We asked a member of our DMV music community, Brett Walking Eagle, to share his perspective as a Native American musician, and why it’s important to recognize and uplift Native people and artists for Native American Heritage Month and beyond.
My name is Brett Walking Eagle. I’m Dakota Sioux and a tribal member of the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Reservation. I play guitar, bass, drums, keys, percussion, and flute.
For a long time, and even today, people have this image of “The Indian” in their minds eye. Stoic. Unflinching. On horseback with their hair in the wind. The wise, old elder in the tipi. Movies, television, and logos all feed that imagination of paint, spears, drums, and war cries. Most US citizens think that Native people are like dinosaurs; beings that once roamed these lands but have now disappeared.
My brother and I sometimes joke about growing up around here in the DMV. Every time people learn of our last name, one of three things happen. (Or all three!)
1) There’s an awkward pause accompanied with a “...what?” or “...say that again?”
2) A general disbelief; usually expressed by an immediate “no way!” or “you serious?”
And then 3) “THAT’S (expletive) SICK BRUH” “That’s the coolest last name I ever heard!”
One person told me point blank that I was the first Native American they’d ever met in their life.
And that’s my point. We’re still here. We’re still alive. The US Government and military didn’t kill us all. We still belong.
What I’d like to see happen is a shift in perspective and recognition. I believe the way you do that is through exposure to our cultures. Were we warriors? Best believe we were. (And still are!) Do we still have our tipi’s, our feathers, and our drums? You bet. Do we have long hair and ride horses from time to time? Sure. But we’re much more faceted than that.
We coach sports. We’re actors and actresses. We’re educators. We’re physicians. We’re engineers. We’re fashion designers. We’re filmmakers. We’re scientists. We’re business owners. We’re community leaders. Me? I’m a musician. I can play the powwow drum and flute, but I can also play heavy rock, Neo soul, and reggae on my guitar and bass. Musically, native people can do more than sit around a fire with a drum and sing ‘heyaheyaheya’ like some people think.
This is who I am. I am a Dakota Sioux man. I’m a musician and a teacher and the message I want to tell people is this: We are still here, and we are more than an image or idea. We are people.
Brett Walking Eagle
A Dakota Sioux man, a musician, and a teacher