What's it like for traditional Aboriginal singers/drummers participating in Idle No More?
An Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation man had the privilege of joining area chiefs in Ottawa last week as they gathered for the Assembly of First Nations meeting with the Prime Minister.
Howard Mustus Jr., who works at the YellowHead Tribal Council providing supports to residential school survivors, has been actively involved with the Idle No More movement and supportive of Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike since its early beginnings.
Earlier in 2012 Mustus was made aware of several warning signs of the legislation that would be coming with the omnibus budget bill and how it would affect First Nations. He immediately wanted to find avenues to help raise awareness.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that apathy is the worst thing for our people,” he said.
“When I saw the movement I thought okay this might be the chance to get the word out there and mobilize our people. I saw it as a way to try and shake our young people out of the apathy and that’s what Stephen Harper and his government rely on, is First Nations apathy.”
Mustus, a ceremonial singer, wasn’t used to singing round dance songs but when the time came for his talent and skills to be needed, he stepped up to the plate. He attended every local event in Edmonton and surrounding areas to lend his support to flash mobs, rallies and local demonstrations.
Sharing the culture and songs with mainstream society is both liberating and uncomfortable for Mustus.
“There’s a little bit of trepidation to share too much. We always go with the rule the elders tell us back home. We share 60 per cent of who we are, the other 40 per cent you’re never going to see; that’s for us.”
He said the sharing is also bringing about a fresh connectedness to culture and especially to those whom might not otherwise have had exposure to.
“Even some of our people that never get to see this, some of this is reawakening that spark in them and that’s always good.”
The opportunity to travel to Ottawa seemed to “drop out of the sky,” said Mustus.
He was asked to come because the chiefs wanted to make sure certain ceremonial and prayer songs were sung there.
“I was asked to come because I know those songs. It was an honour to be asked and it was an honour to sing them for people.”
In fact, Mustus and his fellow singers were asked to sing for Chief Spence. She was too weak to entertain visitors, he said, but they did their protocol and ceremonies and prayed outside of her tee pee.
“We sang our tribes honour song for Chief Spence.”
He said the atmosphere around Parliament Hill and the meetings was a mixed one of mostly positive with some negative, and a lot of division between the chiefs.
“It was very splintered which was kind of disheartening, but when it came time for the protest everybody just dropped that and was supportive.”
Being at the center of the controversy on Jan. 11 and making a difference together with people from all nations was a significant experience for Mustus.
“It was a very powerful experience for me. To see so many people engaged, aware and conscious of what was going on and what we need to do and everybody being on the same page.”
After arriving home from Ottawa last weekend and attending and participating along with thousands in the Grand Entry Flash Mob at West Edmonton Mall the very next day, Mustus said there’s no time to slow down or decrease pressure. Even if he feels tired he will continue on this journey to helping to build the movement forward.
“I don’t see it dying out anytime soon and it needs to get stronger. The reason why is because my children are watching me and it’s my responsibility to show that to them. That you have to stand when you’re called upon and you have to do something,” he ended.
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