GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — They devote weekends and long hours traveling to powwows and round dances, and answering calls to sing at special occasions and gatherings.
They are Native American singers who keep and practice their tradition and culture in a modern world, making sacrifices to do so.
Tanner Peterson asked them why they do it and, in four short video productions, he allows them to tell us why.
“My one wish is for everyone to be able to feel what we feel,” Opie Day says what motivates him. Day is from the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, and the lead singer in Midnite Express.
He is one of four singers featured in “Undowanpi, (We Sing)," a video series produced by Peterson. The digital production is available for viewing on Pioneer Public Television’s website and other platforms.
The other featured singers include Hoksida Blacklance, from the Upper Sioux Community and lead singer with Midnite Express; Desirae Desnomie, with the Peepeekisis Cree Nation in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, and singer with Midnite Express; and Gabriel Desrosiers, with the Northwest Angle 33 First Nation, and lead singer with Northern Wind, a group he organized.
Peterson, 22, is an intern and communications assistant with Pioneer Public Television, and a member of the Upper Sioux Community. An interest in videography led Peterson to Pioneer TV, and his internship offered him a unique opportunity. He was given free rein to select a project of his own.
“I came up with the idea of filming Native American singers so I could get their perspective on what singing means to them as a modern-day Indigenous person,” Peterson said.
Day’s answer makes clear a perspective all four of these singers share: They are doing something they enjoy, are passionate about and feel honored for the privilege. Each speaks in their own way to having a sense that they have been gifted with the talent to sing in their people’s traditional way, and the spiritual context of doing so.
They each tell of their journey to becoming traditional singers and drummers. Peterson’s video makes it easy to understand what an enjoyable journey it is.
He captures the color, excitement and rhythm of the music his talented subjects make. The music and dance has an attraction all of its own, and Blacklance realizes the importance.
He noted in the interview that the singing and drumming can “catch the eye of the younger generations” and open the door for them to appreciate their culture.
The videographer’s friendship with Blacklance opened the door for him to make this video. His friend introduced him to the singers and they traveled together to performances, including a trip to Bismarck, N.D., to make it all possible.
Peterson devoted long hours of his own to produce the videos, and faced all of the challenges that COVID-19 presented. His own passion for the work comes through in the videos: "It was definitely fun, especially incorporating the music into the video, especially for me. I got to jam to some powwow music," he said.
His hope is that the videos will help show people what it is to be a modern-day Indigenous singer. He knows that many people do not know how these traditions are being continued and lived, much less why. If nothing more, he hopes the videos will help viewers understand or appreciate the importance they have to Indigenous people.
Looking forward, he’s hoping to produce additional videos and bring the stories of Indigenous people, especially those in the Upper Sioux Community and Lower Sioux Community, to a larger audience.