Crow rapper Supaman describes the “contagious light” that had him returning four times to Cannon Ball, N.D., to perform at the site of the Standing Rock pipeline protest.
He and other Crow tribal members, including Jared Stewart and Desja Eagle Tail, found a connection to other indigenous people and to their own Native heritage through their performances at Standing Rock.
After participating in two Billings fundraisers to help the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their protest against the Dakota Access pipeline, Stewart and his wife Niki traveled to Standing Rock with their children in September. It was just a day after representatives from the Crow Tribe met with Sioux leaders there, ending a conflict dating back to the 1800s.
Stewart said his visit reaffirmed his belief that good things happen through prayer.
“They broke down that barrier to show solidarity. I thought I need to experience this,” Stewart said. “This is our mecca.”
As he and Niki pulled into camp that September day, Stewart, 45, said the hair on his arms raised up, the moment was so moving.
That night around the campfire at the Sacred Stone camp, Stewart performed Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” during his one-hour set. Their children still talk about the experience and Stewart reminds them how historic their visit was.
'You could feel that medicine'
“There was no animosity toward anybody. If a person was there, they weren’t there for a dance contest and they were not there to spy. The flow of energy there was so powerful,” Stewart said.
That’s why Stewart believes the area should be turned into a national historic landmark to commemorate the gathering of more than 300 indigenous groups from around the world.
“I believe in the spiritual side of where we come from. You could feel that medicine there,” Stewart said.
After playing guitar professionally since age 18, Stewart recently announced he is retiring from music. He was diagnosed with a hyper-thyroid condition, making it hard for him to play guitar, especially at the high level he's been performing at. Highlights of his long career include performing at the first Magic City Blues Festival and again, at the 2016 festival. His retirement made his performance at Standing Rock even more significant for him.
Rapper Christian Parrish Takes His Gun, who performs as Supaman, has performed all over the U.S., but has never experienced the outpouring of love he felt at Standing Rock.
"People of all walks of life, all cultures, all colors — they all had the same vision and heart. There were those who are "f" the police. Every emotion has its place in time. The ones who are about the cause were filled with love and they stood in the face of evil and let their light shine."
Supaman was performing in California in November and through a friend of a friend, he was approached by Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas to create some beats for a new project. That eventually led to an invitation for Supaman to perform in a video that Taboo put together for the song, “Stand Up/ Stand N Rock,” which was released Dec. 6. The video also features actress Shailene Woodley and Crow fashion designer Bethany Yellow Tail.
Supaman was encouraged to rap in his Crow language and he had a friend help him turn these lyrics into Crow: “Today we have life because of water/Respect my Mother Earth/Keep in mind our children and their children/Stand up together with your words and defend her.”
Supaman also performed in the first night of a two-day concert, Mni Wiconi Benefit Concert on Nov. 25, when he sang another new song about Standing Rock.
“Ready to die like a martyr tonight/With our fist in the sky/Water is life.”
Desja Eagle Tail, who recently graduated cum laude from Montana State University Billings with a music business degree, performed on the second night of the Mni Wiconi Benefit Concert at Prairie Knights Casino in Fort Yates, opening for Taboo along with 30 other Native American performers. A live stream of the concert was viewed by people in more than 30 countries.
Like Stewart and Supaman, Eagle Tail, 25, felt strength and unity at Standing Rock, but she was also conflicted.
“As we got close, all of my apprehension, worrying about how dangerous it was or what anybody would think, just went away. It was so powerful, you could feel the power of the Native Americans praying. This is how we fought for generations, by assembling and praying."
She had carefully prepared a special song to perform that day and when Eagle Tail got to the front lines where a barbed wire barricade was set up separating activists from police, she decided it was time to sing.
“I sang my family honor song. It was given to my mother. It is her honor song,” Eagle Tail said.
Her mother, Marjean Eagle Tail, grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. She was the smart one, the good student who got to attend regular classes, but many of the other Native students were put in special education classes. And that bothered Marjean. So when they asked her to be a Native American student representative on the school board, Marjean found her voice.
“She was smart and she obeyed the rules at school and they assumed she would say everything was great. But she spoke up and said the other Native Americans shouldn’t be put in special ed just for being Native. Now, it was on record, and they had to do something about it.”
For that brave move, the late Junior Shakespeare wrote Marjean's honor song in the Arapaho language and gave her the name Eagle Plume Woman, Eagle Tail said.
Although she is not fluent in the Crow language, Eagle Tail learned Crow songs from her mother and grandmother and she sang them at Fort Yates. It felt powerful to sing them and Eagle Tail began to embrace her Native heritage in a way she never had before.
"I just tried to avoid conflict and be quiet. When I was there, it felt so empowering to say, 'Yes, I am Native American. This runs through my blood, through generations before me.'"
Eagle Tail brought that message back to Billings last week when she again performed her family’s honor song at MSU Billings on Nov. 29 on her way home to Spokane, Wash., where she now lives.
"It was so healing," Eagle Tail said.