Medicine Dream - A Band That Combines Rock, PowWow Music
As the baby stares, Medicine Dream’s Buz Daney raises his head and his strong voice joins Paul Pike’s, an Indian from Newfoundland’s Mi’kmaq Nation. Pike prances around the stage, flipping his head and sending his long hair flying as he stomps his foot as the band breaks into a traditionally-inspired chant.
This is Medicine Dream, an intertribal band that mixes rock with powwow music to send a powerful message of hope and pride to Alaska Natives and American Indians.
“The basic idea was to compose music that was going to tell our story and be enlightening,” Pike said. “We want Native people to feel good about themselves and see there is more to life than drugs and alcohol.”
Band members come from a wide variety of tribal backgrounds — Athabascan, Apache, Choctaw, Inupiaq, Aleut, Mi’kmaq, Yaqui and Yup’ik. Two members are non-Native.
Pike, the lead vocalist who also plays Native American flute and guitar, said the band wants to help Alaska Natives and American Indians find their true identities. That means making music that can help pull American Indians and Alaska Natives away from drugs and alcohol, and provide hope when suicide seems like a reasonable way out.
Pike said it is important for indigenous people to know where they came from and understand that history. American Indians and Alaska Natives were so busy trying to survive, they didn’t have time to grieve over the deaths that came from famine, forced relocations and diseases introduced by whites. Then, there was the slow cultural death as what it meant to be an American Indian or Alaska Native was erased.
Alcohol and drug abuse is a way to avoid the grief, Pike said.“There is generational grief, historical trauma,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have been separated from their value systems for generations.”
Medicine Dream, through its music, is trying to help Alaska Natives and American Indians become culturally awake so that they no longer feel like strangers in their homeland, Pike said.
“This hopelessness and despair is where this disease addiction really survives. We have generations of people going through that who are disconnected from their culture,” he said.
Pike arrived in Alaska in 1990 and was blown away. The state’s population is nearly 20 percent Alaska Native or American Indian, the highest percentage in the country.“Anchorage has a really big Native urban population. It was real inspirational,” Pike said.
He started playing with Daney in an intertribal drum group. Then, a good friend, K.C. LaFever of the northern Cheyenne Nation, committed suicide in 1995 after a struggle with drugs and alcohol.
The band’s mission was galvanized.
“I had no idea really how bad things were for him, his battle of addiction,” Pike said. “Out of our grief, it inspired these songs for the purpose to turn out grief into hope for others.”
George Newton was invited to join the following year. He said everyone in the band has a similar story to tell.
“I think for all of us in the band in one form or another have had someone we’ve lost to alcohol or drugs,” he said.
Medicine Dream is not a full-time gig. All the band members have jobs apart from the band. Pike is a substance abuse counselor. Steven Alvarez is an education director at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Newton works in respite care, and Daney is the manager of the traditional healing clinic at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
The band plays at intertribal gatherings, festivals, schools, community events, concert halls, theaters, state fairs — just about anywhere that does not serve alcohol.
Pike said the band decided to boycott venues that sell alcohol to pay tribute to the people who are struggling.
“Their music basically hits the spot when it comes to Native issues and Native life,” said Cody Blackbird, a 19-year-old Dakota Cherokee from Rapid City, S.D., who sports three long braids nearly to his waist. “I have never touched drugs or alcohol, probably in part because of their positive music.”
Medicine Dream reminds its audience that solace can be found in the natural world.
“Did you ever find yourself in a stressful time of life?” Pike asks the audience. “The lake is so calm it is like a mirror. There is nothing but the sounds of the eagles and swans... And you have all this gratitude. This is called ’Take my breath away,’“’ he says, as the band begins to play.
Blackbird said he can appreciate the message given the struggle Native people have had just to survive.
“There is not a single day that goes by that we take for granted because we know what it is to cherish life because we know how quickly it can be gone,” he said.
While Medicine Dream’s message brings tribes together, the music is not reserved for Natives and American Indians, said Robert Deer of Anchorage, a 26-year-old Creek Indian from Oklahoma.
“It shows we are all one people,” he said.
That message resonates with Newton, pointing to his mixed heritage of Alaska Native, Russian, Danish and Irish.
“I am like the melting pot of America. I am a mutt. I am proud of all of them,” he said.
Medicine Dream has released three albums, two of them on Canyon Records. The band wanted more creative freedom and released “Learning to Fly” independently last July.
The band’s music is unabashedly upbeat.
Alvarez said there’s a reason for that.
“What are we if we don’t have hope in our lives? What are we if we don’t have the ability to right wrongs?” he said.
“Regardless of the past, the trauma, the turmoil, everything Native people have gone through, we still have the power to hope. We still have the power to change our lives. We still have the warrior spirit that allowed us to survive.”
On the Net:
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
'MAKING THE WORLD SAFE FOR HYPOCRISY' By Joe Perez
NATIVE ISSUES BLOG
Professor Robert J. Miller
AIROS NATIVE NETWORK plays music, news and other great programs from Indian Country - www.airos.org
FOR ANNIE'S NATIVE CELEBRITY NEWS - go to www.nativecelebs.com
CATCH COLORADAN PETER JONES AT:
SUPPORTING NATIVE AMERICAN/FIRST PEOPLE - ARTISTS, FILM MAKERS, ENTERTAINERS, ETC. http://www.krystynmedia.blogspot.com.