Gary “Litefoot” Davis spoke about his experiences as a famous Cherokee figure at a webinar hosted by the Native American Heritage Month planning committee Tuesday evening.

Jasmine Pawlicki, outreach and engagement specialist in the University of Michigan Library and Lake Superior Chippewa tribe member, opened the discussion with a land acknowledgement. The University is working on a territorial acknowledgement statement to institutionalize a reminder that the University was built on Anishinaabek land.

Davis, a rapper and actor, said he was influenced by his father to pursue his interest in music.

“My father introduced me to a diversity of music that ultimately I still think impacts and affects me to this day,” Davis said. “And what that led to is me being the first Native rap artist.”

Davis described the beginning of his rapping career in 1989 and his experience traveling across the United States on tour for his music.

 “We went to 211 communities … and we traveled 54,000 miles in just the first year,” Davis said. “My wife and I and my son lived on that bus for about five years.”

Davis said he stayed true to his roots, resisting the temptation to produce more “mainstream” music in order to gain popularity. 

“My purpose was to try to do something to uplift the community, to try to build some esteem, self-esteem and some pride and put my talent and my energy to where it was most, I felt, needed,” Davis said.

Davis has acted in movies including “Mortal Kombat,” “Kull the Conqueror,” “Picture Priority,” “Adaptation” and appeared in the TV series “House of Cards.”

Davis said he strives to help Indigenous people succeed in spite of oppression and counter offensive stereotypes about their communities. 

“Part of moving beyond oppression and part of moving out of an oppressed state is reclaiming your narrative, to be able to identify who you are, identify your value, your worth and then be able to properly communicate that to the rest of the world to dispel any misnomers,” Davis said. “But we’re not just beads, buckskins and feathers.”

Davis said he wished the achievements of Indigenous communities around the world were better understood and celebrated. 

 “We talk about all the great cities around the world and the things that people in other communities and cultures … have done,” Davis said. “Yet, we don’t recognize what has been done here … in places like Cahokia, in places like Tetlin, Machu Picchu.” 

Tim King, senior business analyst with Michigan Medicine, moderated the discussion and asked Davis questions posed by viewers. When an audience member asked about Indigenous visibility, King, who has Cherokee, Powhatan and Catawba heritage, said Indigenous people often struggle to be recognized. 

“I had a previous employer tell me that Indians did not exist anymore,” King said.

Business alum Kalina Newmark attended the event and echoed King’s point, noting that Indigenous people are often underrepresented in academic and professional settings.

 “I think a lot of people think of us as an invisible minority and within higher education, we’re often not visible,” Newmark said. “I would say that at Ross there were two other Native students that I knew were in the MBA program.”

Newmark said seeing a fellow Indigenous student succeed in business and music will empower others who may want to pursue careers in those fields. 

 “There is a lot of power in seeing others that look like you that come from similar backgrounds that have really persevered and have been successful,” Newmark said. 

 Daily News Contributor Ivy Muench can be reached at ivmuench@umich.edu.

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