Nathan Phillips, an elder from the Omaha Tribe, is seen at the center of a round dance at the Indigenous People's March in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2019. Photo: Joe Flood

Richie Richards: Mainstream media demeans our songs by calling it 'chanting'

Don’t call it chanting
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

PIERRE – Indian Country is in an uproar over the events in Washington, DC, in which an elder man began drumming and singing in the center of a group of high-school students. Videos from the event immediately began to go viral on social media and the internet.

The viral videos began to reach news outlets locally here in South Dakota and nationally. Headlines from these media groups began to refer to the drumming and singing done by Viet Nam War Veteran and Sacred Pipe Carrier, Nathan Phillips, 64, (Omaha Nation) as “chanting”.

Dismissing sacred and traditional songs of indigenous tribal nations as simple “chants” takes away from the value of those words and the meaning behind the drum. Native Americans often refer to the drum as the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the center of their cultural identity and the tool used to communicate with a higher power or Creator.

Deeply embedded in the drum and songs are declarations of ancestral connection, statements of strength, and proclamations of humanity. These songs consist of words from indigenous nations, put to a particular beat of the drum and contain harmonies, rhythms, verses, choruses and bridges much like any other song. But with a solitary instrument.

These songs are orchestrated and written for particular parts of life which inspire these occurrences to be recorded in song-form. They are records of victory, death, heartbreak, good and bad times, and a reflection of how things used to be and should be. They are often times unwritten records which take the place of a language not represented by visible symbols in writing.

When a journalist or news outlet refers to these songs as “chanting” it devalues the efforts and stories told in these songs. It conjures up ideas of mysticism and spiritual happenings; although these songs are sacred in nature, they are done to honor ancestors.


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