it is to explain that the dance I do is not my people’s dance, and to give credit to the people who created it. I encourage anybody who’s going to dance to know the history of the dance they’re adopting. If possible, you should learn and dance your own dances first; know where you come from, your history, and who you are as a tribal affiliation. Then, maybe, adopt another style. But if you do, know the history, know the stories, of the dance you’re adopting. Educate yourself and show that respect to the other tribes of the dances you’re putting on, the regalia you’re wearing, when you go out onto the dance circle.

The MOON: I’m gathering it was your grandfather who introduced you to your roots as a Crow; is that correct?

Supaman: Yes.

The MOON: What were some of the other ways that he taught you your cultural history?

Supaman: We lived on the reservation so I was surrounded by the culture. It was just normal life. We have hand games, or stick games. We have a birthday give-away. We’re living in the culture, so we learn it automatically.

The MOON: Did you participate in any rite of passage or initiation as a young man?

Supaman: Not that I thought of in that way. Maybe when I went out hunting, and I was taught to give my first deer to my clan—to an aunty or uncle or other relative. It teaches you that you don’t hunt for yourself alone, but for others who maybe can’t hunt for themselves. Same with your naming ceremony. Your family, your clan, everybody comes together to support you when you are given your Indian name. It’s a big deal. You have a big meal together and all these people promise to support you, pray for you, look out for you. It’s a happy day.

The first time you come out to the dance circle is similar. You don’t just come out on your own and start dancing. Your family comes together to make and give you your outfit, which they may have worked on for weeks. You have a veteran or a warrior bring you out to the circle and announce to the people, “This is Chris, my grandson,” for example. “He’s Crow from the Big Lodge clan. This is his first time dancing.” In our tribe, you have to have the right to speak to announce something to the people. And your announcer will tell the people about the good deeds that you’ve done. Maybe you’re a cross-country runner, or you’re in some other sport, or maybe you’re on the honor roll. Then the veteran—the warrior who brings you out—dances with you, and all of your family gets behind you and dances around the circle one time to honor you. After that, you’re official. The people know that you have the right to go out there and to dance.

The MOON: I’ve read that you initially adopted the gangster lifestyle, along with the rap music genre. What changed your approach to the music?

Supaman: Just self-reflection. Growing up. If you wanted to be a rapper back in the day you had to walk the walk if you were going to talk the talk. You had to be real; you had to be living it. Everybody doing gangster rap was trying to be hardcore. On the rez, we tried to play the part. Besides, we were bored off our ass, so we’d do crazy things so that we could rap about it. It was foolish thinking, and it wasn’t really my character; I was just influenced by the culture. What changed me was my family—my daughter and my wife—and a supernatural experience I had the first time I was touring as a hip-hop artist.

I’d sent my demo to a Native rapper named Litefoot, who was one of the first native rappers to make any kind of recording or achieve a name for himself. Wanting to be a rapper, I thought, ‘‘I’ll send my demo to that guy. Maybe he has the resources to help me out.’’ So I did. And he liked it. He said, ‘‘Let’s see what you got. Let’s go on tour.’’ I thought that was the greatest thing ever; my big break. My wife said, “Go for it. This is your dream.”

So I make the decision to go on tour with this rapper and leave my wife and baby at home. I start performing, and I’m not in my right mind. I’m a young kid, influenced by gangster rap and the whole hip-hop culture and everything they’re saying. I’m trying to live up to that, and I’m not fully grounded in who I am as a Native and the values I grew up with.

We rapped at this one show and it was huge; it was a great success. The people loved it. Afterward, people were coming up to our table and signing autographs and these pretty girls came up and started feeding my ego. They were saying, “Man, you were awesome. Where you from?” I liked it. I enjoyed the attention from some beautiful girls, which is part of the lifestyle rap glorifies: fast women, fast money, all that shallow stuff.

Then the girls asked, “Where are you guys staying tonight?” I said, “Oh, I’m married,” and I showed them my ring, but they said, “So, who cares? We’ll just come visit; it’s all right.” So they came over to our hotel and I ended up kissing one of the girls. That’s all I did, but when they left, I felt bad. I tried to convince myself, “I’m a rapper now; whatever.” But I felt uneasy in my spirit. I felt the conflict between what I’d done and who I believed myself to be. I went into the bathroom and checked myself in the mirror. I thought, “Man, this is not me. This is not who I want to be. This is not it. Nope. Nope. Man, I shouldn’t have done that.”

I had grown up in church. My mom would take us to Catholic Church, and to the Pentecostal Church, so I grew up in western Christian spirituality, as well as Native spirituality. In Christianity, if you do something wrong, you ask for forgiveness. So that’s what I did. I prayed, “Forgive me, God, for doing what I shouldn’t have done. I’m sorry.”

I went to sleep, but when I woke up the next day I was sick. I was puking; I was in bad shape. In my juvenile thinking I figured, “Oh, God’s punishing me for what I did last night.” My thoughts were all over the place. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. God, take this sickness back, I’m sorry. I will not do it again. I will be good.” [Laughs]

When you’re going through a hard time, you really pray sincerely, you really make deals with the Creator. That’s what I did. I promised to walk this road in a good way, and be faithful if God would take this sickness away. But nothing happened. I remained sick for days and I couldn’t eat anything. I was weak, fatigued, and in bad shape, unable to perform–and this was my big opportunity!

We traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and my friend said, “Try to get some sleep man. I’ll wake up tomorrow and hopefully, you’ll feel better and we’ll do our show.” So I went to my room and sat there asking myself, “Man, why am I so sick?” I opened up the drawer in the nightstand and there was a Bible, like there always is. I opened it up to a passage where Jesus is on the cross, and people are spitting at him and saying bad things to him, and he says, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Being Native, Christianity is the religion of the oppressor. When I went to church as a kid, other Natives would ask me, “Why are you doing that?” Those people killed our people in the name of Jesus. Why would you want to go there? That’s the white man’s religion.”

But at the same time, I had felt real power in church services. I’d felt peace. I’d felt love in those services. So I always knew there was something good there, as well as the history that was evil. So when I read about Jesus in that moment of his life and how he showed love to people, no matter what, even to the people who were killing him, it touched me. It was powerful. I understood that it wasn’t right to reject Jesus because of the people who killed Indians in his name. Those people had evil in their hearts. They didn’t understand Jesus. They just used him for their own purposes. Because killing is not what Jesus taught. He taught love. He’s spreading love. Even when he was being crucified.

It was almost like a little revelation in that moment about Jesus Christ, that person. I shut the Bible and said, “Okay. You showed love. And if you are real—here’s me, always making deals with God [laughter]. If you are real, take this sickness away from me. I believe in you.” I said that prayer. I went to sleep. I woke up. Bam! I’m still sick [laughter]. Nothing happened.

Then my friend came to my room, saw that I’m still sick, and he said, “Man, maybe you’re just nervous. Maybe you aren’t cut out for this kind of work. Maybe you shouldn’t be here.” I’m worried that maybe he’s right. But he says, “Go to the restaurant and try to eat something. I’m going to go speak to the kids at the school and then hopefully, you can get some energy, and we can perform again.”

So he goes on his way, and I go into the restaurant by myself. I sit down. I order some eggs. They’re brought to my table and I’m looking at them, but I can’t eat. I’m just sick. Still, I pray and give thanks for my food. I’m sitting there, unable to eat, just I’m sipping water. I’m looking around the restaurant, thinking about life, thinking about my decisions, my wife, and rap, and God, and I’m in a weird place emotionally. I looked across the restaurant and noticed this old white lady with white hair.

While I’m looking at her from way across the room, something speaks to my heart and says, “I want you to pray for that lady.” I think, “What the..?” And then I think, “All right. Whatever. You’re talking to me and you want me to pray for this lady, God? Okay; I will. I’ll pray for that lady if you bring her right over here to my table. That’s how I’ll know it’s you.” I kind of laughed at myself in my mind. “Yeah, right. I’m talking to God. He’s talking to me. And we’re having a conversation.”

So I’m sitting there sipping on my water, just looking around, and bam, this lady gets up. She’s elderly so she’s moving real slow. She can barely get up. I look at her and I don’t know why, but I start getting nervous. She starts walking over to the left where the bathrooms are, so I think, “Okay. She’s going to the bathroom.” But she passes the bathroom and continues walking along the wall to where the exit is, and I’m thinking, “Oh, yeah. She’s leaving. She’s done. She’s going.” But I remain nervous and I’m feeling weird. But when she gets to the exit, she turns and looks straight at me [laughter]. She starts walking right towards me. And I start getting really creeped out, thinking, “Oh, my God.”

She walks right to my table and looks at me. Now the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. I’m freaked out. But the woman says, “Hey. I just wanted to come over and say that I saw you pray for your food when it arrived, and I wanted to tell you I think it’s neat to see a young man praying over his food. That’s all I wanted to say.” She patted me on the back and turned around and started walking back to her table. Something spoke to my heart again and said, “Well? What are you going to do?” [Laughter] “I brought her over to your table like you wanted. Now, are you going to do what I told you to do—to pray for that lady?”

I was thinking, “Oh my God. This is a real thing that is happening. I’m all by myself. I’m in this restaurant. How could this happen by accident? This is real.” So I knew I had to do it. I had to go pray for this lady.

I got up out of my seat. I was still sick. Fatigued. I haven’t eaten in days. I have no energy, but I walk over to this lady. By this time people are looking at me wondering what’s going on with me and this old lady. I walk over to her table and I said, “Hey. Is there anything that I could pray with you about?” I mean, I’m just a young punk. I was doing some bad things. I was selling weed to kids. I was robbing people’s houses. I was trying to be a gangsta rapper. I was doing some pretty wretched stuff. And I did that to my wife. I was not the kind of person who prays for people. I didn’t pray for myself hardly. But I said, “Can I pray with you?” And she says, “Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate that.” She stuck her hands out. She said, “My family. We’re really going through a hard time right now.” And I said, “Okay. Let’s pray that God will do something and help them out.” I didn’t know what to say. I just spoke from the heart. I grabbed her hands and we prayed right there for a little moment. Then I said, “All right. There you go.” And she says, “Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much. You have a good day. I appreciate that.”

I say, “Yep. You too.” I walk back to my table. I’m fatigued. I’m sick. But I also felt good, “All right. I did it. I prayed for this lady.” I walked back and sat down in my seat. And as soon as I hit the seat something shot right out of my body. From my stomach to out the top of my head. Just like when you step outside and it’s so cold it kind of knocks the wind out of you. That’s how it was. I felt something leave my body, physically. And as soon as it did, I felt good. I wasn’t fatigued; I had energy. I started pressing on my stomach to test it, to see if it was still queasy. It wasn’t. I was okay. I was instantly healed of whatever sickness I’d carried for three days.

I was thinking, “What the heck?” [Laughter]. Then I thought, “Why’d you do this, God? Why did you let me experience something cool and amazing like this?” I felt unworthy. I said, “You know me, God. I’m nothing. I did all those crazy things and I don’t deserve to see something good like this. Why did you do this?” And the voice that spoke to my heart said, “Because I love you.” Bam. “I love everybody on this Earth. And there’s nothing that can ever stop that. There’s nothing that will ever make me not love you.”

It was so powerful. Even as I speak, telling you now, I can feel this power that came over me, and a love that was so warm all over my body. The tears just came out of my eyes and down my face. I sat there crying at my table. And I said, “I’m yours, Creator. I give you my life. I give you everything. I give you these talents, and this vision and desire for rap. You want me to rap for a million people? I will, and I’ll tell them about your love. Or if you want me to rap about to one person, I’ll do the same thing. I’ll tell them about you and your love.”

That was a major turning point in my life, and in my music, and where I was going. After that, I started making choices and decisions in a different way. I went home and told my wife what had happened. We’re still together 20 years later—married with three beautiful children. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always thought about that, and tried to do my best, and spread that good medicine of love and good messages.

The MOON: Yeah. I’ve listened to your music and watched your videos on YouTube, and it really is beautiful, powerful music. It isn’t overtly Christian. You’ve already mentioned that Christianity was the cover for a lot of genocide and atrocities. But you’ve reconciled that history with a living experience that’s different?

Supaman: Definitely. I was really drawn to Jesus after that experience, and a lot of my music has scriptural influences. At first we performed in churches, and we spoke the terminology of western church culture. At the same time, we grow as human beings and we have questions about religion, and its history, and we learn and grow in our understanding. So I’m still learning, even now in my adulthood, and I still have many questions. I believe that if we think we’ve figured out who God is, we’ve lost it, because he’s a mystery. We can’t put Him, or Her, in a box. We can’t know everything about Him or Her. When people ask me questions about spirituality, I’m confident in saying, “You know what? I can tell you about my experience, but, that’s it. Beyond that, I don’t really know.” I try to distance myself from the labels that society puts on religion or spirituality. I try to walk with an open mind because, for example, a lot of things that I believed at the time about Christianity have changed. At the same time, I don’t feel judgmental about it because I feel it’s all connected. Everything. It’s all connected. So you can’t really throw anything out—any view; good, bad or ignorant—because it’s all connected.

The MOON: What types of things have changed? What types of questions have you asked?

Supaman: There are a lot of things in the Old Testament, for example, such as when God leads the Hebrews—the so-called “Chosen People”—into the Promised Land, although there were people already living there. God supposedly tells the Hebrews that it’s okay for them to go down and slaughter them all—even the women and children. As a Native American who has some experience with that kind of attitude, I have to question it. It’s a message that’s not consistent with Jesus—with the God I know.

I also question the concept of hell, of a God who claims to love us unconditionally saying that “if you don’t believe in me I’m going to send you to burn forever.” How does a God who loves us unconditionally condemn us to burn in hell, forever? Especially when you consider the length of a human life. We live such a relatively short time, but if we don’t make this one decision correctly we’re going to suffer forever? That sounds like a misinterpretation of God’s message to me.

The MOON: What do you write and rap about when you perform for audiences today? What are the most important messages that you want to communicate?

Supaman: The messages that I try to relay are love, kindness, respect. Very basic but powerful stuff. Love is the foundation. You love people; you can’t deny that. When you have genuine love towards somebody, they can’t deny it, either, and that’s powerful. Also, just being born Native, you’re born an activist. You’re born into a system that was against you, that wanted you dead, so your very existence is resistance. Put that on a T-shirt [laughter]. Every breath you take is an act of defiance of the system that was created against you. I’m always learning more about the true history of this continent and what was done to the people who lived here, so I try to educate people. We can’t grow as a nation without addressing our history and making it right. So I’m always trying to shed light on the things that need to be made right, that I feel are important, that need to be rectified, not swept under the rug. We always hear, “Get over it. Today is today. That was yesterday. Let’s move on.” Well, we can’t move on. We can’t move on till these things are recognized and a change takes place in the hearts of the people.

The MOON: What would that look like? What would signify a change that would enable us to say we could move on?

Supaman: A change in the education system for starters. A change in how history is taught and how Natives are viewed. Not just Natives, either, but human beings all over the planet. There’s just so much to be done. When we put light on the truth of what has happened and what’s still going on today with Native people and Native communities, I believe it changes the non-Native’s perspective. I think that time is now. A lot of people today know the truth of our past, even though it isn’t taught in school, and they understand the need for change. They’re far less likely to say, “Get over it. This is our country now.” They have empathy. It even moves them to take action. I believe that’s what happens when you shed light on the truth. It moves people to take action, to do something, and that’s where the change will take place. That’s what I try to do with my platform as an artist—speak the truth in a way that people will examine themselves and our society and want to take action in whatever capacity they can.

The MOON: You were active in expressing support for Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Did it make a difference when Wesley Clark, Jr., and his group of veterans got on their knees and asked for forgiveness?

Supaman: Yeah, definitely. That was powerful. That’s action. That is somebody humbling themselves, physically taking the lower position and acknowledging the truth. That was amazing, not just for Native people, but for all people, for every human. That was an act of reconciliation. It was largely symbolic; but symbolic gestures are important. Now what has to take place is dismantling the power structures that continue to oppress us.

The MOON: Why did you get involved with the Standing Rock protest?

Supaman: I’d been to Standing Rock many times and performed for the youth there way back before anybody knew about Standing Rock. So the people and the situation at Standing Rock are close to my heart. I couldn’t see them being abused and mistreated without doing something. I think a lot of people were like that. They saw the injustice of what was going on and they were moved to go and support them; send food and blankets; send firewood; go and join them. I was the same way. I took my family over to the camp, and just feeling the vibe, the energy, there was amazing. In one group you could see a peyote meeting; over here they’re singing dance songs; at another camp, they’re playing hand games. It was like a big powwow, and it was amazing. Across all Native cultures there was a kind of unity. Even tribes who were traditional enemies, who, back in the day, would kill each other, would go back and forth and steal each other’s horses. That kind of history lingers; it wasn’t all that long ago. But at Standing Rock, for Standing Rock, we came together. Our Crow tribal leaders brought hundreds of pounds of buffalo meat, and water, and other supplies. Our leaders went and smoked the peace pipe with their leaders. That was monumental for us to come together again in unity, rather than as old enemies.

The MOON: Some of the people I know who went said that being there was like being in a prayer the whole time. Everything was done in an intentional, sacred way.

Supaman: Yeah.

The MOON: That was the first time they had ever experienced that.

Supaman: Yeah, it was great. Native spirituality often makes a big impression on people who maybe don’t have a connection, don’t even have spirituality.

The MOON: Do you feel that a shift is taking place, that there’s a willingness for non-Natives to accept Native leadership and even to recognize their need for it?

Supaman: I think there is. I think it’s a good time. But at the same time, we’re just taking baby steps. We have a long way to go when it comes to actually addressing the issues that need attention. But I feel that Standing Rock shed light on Native issues, and that’s a good thing.

The MOON: And Standing Rock is still ongoing.

Supaman: Yeah, definitely. It wasn’t over, it’s not over; I don’t think it’ll ever be over. Standing Rock has sparked a worldwide movement because there are threats to clean water everywhere. They aren’t just threats to Natives; they’re threats to every human being.

The MOON: Are there any other things happening right now that give you encouragement that Native leadership is finally being acknowledged?

Supaman: Standing Rock gave Natives a platform to speak because DAPL crosses their land. So even non-Native people said, “Yeah, they have a right to speak up; let’s hear what they have to say.” Then, social media, YouTube, and other media gave us a way to reach non-Natives and even people on the other side of the world. Because we’re naturally spiritual people, our messages are about respect; they reflect our understanding that everything is connected. People everywhere find it hard to reject that. So it’s a good time for Native people who carry these values and have these messages to speak, or to do music, or to share their art.

The MOON: You mention that your message is often about love; but it’s not a sentimental kind of love. It’s also about protest; standing up; asking questions; demanding respect. Will you talk more about that?

Supaman: Sure. It’s because that, too, is love. Standing up for justice, for the truth, and for people and places that are being harmed, comes from a place of love. It does for me, anyway. People sometimes ask me, “Why did you say that? Why did you say that America was created on telling lies to the Natives, on killing them and stealing their land?” I don’t do it out of anger. I understand that it could be done out of anger, but once you get through the anger, the facts still remain. I’m doing it to share facts—to give people information that they probably didn’t get in school. Because when people learn the truth, they’re more likely to feel empathy. From a place of empathy we can address the past, correct the wrongs, and come together.

The MOON: Do you encounter a lot of anger or hostility in response to your messages?

Supaman: No. Because when people leave my performances they feel good; they feel better than when they came. But, I’ve also used my gifts of music, and humor, to educate them in however small a way. That’s my responsibility as a Native artist.

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