IGNACIO – On Monday, KSUT public radio started the first “Awakening the Warrior Within” program in Ignacio, connecting local Native American youth to hip-hop artists, singers and spoken word poets.
The Dream Warriors, a collective of five indigenous, nationally recognized performers, led the five-day program, focused on skill-building, artistry and empowerment. The program, funded through a Colorado Health Foundation Grant, includes three performances by the artists and daily activities for participants. The third concert is at 8 p.m. Friday at The Garage in Durango.
“What I’ve seen is just this incredible interest and innovative work happening in Indian County amongst youth, and I feel like KSUT is so well positioned to be a part of supporting that,” said Tami Graham, the station’s executive director.
The program is a step toward the Native American multimedia training center that KSUT will launch once the station moves into its new, larger building in 2020.
The Dream Warriors have traveled around the United States performing, running workshops and teaching empowerment and professional skills since 2015. In Ignacio, they led prayers and icebreaker, free-writing and skill-building activities for up to 15 youth participants. They also taught young artists about songwriting, beatboxing, recording, filmmaking and more.
One standout moment for the artists was when one of the children rhymed during a free-writing exercise when he was talking about kids seeing parents struggle with addiction and the fear it creates – illustrating a high level of musicality on a complex subject, they said.
“At the end, it was really cool because everyone shared a word about how they felt, and all the kids said they felt excited, inspired, good and happy,” said Tanaya Winder, a poet and spoken word performer of the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone and Pyramid Lake Paiute nations.
“One kid said, ‘I have something to do now,’ which I think is important,” said Lyla June, a poet, hip-hop artist and singer-songwriter of Diné (Navajo) and Cheyenne lineage.
Graham and Winder began talking about doing a program for Native American youth in Ignacio even before Graham applied for grants. Graham chose the Colorado Health Foundation grant because it included an opportunity to focus on social determinants of health, ideal for the “Awakening the Warrior Within” program with the Dream Warriors.
“They take a real look at what’s going on in their communities,” Graham said. “They’re so inspiring; for anybody, but imagine, especially as a Native American youth.”
The Dream Warriors themselves said their artistry has helped them develop goals, express positivity and find healing.
June said one important lesson for the young artists is about unlearning the Euro-centric, mainstream media focus on wealth and returning to the indigenous focus on community.
“We help the young people understand that you can write music to heal your community instead of to get rich and famous,” she said.
For Wake Self, a hip-hip artist of Mescalero Apache, Aztec and Mexican lineage, music has been a source of community and self-expression.
“I think that being able to understand that you’re unique is so important, and I think art and music does that,” Wake Self said. “Then also being able to understand that you’re not alone in the things that you go through.”