The Native American Student Association capped off Native American Heritage Month on Monday night with a concert featured noted performers Frank Waln and Samsoche Sampson.
The performance, which drew more than 80 people, featured a blend of Native American dancing and traditional instrument playing overlaid on more modern, hip-hop style music.
Waln, a Sicangu Lakota from South Dakota, has been recognized for his work raising awareness for Native American culture, and has received numerous awards for those efforts — including three Native American Music Awards, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development 2014 Native American 40 Under 40 award and the 2014 Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement.
Sampson is an artist who works to fuse modern art with traditional Native American elements, and his work involves a variety of mediums including dance, music, acting, printmaking and painting.
The two are both 2014 graduates of Columbia College Chicago, where Waln received a bachelor’s degree in audio arts and acoustics, and Sampson received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. They have been working together since 2011.
A talking circle — a traditional Native American problem-solving tool based on respectful conversation — preceded the performance. In the circle, Waln talked about his experiences with education and the issues the Native American community faces.
During the circle session, he reflected on his experience transitioning from high school on a poor reservation to college. He said he often felt secluded in an education system built to primarily boost white males.
“These systems of higher education are not built for us,” Waln said. “They are built for white men to succeed. It is hard being a person of color in these types of systems. I learned that going to school in these systems, and I often felt very isolated and alone.”
Waln added that the most important thing for people to learn about Native Americans is that the population was continuously subject to institutionalized subjugation.
“Genocide happened in this country, and we survived it,” he said. “We are talking about the Jewish Holocaust in our high schools, but they don’t tell you that holocaust and genocide happened here, on the land that class is being held on.”
The concert featured a set of songs and dances in Waln’s style, which incorporates native elements with hip hop. Waln performed lyrically while Sampson accompanied with traditional instruments and dance.
During the performance, Sampson, who had not participated in the talking circle, shared his story. Sampson grew up in Southern California and said he stayed connected to culture through his mother’s influence and the Palo community present there.
“She did what she could to provide for us and keep us connected to our culture,” Sampson said. “We got connected to the Palo culture, and that is how we maintained our connection.”
Between songs, Waln spoke about the story behind each song he performed. At one point, he talked about his forthcoming album.
“I consider what I do to be storytelling,” Waln said. “This album is telling my story of how I’m trying to actively heal from all of these wounds that I have because of colonization.”
Alexis Syrette, a Central Michigan University freshman, said Waln will continue to have success and inspire people if he continues performing.
“I think Frank is a really inspirational person, and he is going to continue to inspire young indigenous people all across the country,” she said. “As long as he keeps doing what he is doing, he is going to succeed.”
Public Policy senior Isa Gaillard, a co-chair of NASA, said this event is a start to increasing the visibility of Native Americans on campus.
“This is a start so we can have more opportunities for events like this and to raise awareness about the native community,” he said. “Michigan has one of the highest indigenous populations in this country, so as a University that really prides itself on being on the forefront of social justice issues and making sure that it promotes diversity, I think this is a really great chance to highlight one of the areas where this is really lacking.”