Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tanka Bar remembers Floyd Red Crow Westerman


Date: Dec 18, 2007 9:27 AM
Subject: Tanka Bar remembers Floyd Red Crow Westerman
Body: Floyd Westerman was the people’s artist.

A reporter asked me what the passing of Floyd Westerman meant.

The question took me off guard, so I mumbled something about him being a Native American Woody Guthrie because he was an artist of the people.

But after I hung up the phone, I thought to myself that that was a completely inadequate tribute for a man of such great stature.

I think we need to celebrate and honor the life of such a great man whose music helped unite and motivate the modern Indian Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. So much has been said about his successful career as a musician, actor, and world diplomat, it’s more than I can list. You can Google him and find the list of awards and tributes from around the world.

Floyd was an artist whose songs of the ‘60s are almost prophetical when you look at the issues facing Indian country or read today’s headlines. His album, “Custer Died for Your Sins,” is filled with songs about events that were yet to pass.

The song “B.I.A.,” with his powerful lyrics, “I am not your Indian anymore,” was written more than six years before the Indian Self-Determination Act was signed and more than three decades before the BIA was declared an incompetent trustee by Judge Royce Lamberth in the Cobell class action lawsuit.

His song, “Missionary,” was written nine years before the Indian Freedom of Religion Act was passed giving Indian people freedom of religion for the first time. That same year, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) gave Indian tribes jurisdiction over Indian children for the first time. Floyd had been singing “Here Come The Anthros” more than 20 years before the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law.

Listen to the words he wrote on “They Didn’t Listen:”

And I told them not dig for gold
For if they did the eagles would die
They didn’t listen, They didn’t listen
They didn’t listen to me

And I told them if the Eagle died
There would be no keeper of the land
They didn’t listen, They didn’t listen
They didn’t listen to me

And if there was no keeper of the land
Machines would come and soon pollute the sky
They didn’t listen, They didn’t listen
They didn’t listen to me

And I told them if they pollute the sky
Man would have to move into the sea
They didn’t listen, They didn’t listen
They didn’t listen to me

And I told if they destroy the sea....
They didn’t listen, They didn’t listen
They didn’t listen to me

Floyd was singing about climate change before Al Gore even went to Vietnam.

After singing for the better part of five decades, Floyd got to see the United Nations sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As a true artist of the people, he was able to provide a unified message by using the power of music to promote the issues that the grassroots activists were working on. He never hesitated to support anything positive going on in Indian Country.

Floyd wrote “Wounded Knee” in 1973, long before most of the Spirit Riders, who are now retracing the steps of Chief Big Foot from Standing Rock to Wounded Knee, were ever born. I know Floyd would want us all to lend any support we could to these courageous young people as they continue the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride.

His passion to help Indian people any way he could was uncompromising to the end.

I first met Floyd when I was an impressionable teenager in Minneapolis and his music touched me because he sang about what the Native leaders and activists of the day were talking about.

The first concert I ever promoted was a benefit for a Native school in Rapid City, S.D., featuring Floyd with Buffy Saint Marie and actor Will Sampson. While Floyd may have found success in Hollywood, he never became a Hollywood Indian. What I mean is he always stayed in touched and involved with those on the front line of the most pressing issues facing Native people.

In September of this year, I had the honor to give Floyd a Tanka Bar at Morongo Pow-wow in the desert. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Tanka Bar.

In a quiet moment when there wasn't a crowd around, he told me how sick he was as he sat by our side lending his voice to an organization that asked for his help. I asked what he was doing out in the sun? He said something to the effect of: “This is what I do and I am going to do it till I am gone!”

His spirit of giving and energy touched each person who came by asking for his autograph, to take a photo, or to just say “Hi.”

He so much loved the Tanka Bar that he told everyone about this great new energy bar from the Pine Ridge Reservation.

One young volunteer said she could not taste it because she was a vegetarian. But that did not faze Floyd's enthusiasm. He told her, “But this is not meat, this is Buffalo protein. Natural protein, not meat.”

Everyone had a good laugh and I told Floyd, “You know it is meat, right?” He said, “Not in a commercial way.”

Well, the other day I was reading a USDA regulation that said Buffalo is a “non-amenable species” and NOT MEAT under the USDA regulations.

Why should I be surprised that Floyd was right again when he has been right about everything else for the last 50 years?

Note from Tanka Bar: This blog posting was written by Mark A. Tilsen, President of Native American Natural Foods.


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