Open Dialogue: On Historical Trauma with Britt Julious and Frank Waln

The MCA’s 2020 Dialogue Series asks what inheritance means in the public sphere. On February 12, journalist Britt Julious and Sicangu Lakota rapper Frank Waln started the series by leading an open conversation with audience participants on inherited trauma and how we can simultaneously look back and mindfully move forward.

Short Description

Journalist Britt Julious and Sicangu Lakota rapper Frank Waln lead an open conversation with audience participants on inherited trauma and how we can simultaneously look back while mindfully moving forward.


J. Parkos Arnall Welcome. Sorry to shut the conversations down, but we’ll have plenty of time to all talk together, so I’m glad to see you starting and getting a head start on us. My name is January Parkos Arnall and I am the interim senior curator here for performance and public practice at the MCA and you’re in the Commons and this is the space for artistic and civic exchange at the museum. We love to do talks like this here just ‘cause it’s a nice comfy space and we really want you to feel encouraged to be a part of this discussion.

So, I’m gonna tell you a little bit about this open dialogue format and I’m gonna introduce this dialogue series as well as our incredible speakers, Frank Waln and Britt Julious. So, very pleased to have you both here but I’ll give you more on both of them as well.

So, the Dialogue Series is the museum’s ongoing commitment to discussions around equity and inclusion in museum practice and many other things. This is our big talk series that we do every year. Last year and this year, we’ve made it a series rather than a single event, so you’ll see four events as part of our Dialogue Series this year and the topic is really on inheritance and what that means in the public sphere. So, when you think about inheritance, we’re thinking about, you know, what gets passed down generation to generation. It’s often about a financial inheritance, but inheritance works on so many different levels. Tonight, we’re talking about historical trauma and the inheritance that comes along with that; we’re going be talking about the environment and what we’re leaving for the next generation, and generational inequality in that way; and we’re gonna be talking about migration stories and how migration stories change through generations and how we learn and affect our practice and our lives through those stories that we inherit.

So, those are some of the things that we’ll be doing over the course of the next three months. In March, next month, we’ll have a dialogue forum called "Not Your Parents’ Migration Story" and that’ll be with Kiran Deol, Jordan Nassar, and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle. And then, in April, we’ll have an open dialogue on generational inequality and the environment with Pope.L and Jenny Kendler and other artists here in Chicago. And then we’ll culminate—and this was just announced yesterday—with a dialogue keynote with Kirby Jean-Raymond who’s the designer of Pyer Moss. So, very excited to have him kind of culminate this series and discuss how we move forward.

But tonight, we have Britt Julious and Frank Waln with us for an open dialogue conversation on historical trauma. And this open dialogue format means that you’re a part of the program. So, knowing that you came here, this other microphone that I’m holding is for you all. So, please, feel free to enter into the discussion at any point—not just to ask questions, but to share your knowledge as well. This is the benefit of us all coming together, and this is why I thank you so much for being here tonight, because I really think that you all have so much to say as well.

We’ve invited Frank and Britt to share their knowledge as experts and we definitely want you to be a part of it, too. So, I will nudge you throughout the evening, but just raise your hand if you want to speak. Again, doesn’t have to be a question. If you would like to speak to share something or to ask a question, raise your hand and I will come around to you. I’m gonna ask you both to let me know if you see a hand that I don’t see as well.

So, Frank Waln is an award-winning Lakota hip-hop artist and music producer from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He’s a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Waln attended Columbia College Chicago and he received a BA in audio arts and acoustics. Waln’s awards include three Native American Music Awards, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development 2014 Native American 40 Under 40, the 2014 Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement, and the 2016 3Arts Grant for Chicago Artists. He has been featured in Buzzfeed, TheFADER, Playboy, Vibe, NPR, ESPN—all the acronyms, really—MTV’s Rebel Music: Native America. Waln has written for various publications including Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society and The Guardian.

Frank Waln also travels the world—thank you for being here tonight—telling his story through performance and doing workshops focused on self-empowerment and expressions of truth.

Britt Julious, who is no stranger to the MCA and has been here for other programs before that you may have seen, is a writer of many forms, including essays and criticism, journalism, poetry, and storytelling. For the last five years, she’s penned a weekly column on music and nightlife for the Chicago Tribune. She previously worked as an editor of VICE’s THUMPand a staff writer for and WBEZ here in Chicago.

Her work focuses on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, arts, culture, and politics, and her original essays have appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Esquire,Elle, The Guardian, Vice, Pitchfork, and W Magazine, among others. As a reporter, she has written for publications including Vogue, Bon Appetite, Women’s Health, Glamour, Rolling Stone, The FADER, and Complex, and most recently, she was recipient of the Studs Terkel Award for journalism. Congratulations on that.

I also just want to say one other note before we move on to the actual discussion, which is, these kinds of free programs that we host here and the Dialogue Series, they require some support. So, I just want to mention those folks who have helped us be able to put these on. Major support for the Dialogue Series: its support is provided by Julie and Larry Bernstein, the Zell Family Foundation, Carol Prins and John Hart/The Jessica Fund; and generous support is also provided by Lois and Steve Eisen and the Eisen Family Foundation along with Caryn and King Harris. So, thank you to those folks for making it possible that we gather together here.

So, I wanted—after all that—to start with a note of just definitions, and if you both can kind of share with us a little bit—I sort of talked about your bios, but if you can share a little bit about what this term means to you and how you’ve been working on it most recently.

Frank Waln I’ll go first. So, this term "historical trauma" we’re here to talk about, I’m gonna speak from a very personal perspective on that topic and, before I speak on it, I just want to give a little context, because I feel like, you know, that term "historical trauma" is really just the tip of the iceberg and there’s so much that goes on that needs to be discussed to even get to that point of historical trauma. And I find, for a lot of people who don’t have these sorts of conversations or haven’t been in these sorts of spaces, sometimes it can become a very vague almost buzzword sort of thing, almost like "decolonization," you know? But I think what you’re gonna see today is how this term is a very real reality for a lot of people, and I think for a lot of us in the room, whether we’re aware of it or not.

So, I’m Sicangu Lakota—I’m indigenous—indigenous to this continent. My people come from the Plains—the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wyoming. I was born and raised on the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota and my reservation is one of the larger reservations in the country. And I represent only one of several Lakota tribes. Does anyone who maybe isn’t Native and doesn’t know the answer off the top want to take a guess at how many Native tribes they think there are in the United States? Yeah?

Audience member 15.

FW 15? Okay. That’s one guess. Could we get a couple more maybe? Right here?

Audience member 2 640 something.

FW 640 something? All right. That’s a pretty specific number.


All right. Actually, that’s pretty much both ends of the spectrum.

There actually are about 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States alone and there’s many more that the US government won’t recognize. And all of this kind of ties into what we’re gonna be talking about—even this term "federal recognition."

So, I was born and raised on a reservation in South Dakota and it was about the size of Rhode Island. It was about the size of a small state. And it sits in one of the poorest counties in the whole country. Todd County is one of the top five poorest counties consistently. And even our poverty ties into this term "historical trauma." And so, I was born and raised on a reservation, I got a scholarship and I was able to come here to Chicago to study, and honestly, the things I’m gonna be talking about—and even this term "historical trauma"—I wasn’t made aware of until probably my early to mid-20s. I’m 30 years old now. So, I was carrying a lot of this stuff we’re gonna be talking about, a lot of this heaviness, and wasn’t even aware of it.

And I think, you know, my case isn’t too unique to a lot of indigenous people from my generation. And I’m gonna speak about why we didn’t even know about ourselves. So, for indigenous people, our historical trauma is rooted in a genocide and settler colonialism. So, I want to talk about that a little bit because those are the things that led us to this term of "historical trauma."

So, indigenous people in the United States suffered a genocide under the US government—one of the largest genocides in the world—but it isn’t spoken about or taught about in a lot of spaces in this country. 99.8 percent of indigenous people in the United States were wiped out during this genocide. So, let’s think about that: less than 1 percent of us survived.

You know, there were hundreds of millions of indigenous people here—hundreds of tribes, entire civilizations—and they were wiped out to establish the country that we all now live in, you know? So, we’re also all tied to this genocide, whether we’re aware of it or not. And this was done to take land. This was done to get the land. Settler colonialism is about resources—taking resources, taking the land.

And so that genocide was also systemically engineered by the US government. This wasn’t just some wild ragtag cowboys out killing Indians. This was literal US laws put in place to exterminate us, and I will highlight some of that. You know, it ties into a much larger topic, but the actual origin of the term "redskin" comes from a state policy. So the main evidence that indigenous people use is this newspaper clipping from the 1800s from Minnesota—and this happened in California, this happened in Minnesota, this happened in South Dakota, but state governments actually paid people to kill indigenous people. They paid for our bodies. And in the state of Minnesota, to prove that you killed an Indian, you would take their scalp. And scalping was not an indigenous practice; it was actually brought here by the French. And so, in Minnesota, they would scalp us after they killed us and then they got $50 per redskin. The scalps were called redskins.

So, we’re starting to lead into not only how this was systemically engineered, this genocide, into state and government policy, but also into things that are playing out today. You know, we see that term every day and we see it discussed. So, not only were state governments literally paying settlers to murder us, to try to exterminate us to take the land, once the US government—it wasn’t a good economic return for them to keep literally going to war with us and trying to kill us, so then they signed treaties with our nations and those treaties gave the United States government the rights to all the land that we live on now. And there were over 500 treaties signed with each nation. These were nation-to-nation law-binding government treaties.

And the US government broke every single treaty it made with every single indigenous nation. They promised us a lot of things and they—for example, I come from the Plains, and in our treaty with the government, we negotiated that we were to have this place in South Dakota called the Black Hills, and it’s the most sacred place in the universe to my people. It’s the center of our universe. And if you actually look at a satellite view of the Black Hills, it’s shaped like a human heart. And we believe—our origin story is we came from a cave there. We will go there for ceremony every summer. It was the most sacred place in the world to us and to me. And we were promised that land in the treaty that we signed, the Fort Laramie treaty—that’s the treaty my tribe signed with the US government—but whenever—shortly after they signed the treaty, settlers found gold in the Black Hills and to this day we were never given those land rights and now it’s a tourist trap. They mine gold and uranium in our Black Hills and you gotta be very wealthy to have a house there. And it basically got turned into a tourist attraction. And legally, this is all still illegal. But who’s gonna go beat the US government in their own court system and say, "Hey, this whole thing is illegal," you know? And so, whenever we signed these treaties, they then marched us to death camps called "reservations."

So Indian reservations were usually one of two things in the United States: a death camp where they marched us to die post-genocide, or hard-fought ancestral lands that tribes literally didn’t back down from and stayed there and fought and fought and fought until it came to treaties and then they’re like, "Okay. This is our reservation." So, tribes were relocated to different states, different areas, and the reservation system was established. It was basically an open-air prison system and we were not allowed to leave. The settlers dictated every aspect of our daily life, including when we got food, what houses we lived in, what we could do in our homes, when we could leave our homes. It was basically—reservation[s] were open-air prison systems in the beginning.

And shortly after reservation systems in 1978—raise your hand if you were alive in 1978. Cool. So, when you were alive, the US government outlawed all Native American religions under US law, and basically, the language they used they outlawed our cultures. They said our songs, our dances, our languages, our social ways of being, they called it our religion and they made it illegal under US law. And that law remained in place until—it remained in place from 1884 until 1978. So, for almost 100 years, that law was in place. So, those of you that raised your hands, you know, you were alive when it was illegal for me to be Lakota and where the people who raised me had to be Lakota in secret.

And, you know, where I’m from, they tell stories of how when they were kids, they would get arrested just for doing ceremony. And during this time—this is all tied into the historical trauma—there was also another government policy about Indian boarding schools. And we may have heard of that before. So, this was an actual US policy that was started by a US general.

So, this US general named General Pratt came up with a solution to the Indian problem, because the US government was trying to exterminate us, and then they couldn’t and they’re like, "We got an Indian problem. What are we gonna do with these Indians? We need to assimilate them somehow. We need to make them American." And so, General Pratt came up with this idea of creating boarding schools for Indian children and he went to the US government. He lobbied and they gave him funding and they gave him a facility. And the first Indian boarding school was a military barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And I’ve been there. And it was US policy, and in the beginning—I’ve read many accounts of how they stole all of our children from our home communities through coercion, through force. A lot of the parents did not know what they were even signing their kids up for because the way our cultures existed, we didn’t have schools where you just put the kids together and sent them off.

I mean, every day, we were together as a community learning. And we didn’t separate age groups, so a lot of our people didn’t even know what they were sending their kids to. And there was also a language barrier. And so, you know, the people out in the West doing this, they didn’t care about a language barrier. They didn’t care if these parents understood what was going on. We were the problem. We were the Indian problem. And they didn’t perceive us as human beings, so they stole a whole generation of children and took them to boarding schools where they were abused for speaking our language: Their hair was cut. A lot of these children were sexually and physically abused. A lot of children died. The majority of children that went into these boarding schools died.

I have a good friend—she’s Dené. She studied boarding schools for her dissertation and she was telling me she read accounts where a lot of indigenous children in these schools actually starved themselves to death. So, you can imagine what you gotta be doing to a child to make them starve themselves to death when you’re feeding them three meals a day.

So, those that survived were my great-grandparents’ generation and they carried a huge shame about being indigenous. And so, not only was it illegal, you had a whole generation where it was abused into them that being Native was dangerous and shameful.

And so, fast forward to today, you know, this genocide, because it was systemically engineered, it’s still happening. We just had the Standing Rock issue about water rights—and that’s a whole other issue—but we are still fighting for our right to live. They’re still poisoning our water. They’re still trying to take our lands. Because what kind of happened when they placed us on reservations is, they put the Indians in the most desolate land where they thought no one could live, but these lands ended up being rich in minerals and resources, so now a lot of reservations are struggling with the US government and corporations extracting resources from our land without consulting us and forgoing those treaties that I talked about, you know, further committing crimes to commit this genocide.

So, I just want to bring it all and make it all a little more real to us here in Chicago, this genocide, this historical trauma. So now I want to talk about another aspect of colonialism and genocide that leads to historical trauma and it’s a part of it and it’s erasure of the genocide, erasure of indigenous people.

When I moved to Chicago, I moved here in 2010 and I had never even been in a city this big. The place I come from is very rural and very country. I grew up on a ranch and there’s only one stoplight on our whole reservation. We don’t have no skyscrapers, nothing. And so, it was a big culture shock for me to be here and I was living in the UC downtown, a couple blocks south of here my first year here, and the first week here I had an experience that changed my life forever and it plays into historical trauma. So, I got in the elevator of my dorm and this freshman girl got on the elevator with me and it was just her and I and she said, "You have really pretty hair. What are you?" And I was like, "Thank you. I’m Lakota." And she didn’t know what Lakota meant, so I said, "I’m Native American." And she looked at me confused and she said, "You guys are still alive?" She thought we were extinct. College-educated adult. And that took me by surprise because in South Dakota, we deal with a lot of racism from non-Native people—from white people, especially the towns bordering the reservation—because a lot of those people descended from the people that were killing my ancestors. But I never met someone that thought—didn’t even know we existed.

And then, as I spent more time in the city, I started meeting more people that had that perception of us. And, at the same time, I learned about this term called "symbolic annihilation" and it plays into this erasure. So I started asking people, "Where did you learn that, that we don’t exist? How did you come to that conclusion?" And people would talk about—reference movies, they would reference books, they would reference school, and talk about how they never learned about us. And recently, a study was done where like 85 percent of US history books in this country don’t mention indigenous people past the 1800s. And you all are living on indigenous peoples’ land where one of the biggest genocides in the world happened.

So, let’s dig a little deeper. Not only did I meet a college-educated adult who thought we were extinct; that same semester I had to take a US history course at Columbia College and it was taught by this really nice guy. He was a history buff. He was an older dude—a white man. He was a lawyer, but he would come in and teach in the evenings. He just loved history and he loved teaching. And it was a US historical survey class and so, the first day of class, I walk in and I see on the board: Crazy Horse, the Indian Wars, the Wounded Knee Massacre—things that happened where I’m from. And I already—my heart already drops to the floor because I know what experience is coming. And I’m sure, if there’s indigenous people in the crowd, they’re gonna share in this experience of being in a classroom and feeling this pressure. But, basically, for the first two weeks, we learned about indigenous history and every time he would say something, this professor would look at me to make sure he was right. And sometimes he wasn’t right, and everyone would look at me. And meanwhile—I want to just bring perspective that I was paying to be in that classroom, and he was [being paid] to teach that. But yet, I had to teach for him. And I’m not even educated in that field; I’m just a—I was just a kid from a reservation. You know, that is historical trauma in reality and we’re all a part of that. That is our erasure.

You know, we all live on a land where one of the biggest genocides happened and most of us aren’t even aware of it. You know, but for the most part that isn’t our fault, but at this point, you know, I think we can learn. And I’m glad that spaces like this now happen. I’m really grateful to be able to be here, you know?

So, I just want to kind of bring it all home. What is historical trauma? Well, for indigenous people, it looks like language loss because of US policy that made it illegal for us to speak our language for almost 100 years and then they abused our great-grandparents. My great-grandmother took our language to the grave. She didn’t teach it to anybody in our family and I’m gonna speak about that later, but that’s something that I deal with every day—a sadness that I deal with every day—a loss of our land, loss of our culture, our erasure, and the shame that many generations carry about being indigenous, you know? It’s funny, now, on the internet—and because of things like DNA tests—being Native’s something cool, but where I come from and when I was younger, being Native was something dangerous and people died because of it and people still die because of it.

So, this historical trauma is rooted—for indigenous people, it’s rooted in our genocide. It’s rooted in colonialism. And I think we all stand on that colonialism. We all sit in this settler colony that is a result of stolen land and stolen labor and so I just see my place here as questioning, "What are we gonna do about that now together?"

And I think we’re gonna talk about that here today but that’s just my perspective, my personal take, on historical trauma.

JPA Thank you for bringing so much of that history here. Yeah. Please, go ahead.


I really appreciate you grounding us in that history before we really get into the conversation. Britt, do you want to share something about how you relate to this term in the work you’ve been doing?

Britt Julious Yes. So, I typically work as a journalist and an essayist and a critic, so my work is really revolving around the intersections of race and gender and politics, usually through the lens of music and art and culture. But from a personal standpoint, I have been—I was—almost six years ago now, I was sexually assaulted on the train and the experience was very emotionally jarring for me.

One of the first things that I did after it happened was that I had tweeted, "I was assaulted." I didn’t know what else to do. I was just kind of in shock. And immediately after that, I began sort of writing a series of essays that I began performing around the city as part of the city’s live-lit and storytelling community. And I originally entered that community just because I liked the idea of doing writing that was not writing about album reviews or writing about who was the producer on the new Drake album or something like that, and it sort of turned into a really important healing space for me to kind of process what I was going through and what the repercussions were of that specifically. And one of the things that became really constant in terms of the work that I continued to pursue is not only the aftereffects of trauma and how it lingered and how it sort of remained in the body, but was—I was also sort of interested in the ways in which we kind of expunge or expel that kind of trauma from our bodies and we find liberation through different forms of art and media and things like that. So, at present, I am working on a book—on a collection of essays—about how trauma manifests in the body and it is divided into three sections.

So, the first section is kind of about the taking in of trauma and one of the first chapters of the book is called "The Cycle." It is specifically about generational trauma tied specifically to African American women and our reproductive systems, our wombs. Years after my assault, I began to get very, very sick. I was—just to be completely frank, I was vomiting all the time. I had really difficult periods. I was gaining lots of weight, all these other repercussions. And eventually, I—after a lot of testing, I learned that I had fibroids and ovarian cysts and endometriosis. I had a really traumatizing surgery that did not work that I had to pay for, and, you know, I was really interested in sort of the statistics behind that. So, you know, 80 percent of black women will get fibroids by the time that they are 40, which is astronomically higher than white women who, on average, maybe 30 to 40 percent of them will get it by the time that they are 50. 50 percent of black women have endometriosis.

And I was really interested in looking at why there’s a lack of conversation around black female bodies and our reproductive systems and wondering and looking through a lot of research as to whether or not there is something really key that we’re not talking about, which is that we are passing down this trauma from woman to woman to woman. And by passing down the trauma, I mean the trauma of how we came here, the trauma of how our bodies were used as, you know, just—we were producing slaves. We had no autonomy. We were raped. We were et cetera, et cetera.

There was never really any resolution to that. Yes, slavery ended, but was any sort of sense of humanity actually given to black women? No. And so, those kinds of inherited traumas can continue to manifest in really interesting ways, including physically in the body, right? And so, that’s kind of the first part of the book.

Thinking about that, thinking about other forms of inherited trauma from—you know, I talk a lot about Chicago, having grown up here, and what it means to sort of exist in a city where people sort of push specific types of narratives about what it means to live in that city and does that actually sort of affect the behavior that happens in the city, right? You go someplace and—I just had a conversation recently, I was talking to a woman—I’m going to LA next week, and she was like, "Oh, where are you staying?" I was like, "Oh, we’re staying in so and so hotel in Hollywood." And she’s like, "Oh, well, there’s—that part, it’s really funky." I was like, "What the hell is—what does ‘funky’ mean?" Right? And she’s like, "You know," She’s like, "Well, it’s, you know, all sorts of things could happen." I was like, "I’m from Chicago so . . ." I was like, "In general, I know how to take care of myself." And she was like, "Oh, well, yeah, okay." You know? For me, I can kind of joke about it because I’m from here, right? I’m from the West Side of the city and—but it’s also like what are those—the perceptions that other people have, I was really kind of interested in. So, I’ve been kind of writing works and doing research related to that.

The second part of the book is sort of about the recognition of trauma and sort of recognizing, understanding how it manifests in the body. So, through those physical reproductive issues, through those health problems, through those, you know, chronic illnesses, through things that we oftentimes don’t have any sort of solution for, we don’t have any sort of answers for, but we recognize that they happen to certain people more than others.

And then the third part, which I think is really rooted in a lot of the work that I do as a journalist, is about the ways in which, like I said, we sort of expunge or expel that trauma from our bodies, and really kind of looking at art and beauty and culture and these sort of forms and means that people have had to create, that black people, in particular, have created throughout time, as a means of both expressing as well as removing the trauma from their lives—you know, looking at hip-hop, at disco, at house music.

And so, yeah, that’s kind of the work that I’m doing, thinking about the ongoing sort of inherited trauma that has been placed upon black people, in general, and black women specifically, and the ways in which we kind of address and hopefully find joy and purpose, despite or through that actual trauma.

JPA I wonder if anyone else has anything they’d like to share on this term "historical trauma," on what brought you to come here and have a discussion about this. Anyone have anything that you want to add to this before we dig in a little deeper? I mentioned at the beginning—and some of you have walked in in the process—this is an open dialogue, so you’re very much a part of this. So, please, do share your thoughts as well. Yay.

Audience member 3 Good evening. I’m interested because there is a lot of attention now, once again, I’ll say, to the terminology "diversity, equity, inclusion" or "belonging"—however you want to describe it—which is really based around historical trauma, structural racism, on and on. So, I wanted to come here and kind of see what’s happening outside of the world that I actually live in. And I’m a person that is leading some of the work, or been engaged in some of the work and conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it’s very difficult to bring the masses to the place where you guys are already because you’re living it, you’re part of it. And so, how do we continue the conversation, but what does it really mean to move the dial in these particular areas when you’ve got so much historical trauma that is present in people?

JPA Does anyone have thoughts on that question, on moving that dial? We’ll dig into it a little bit more as well. I mean, I think we had talked about—did you want to say something?

BJ I was gonna say, I know for myself, one of the ways in which I try to address those issues—especially as they relate to diversity and equity—is, you know, understanding the platforms that I have and the outlets that I have and trying to share the stories and experiences that other people have gone through and sort of using my—you know, I think it’s really interesting, as an aside right now, there’s a lot of debate that’s happening in the journalism world where people are saying, you know, "Journalists shouldn’t vote. They should be very, you know, non-partisan. They should be very this and that." And that’s never how I approached journalism at all when I first started getting into it. For me, it was very much about trying to tell stories about people of color, about women, about black women in particular.

So, you know, I very much entered into the journalism world with maybe some bias, some purpose, and knowing that, you know, if I had the opportunity to write for certain places, to talk about certain things, that I was not going to just do what everyone else was doing, but really kind of push forward certain ideas or certain voices so there could be more of this inclusivity. So, if we’re talking about, you know, for example, local Chicago music, that we’re not just talking about, you know, who are the best garage rock bands, but we’re talking about amazing, young, black singers and poets who are creating work that’s talking about their experiences growing up on the South Side of the city. Talking to people in the queer community who are creating different types of parties and events that are trying to be more inclusive outside of the North Side, Boystown, white-male bubble, right? So, that, to me, has always been really important and key to the work that I do, and I think for a lot of other people as well, the change should obviously happen on an institutional level, right? Like, that is what is key. That’s going to make the largest, most effective change. But, from an individual standpoint, for me, it has been very important to sort of go about doing things on my own terms, even if it doesn’t always—it doesn’t mean that I’m gonna be very successful.

JPA You both use a creative practice, it seems like, to address these issues, to get them into a wider, more distributed audience, but also to call on those joyful pieces that have come out of this. Something we were talking about when we were having this discussion was museums and how museums and media function to address these traumas, these historical experiences and ongoing experiences, as you mentioned, Frank. But I also wonder about re-triggering and that experience. I wonder if we could just talk a little bit about creative practices and about the places where they come into our lives and how we balance.

FW So, I could speak on that—and this also answers the question you asked about how to get those gears turning towards the masses, you know, with this information. For me, music and storytelling has always been, I think, the grease that gets those gears going. But I’m currently working at the Field Museum right now, so if any of you aren’t aware, the Field Museum has undertaken a huge, multimillion-dollar project to renovate and completely redo their Native exhibition hall. And if you want to know what I felt about it, just go on YouTube and type in "Frank Waln – Field Museum." When I was going to school at Columbia, someone asked me to do an interview. He had this website where he would highlight artists and, for some reason, we did a guerrilla-style interview at the Field. He was just like, "What do you think about this stuff?" And I went in about symbolic annihilation and, I mean, I’m gonna be honest, now that I’m working there, they had sacred items and things on display that shouldn’t have even been up, you know? I told them some of the stuff that I’ve handled from my people that was nailed to the wall would be equivalent if I took the hat off of the pope and nailed it to the wall for 100 years, you know? Just the way that these museums handled human beings, you know?

Let’s even think about that, that they have human beings in the Natural History Museum with the animals and the plants. That shows you how they viewed indigenous people. But these are the systems that we’re working in. So, after, you know, many years of their Native exhibition hall being grossly colonial and contributing to a lot of colonialism, they decided to redo it. And they’re working with indigenous people on almost every front. It’s a big project.

But my involvement in the project came through a visit I had in collections. So, museums, natural history museums, only show about 2 percent of what they have; 98 percent of what they have is in collections. So, Chicago was one of the first—and still is—one of the big stop-offs coming from the Plains, coming from the West. So, what happened was a lot of these fur trappers and kind of like these rugged guys that will go out and collect things as this land was being colonized, but also, collect our artifacts, our ceremony objects, they would kill us and take things and come and sell it to museums, you know? So, that’s how they collected a lot of things from the Plains. They actually have the largest collection of Plains war shields in the world. They have Sitting Bull’s war shield there.

They have really sacred, powerful objects here in this city. And so, I got to visit collections and I’ve seen they have a lot of flutes—Native flutes, ancestral flutes from my people—and I just always felt those instruments calling out to me to make music to them and just think about the last time a Lakota person has even been near those objects, you know? It’s probably been a long, long time, ‘cause they just now started letting Native people visit collections. And so, I’m going to be cocurating a room in the new Native exhibition hall sampling some of my ancestral flutes they have in collections to, you know, highlight some of the things we talked about, like, why do they have these? Talk about how our cultures were illegal, why reclaiming these things is important.

But also, because I’m a producer and, you know, I love making music and I love collaborating, I’m gonna create a space where people can come in and create music with those flutes in the sounds that we sample. So, you know, bringing our tools, our art, back to its original concept, which was human interaction, and to educate and to carry on our stories—we never really made anything to be on display, you know? And so, that’s a little bit of the work I’m doing at the Field, trying to push back against, you know—museums are a staple, are one of the founding pillars of colonialism, you know? Extracting. And colonialism is about extracting with no reciprocity, whereas indigenous cultures are about reciprocity.

We may extract, but we only take what we need and we give back. But these museums just took, took, took, took, took, and now, we’re working with them and they’re working with our communities and a whole lot of indigenous people to try to establish a relationship with our communities and the communities who have ancestral rights to the objects that they have and figuring out how we move forward.

And also, just on that tip, too, as a performer, museums account for about a third of my work. And so, historically, museums were one of the few places you can see indigenous people. And look at today, these are still one of the few places you can see and interact with indigenous people. So, I think we could use that to our advantage, museums, and I think the Field’s taking steps towards that and this dialogue, for me, is taking steps towards that of recognizing that, "Hey, we’ve always had Indians in our museums. Let’s keep inviting Indians in and let’s let them tell the stories now instead of trying to tell the stories for them." So, you know, that’s just a bit of my work at the Field and with museums on that front.

JPA Does anyone else have a moment that they want to share? Any depictions or representations that you’ve encountered that either felt restorative or felt problematic?

Audience member 4 I actually have a question. Based on what you just said, I have a question. I wonder, in conversations of repatriation of indigenous "artifacts," right, if you’re having conversations about the toxins used to preserve those artifacts and the fact that it—you know, arsenic being a huge one of them.

FW Yeah. I mean, well, these—so this project’s been about a year and a half in the works with the actual curating of the hall, but before that, they had—they have a Native advisory board full of awesome indigenous scholars, artists, museum people from around the world. And I’ve met with these people, so that’s a big part of the project and the conversation is if objects can be returned, which ones can/which ones can’t. But, just on that tip, there will be five kind of rooms or spaces within the hall. The larger hall will have a theme, but then, what I’m doing is just an example of one of the rooms and they will also rotate out. So, they will be continually working with indigenous people to work with items and collections to retell our story.

So, my exhibition won’t be up for 100 years. It’ll be up for so many years and another person’s will be able to tell their story. But one of the rooms involved repatriating some seeds, some heirloom seeds they have in collections that belong to the Meskwaki tribe out in Tama, Iowa, and they’re gonna tell the story of how they’re returning those and trying to replant them back home and just what happens with that.

So, it’s a big conversation. That’s a big part of that project. But a lot of the objects have toxins on ‘em and, you know, it would be a big task for the museum, so they just barely started.

Audience member 5 Hi. I was so moved by what you just said about museums and extraction without compensation and then, also, you mentioned triggering. So, I care about what that must feel like to go to the Field Museum and they better be compensating you incredibly well. And I hope you’re being compensated for tonight.

FW Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Audience member 5 Great.

FW I don’t leave my apartment anymore unless I’m being compensated, to be honest.


But, yeah, no, that’s a big part of the conversation is figuring out what that reciprocity looks like in action. And it’s a labor of love. I’m not gonna sit here and pat them on the back ‘cause they got a lot of work to do, but they’ve come a long ways, but they got a long ways to go.

JPA Any other moments of representation folks want to share? Anyone back here? David’s coming to you.

Audience member 6 I have a question, mostly for everyone. I—since we were talking about museums, one question that I have in mind right now is this idea of—and please, if you have experience with this, let me know, because one conversation that we’re having in my institution is the idea of land acknowledgments and how to—you know, is it do we do it and if we do it, is it just, like, lip service, or what else can we do if we do decide to do that kind of thing? So, I’m really curious to know what other—everybody here in the audience might think or maybe best practices as far as how to go about that. Because I’ve been to different conferences or institutions where they do approach that, land acknowledgment, every time there’s a big event, every time there’s a big sort of opening doors for big audiences to come in. So, I’m really curious to know sort of like that—how do you approach that idea of land acknowledgments?

FW Well, I could just start ‘cause I get asked to do several of those here in the city and I’ve done some here at the museum for war ceremonies, but I talk about this when I do these land acknowledgments because—for those of you who aren’t familiar, I’ll just real quickly: land acknowledgments are at the beginning of an event or social gathering; just the institution, the organization just acknowledging the indigenous tribes whose land they sit on. And it has become a popular practice up in Canada. It really took off and it’s just starting to take off down here. But kind of what you spoke on, it can just become like a placeholder, like a lip service, like a Band-Aid, you know? It’s like, "Oh, it’s colonialism and genocide. Land acknowledgment. It’s all right now!"

But for me, I think about—when I do land acknowledgments, I talk about what decolonization really means. And what that really means is giving land back to indigenous people. So, like, if we’re working towards that, cool, but let’s all make sure that’s the end goal. And for me, maybe just off of the top of the head—and these are conversations that we’re having and different projects I’m doing—but if you’re gonna acknowledge land, I also want to see more action. Include indigenous people in the programing. Have an indigenous person speak. Cater from an indigenous company. You know, like, what’s that reciprocity look like? Acknowledging the land is one step but providing—in all of us—and these institutions sit in positions of privilege, especially on indigenous communities, so, we could always provide opportunities for indigenous people and just get creative about that. And I know that it can be done, but that’s our task.

And like I was saying, I think museums present a unique space in this country where we can shift that narrative for indigenous people if we do it with the right intention and get the right people involved. Because museums are spaces and places where indigenous people have already been seen and represented, grossly, and misrepresented, but now, you know, we can still hold space in these places and what does that look like?

JPA Britt, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about representation and how that feels for you, those examples, perhaps, of representation that feels fulfilling or, as you were saying, healing, versus the kinds of representation that you might see that feels, I don’t know, hollow or maybe re-triggering. If there’s anything that you have to say on that.

BJ I think, in general, that when you’re talking about representation, it’s more than just having a body on the screen or one person in the room or even someone just sort of writing about something that was created by a marginalized or disenfranchised population. For me, what I find to be more valuable is representation that is maybe placed or rooted in a position of power; representation that is—if you’re thinking about film, for example, it’s not just having a black character in a movie; it’s having a black writer, a black director, the black production assist . . . you know what I mean? That, to me, feels more relevant and more of an actual statement than just having a 1 percent in the room. Oftentimes, when you are that one person in the room, you both don’t have the opportunity to accurately represent for your community in the way that you would like to, but also, you know, people just sort of have you there to feel better about themselves. And that’s why it feels so hollow, because you sort of realize that you are not necessarily a person that is part of what is actually happening in that room; you are just a symbol for other people to feel better about themselves.

And I know from personal experience, that has always been really tricky for me, because I have had to—I am often the only black person in the room, certainly, most often, the only black woman in the room, and you sort of realize, "Oh, my purpose here is to have other people feel like they can pat themselves on the back," instead of actually being heard and seen and acknowledged. And so, what I have actively tried to do in terms of that representation is bring more people into that room; one, just for safety reasons because oftentimes, too, when you are that person in the room—I’m thinking about when you were talking about in your classroom. I remember when I was in high school and I was in an AP US history class, right, and my teacher kind of turned—it was slavery, and it was like, literally, the whole class turned to me, right? And I was the only black girl in that class and it’s like, "Okay. This is not a safe environment." And I think I was—that was one of the first times that I have sort of actively experienced that feeling, like, "This does not feel safe to me. I do not want to be here." I remember talking to my mother about it. I had a lot of issues with teachers throughout high school because of situations like that where it was sort of feeling like, "Yeah, I’m here," but I’m also sort of being scapegoated or being sort of thrown aside or being, you know, whatever. So, for me, I think representation has to kind of come at all angles, right? It can’t just be—if you’re talking about a museum, it can’t just be an exhibition of someone cool, right? It can’t be like an exhibition of Virgil Abloh. It would have to be, you know, who are the curators? Who are the assistants? Who are the people who are working throughout? What are the events that are happening off-site that are speaking to those communities? But also, thinking about, too, why are certain people sort of chosen to be that representation and others are not?

I think this is a discussion that happens a lot of times in the—I know, at least in my circles, we sort of would be like, "Why was she chosen to be the person in the room?" And it’s like, "Oh, maybe because that person is able to shut up when they need them to shut up and to not fight back and to not argue and to, you know?" And that’s not me. Certainly never has been. [laughs] And I’m usually the one who’s getting in trouble. And so, it makes you wonder.

So, I’m also kind of—for me, I want representation to be more than just a face and I want it to be more than just one person. I want it to be all encompassing. I want it to be complex. I want it to truly be diverse. And, you know—and I want it to really consider why certain people are allowed in certain spaces and certain people are not allowed in those spaces.

Audience member 7 Yeah. I had a question just kind of requesting for you guys to expand a little bit more about how creative expression, when it’s used as a means of working through trauma, becomes kind of a commodity and how—I studied ethnomusicology in undergrad and just thinking about how you create something and it maybe has a purpose for you personally, but then it kind of goes out into the world and becomes another thing and people start to connect with it in other ways. And I guess just wondering about some of maybe the findings that you have; like, I’m thinking, for instance, when rapper Noname recently said that she wasn’t gonna perform for white audiences anymore and just kind of what does that look like when a creative work becomes kind of a commodity out in the world and it’s used to work through trauma, but also, takes on other meanings for other people and, yeah, I guess just like, when a work is separated from its context.

FW I’ll just speak from an indigenous perspective. Luckily—and it’s funny that you mentioned Noname. I was aware of that and it just made me think of myself as an artist and the thought I had was, "Well, I’m glad most of my audience isn’t white people." Like, most of my audience is Natives because that genocide and erasure plays into even my opportunities. So, for the most part, my people book me and take care of me and I’m just starting to see opportunities outside of what we call "Indian country" and starting to deal with that very thing where our trauma becomes a commodity, whereas those groups of other communities of people in this country, their trauma have been on display since forever, you know?

And so, I’m coming from a place of our trauma and our genocide kind of being in the hiding, but I think for me, as an artist, I’m aware of that now. And I had to learn the hard way of—like she was saying—being used just to make other people in privilege feel better. And there’s times I got burned where I realized I had to safeguard myself as an artist and, I think, just as a human. So, I do that now where if it’s gonna be out there in the world, it’s because I really only want that to be out. And there are more personal things that—I’m gonna share one later—of my work stuff, maybe I’ll only do live because it’s only meant for these sorts of spaces and maybe something I ain’t gonna record and put out ‘cause it might be consumed or ripped apart in that sort of way, you know? So, that was just my perspective on it.

BJ Yeah. I think it is—I think it’s an issue that is continuously ongoing that, unfortunately, I don’t necessarily see an end in sight to it happening. I think, you know, coming from the sort of music journalist perspective, we can, at least in the black community, can kind of trace it back to blues and then blues being taken and then jazz and then jazz being taken and then rock and roll and then rock and roll being taken. And then, you know, I have a—I wrote an essay called "The Disco Essay" and it’s about my experiences of why I love disco as a genre and how it was sort of born as a genre created by the black and Latino communities—black and Latino queer communities in particular—and dance as a form of release and expression and things like that, and then it sort of being taken and you get like Rod Stewart making a disco song; do you know what I mean? So, you know, but like, disco, house music, rap, it’s just continuously happening and I think that as long as we live in a sort of hyper-capitalist society—which is what the United States very much is—that it’s going to continue to happen.

I feel like for creators, though, it is important to figure out the ways in which you can protect yourself, keep yourself safe, because, you know—putting anything out in the world can invite people to sort of create their own interpretations of that work, create audiences that you did not expect for that work as well, but these people who are absorbing the art that you have created out of your trauma, they’re not necessarily giving anything back to you, so you have to do a lot of work to really sort of protect yourself. You’ve kind of seen it manifest in a number of different ways.

So, if I think of something like house music, right? Chicago house music, even though the numerous waves, it is very distinct and I think that that is because, in large part, even though Chicago house artists will maybe travel around the world and things like that, they have done a lot of work to kind of keep it rooted in the city, right? And so, they’re like, "Okay. You want to hear all these artists? You’re gonna have to come to Chicago for the Chosen Few Picnic and that’s what it has to be. Maybe we’ll come to Berlin or something once a year, but if you want to experience this, then you gotta come to where we are, where we feel safe in our community, what we’ve been doing for the last like 25 years." Compared to—so, it’s like, things like that, kind of keeping it, I don’t want to say like insulated or sort of isolated, but keeping it so its roots are still there because otherwise, what you get is what happened in the middle of the last decade where you get really crappy EDM and people are like, "Where did this come from?" And, "Oh, it’s all these like bros creating these songs in their dorm room." And it’s like, "Hold up. Wait a minute. Let’s go back to the roots of this. Why was this actually created? What was the purpose of this?" And it’s, oh, this music was created in Chicago and Detroit. It was a reaction to the disco demolition that happened in Chicago. That’s not a coincidence in my mind, you know? That was specifically targeted towards this music that was created by black and Latino people as a means of expression.

And so, it’s—so when I think about things like that, I think about, you know, sometimes, you do have to be like a Noname and the only way you can kind of express those frustrations is to justbe completely honest about it. And yeah, it might have turned off some of her audience, but she is—first and foremost, she was a poet, right? And so, so much of her work was sort of rooted in these kind of personal experiences. And maybe you do need to kind of like—the only ways you can kind of control that audience is being protective of yourself in whatever means that you have to be protective of yourself.

Naomi Beckwith I have a little bit of an anecdote I want to share with the room because I also want to think about ways in which people of color can also do work that can leave lasting impacts on institutions. And the anecdote I want to share is an art performance—a durational art performance—that happened over several days, perhaps weeks, by an artist duo by the names of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. And that happened at the Field Museum in the nineties and the story was coming to me as you’re talking about your experiences there. They were, at that time, creative and life partners and they were invited to the Field Museum to do a kind of contemporary disruption. And oftentimes you find historic museums asking contemporary artists—especially contemporary artists of color—to make these sort of interventions and bring institutions up to the moment.

And so, they put on a performance, with the understanding and complicity of the curatorial department, called Two Undiscovered Amerindians.And they did that performance knowing that this institution—both located where it is, in the states—could somehow have to face, at some point, all the annihilation and erasure and genocide that had happened on these lands, and it happened to indigenous people, but they did it as a farce and a parody. So, they dressed up as Amerindians, pretended to be from the Mesoamerica, let’s say. I swear, she was wearing like a feather skirt and coconut boobs, but also like a headdress and sunglasses. He was in something very similar. But, again, intentionally. This was not as disrespect but knowing that the audience would be relatively ignorant. And they were literally in a cage. The nickname of the performance is called Couple in a Cage.That’s what it’s been known as historically. And the furor that this brought up for this institution was amazing.

Now, again, it was meant to be a parody to say, "The only reason this performance could happen is because everyone thinks all Native people are dead." Everyone thinks all Native people have never seen electricity. They put a TV in there and like basically bounced around all shocked at the magic coming from the box. But they were sort of making a commentary not only of the ignorance of the audiences, but also the way in which bodies had been desecrated inside museums. And that performance tore that museum apart. People resigned from the board. There were letter-writing campaigns. And there’s no real moral to the story for me except for to say that there are moments when people, in their creative practices, can literally leave traumas on institutions—a kind of necessary trauma—because I think the first step into thinking about how we move the needle—and I’m sorry, the sister who asked that question left—is to get those institutions to, first, admit to their own ignorance, and then, admit to the trauma they’ve been inflicting.

JPA Anyone else like to add?

Audience member 8 Sorry. This is like, from four questions back, but I guess relating overall, and rather than make you guys do all the labor, I guess this would be more a question to people that work in museums. Like Frank, and I’m sure a lot of indigenous artists, a lot of my income is museum based or institution based—different schools and stuff like that. I don’t know if this is true for most grants, but the majority of my funding, I literally have to answer a paragraph that says—that asks me what my traumas are and how I overcame that and how I’m presenting this work to them and how that’s framed within that time frame. So, I quite literally, for a living, have to be triggered and know the response for that articulately to be paid for it.

And I was just sort of wondering, is that necessary? And can’t I just make fucking work about what I’m doing right then at the time? Like, it’s not always about—I mean, I do get funding from a lot of science things—I work with epigenetic research and I do talk about things on artistic—I work in STEM, in general, so I do a lot of science and art crossovers. It is important to talk about, but I don’t know why it’s become so mandatory, really. I don’t feel like it should have to be mandatory. I don’t know if there’s museum people that could comment on that?

JPA I would like to share about that. I can share something, but I’d rather you all speak. So, if anyone else wants to talk, I’ll give you priority. I can share my thinking, though. Just raise your hand if you want to help with this.

I mean, my thought is just—this is an issue in museums. As someone who works in a museum and has studied art history, it is an issue, I think. Since, I don’t know, Naomi, help me, like, the sixties, seventies, identity politics in museums, institutional critique—this idea that if you are a non-white artist, you need to be making art that looks a certain way because you need to be representing that identity that you’re bringing into the museum; that you should be making art that looks like black art or Native art or whatever. And I think we’re in a moment where that is rising to the top again where there is this conception of what that type of art looks like and we are concerned about inclusion, but in that concern about inclusion, one of my worries—as someone who works in a museum—is that we only consider it inclusion if it looks like this stereotype of that kind of art.

[Audience makes inaudible comment]

Yeah. Absolutely.

[Audience makes inaudible comment]

Audience member 8 —trauma porn, for museums? I don’t know what to say about that. I think you all heard that. I’m sorry.

JPA We are recording this, so that’s why I’m just sort of forcing everyone, but that question of trauma porn, I think, is very important.

Audience member 9 I have a few experiences, being in art school and having to do with trauma porn and being Native in a very colonial institution—the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m in the Designed Objects department. But I just signed up for an abstract expressionism studio, so I paint for hours, and my professor, he kind of had this idea of how I should be painting: like a Native. And I was like, "How does a Native paint?" He was like, "Um" and I was like, "Yeah." But yeah, so, I painted myself as a response to, "Why don’t you paint like a Native?" I’m like, "Okay. I’m gonna paint myself then, ‘cause I’m like a Native, ‘cause I am a Native." [laughs] And yeah, I found that to be extremely frustrating ‘cause even if I’m doodling, he’ll be like, "Oh, is that something from home?" And I’m like, "No. I’m just thinking about flowers. Like, leave me be." Or like, what was the prev—trauma porn. Oh, I took a Native American art history class and I was one of—well, it was me and then somebody else who was indigenous to South America but we didn’t even really talk about South America and I thought that was weird ‘cause it was a Native Arts of the Americas but we only talked about really North America. And I got very frustrated because the professor often looked to me for guidance and I was like, "Um?"

[Inaudible audience comment]

Oh, that too. Yeah.

Audience member 10 The professor is white.


Audience member 9 Yeah. She’s very white.

JPA They always are.

Audience member 9 Yeah. We actually all came—

FW I gathered.

Audience member 9 —here from school. Yeah. She’s—she always used, like, "I studied indigenous studies, so I know things." And I’m like, "But do you, though? Do you really?"

She studied like, Southwestern pottery, so she thinks she’s an expert now. [Laughs] Yeah. She very much glazes over history, even though we spend an entire semester talking about Native art. And the intro to the class is extremely frustrating and it was very emotionally draining and triggering for me ‘cause she kind of dove into the Dakota 38 and was like, "Hey, this is Native history. Genocide. Murder. Bloodbaths." And I’m like, "Okay. But you could have gave me a trigger warning or maybe some mental preparation or maybe an alternative to this." But she totally wrecked me for a good few weeks and I was like, "Maybe you shouldn’t do that." And then she was like, "Well, how am I gonna tell all of the stories if I can’t tell the truth?" And I’m like, "There’s a different way you can truths and you don’t have to make me traumatized to do it." Yeah.

FW Wow. Thank you for sharing that experience. As you see, it’s still happening. You know, I was dealing with that a decade ago and they’re still dealing with that in classrooms in this city at art schools. But I want to speak on what you’re saying about the way you paint not being Native enough.

So, I performed at the Nasher Museum at Duke University in November. They hosted this amazing traveling exhibit that started in the Southwest called New Voices, New Visions.It’s a contemporary indigenous exhibit. And one of the paintings in there is by this legend, Oscar Howe. He’s like, one of—he’s one of our legends.

And it’s an amazing painting and they go in—and it’s the first painting you see in the whole exhibit. And it talks about what she’s dealing with. This man is a literal legend. His works are now world-renowned. But during his prime, he would submit to art shows and they told him his paintings weren’t Native enough—and it’s literal paintings of indigenous people—but they told him his paintings weren’t Native enough and like, back in the sixties—or I think fifties—he wrote a manifesto about that very thing, about, "Well, what is indigenous art? And I’m an indigenous person so, what I make is indigenous art." So, I just want to highlight that. Our forefathers dealt with that and our young artists, we’re still dealing with that, you know? But I think this conversation can get us thinking about ways we can hopefully shift that and change that perspective and narrative.

Audience member 11 Hi. So, I was just thinking—’cause we’re talking a lot about inherited trauma and I had to think about the flip side of that coin and what inherited conquerization is as well. Because, I mean, maybe—and I’m just reading what I wrote here—how can I include you if I cannot conquer what you are? And so, I don’t know, maybe we’re coming too much from that space rather than just actual inclusion and diversity.

Audience member 12 So, I came this evening—I’m not an artist or an art student, but spent 20 years in corporate HR and focused on diversity, inclusion, and equity for much of that time and I’m currently studying to be a mental health therapist because of the amount of mental trauma that we, as humans, are carrying around. And I came tonight because it’s part of what I’m studying but I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to study what I’m passionate about and that’s the ability to explore curiosities and connect with people—to hold people’s narratives with respect and trust and to seek information and ask what your story is and what can I do with your story to uplift it or just hold it with respect? And I acknowledge it—I’m in a class right now where it’s very challenging. We’re having those tough discussions. So, I’m a white woman—in case you didn’t see—and we’re having those tough conversations about the ability for white people—women or men—to be able to help people of color, to be able to help heal the traumas and understand that these inherited traumas, you mentioned earlier, they impact your body.

People carry this in your bodies. I mean, there so much work out here around the physical impacts and the mental impacts, and the question that we’re talking about in these classes is how do we help people move forward in a respectful and healthy way and what are the right conversations and the right outlets to do that in? And so, I mean, I appreciate everybody’s vulnerability tonight and being able to just have these open conversations without judging and hopefully create some mindsets that’ll shift a little bit as we walk out of here.

Audience member 13 I’m really extroverted, but tonight I feel shy. But my name’s Kendall. I live in Chicago. I’m an international trauma activist and a painter. I graduated from the School of [the] Art Institute of Chicago. I am a trauma activist and I interview people that have had traumatic experiences, a podcaster; I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking, so I do a lot of independent research on sexual trauma and how it kind of executes itself in diseases and stuff like that and the narrative that goes through our lives.

I did an artist residency in the Amazon jungle maybe five years ago, and just getting back to what you were talking about, it was interesting going down there, because looking at the collections we have in museums and going into those indigenous tribes and like, really, how do we document that narrative and that history and how do you respectfully take artifacts and display them without actually taking and removing from? And I just feel like, yeah, I’m just here tonight ‘cause I’m a trauma activist and an artist, and it was actually kind of interesting just sitting here thinking about how my art is received. I’m primarily a painter—this year, I worked in audio—but somebody had come up to me a couple of weeks ago and said, "You know, Kendall, people are gonna receive your work or you as an artist this way because you are white and blonde." And I was like, gosh, that’s so interesting, because I think we really need to like, remove those things and just come to receive people’s narrative and then make that assessment.

I think—I really respect both of your work because I think art is a catalyst for change, and I think—the paintings that I make are really playful and bright and kind of dark in their narrative—and I think what you’re talking about is you write about music and you write about pop culture and what’s going on, but I think that really opens the door to have the conversations we need to have. And I think that’s really socially responsible and I just really appreciate the work that you’re doing and the work that you’re doing trying to preserve that narrative. So, yeah.

JPA We are coming to the time that we said we would keep you here and I want to be mindful of the time that you’ve spent with us. Are there any last thoughts that you both have to kind of close this out of this conversation?

BJ Yeah. I think we, unfortunately, didn’t get enough time to talk about this, but I am a firm believer in the power of the creation of art as a means to sort of address the ways in which trauma kind of manifests in the body. And I think that one of the things that we can kind of continue to do going forward is to obviously consum[e] different art forms that were sort of built upon the experiences of people who went through numerous types of trauma, but also, to really kind of sit with the history of it.

So, it kind of—the reason why I say that is ‘cause I kind of—I find it really interesting to kind of observe the Tik-Tok phenomenon as a 32-year-old woman and how rap is so popular on it, but it’s like, people aren’t necessarily really listening to what is being said. It’s just sort of a means of getting likes and hits and getting more views and getting more followers. And I think that, right now, there’s something really, I don’t want to say dangerous, but something that’s really scary to observe that people are no longer sort of necessarily engaging in the art and culture that was created as a means of healing for people outside of it just sort of being a placeholder to have fun or to kind of get views and things like that or to sort of build someone’s social capital. And so, you know, I’m just kind of interested in what can we do, as people, to sort of both enjoy as well as respect the roots of the art that’s being created by different people, because otherwise, it’s sort of—it’s almost like a re-traumatization, again. Sometimes, I feel that when I see people kind of just taking in something but not necessarily acknowledging why it was created in the first place or just sort of using it as something that can then just quickly be discarded as well. So, I don’t know, just something—a thought to kind of leave people with.

FW I would like to finish with a song. You all want to hear some music to close it out? Kind of bring it home in a positive way. So, this song I’m gonna do, I think, is a good example of a lot of things we talked about and kind of another thing I do as an indigenous artist.

So, I’m a hip-hop artist. I’m a producer. I play several instruments, but what I’m about to show you is kind of distilling my practice down to, I think, its core elements. So, I’m gonna do a song for you all that I wrote on flute and this is a thank-you song. So, a lot of indigenous nations, tribes, different cultures, have thank-you songs. We gave thanks every day.

And Lakota people, we have a song for everything. We had like, birth songs, death songs, thank-you songs, ceremony songs. We probably had a song for writing a song. [laughs] We sang songs before we did everything. So, just kind of thinking about that and thinking about how my ancestors approached songwriting, and a lot of times our songs were literal prayers, you know, prayers and asking help from the universe. And so, I try to approach my songwriting that way and align.

So, this song is a song where I needed to get English out of the way. So, we were all sitting here talking about this topic in my colonizer’s language. We are using the colonial language here in this country. And a lot of indigenous languages suffered genocide, including my own, and are in a point of trying to revitalize those languages.

And so, my great-grandmother took our language to the grave and I didn’t know until I was in my early 20s that she was fluent in our language. And my mom says she would only speak Lakota around other grandmothers. They would have a community flea market every weekend and when the grandmas would get together, they would speak Lakota to each other, but they wouldn’t speak it at home. And I used to never think about why ‘cause growing up, a lot of times, I didn’t get to question my reality ‘cause me and my mom—she was a single mom—we were stuck in survival a lot.

And I think a lot of people who carry historical trauma are stuck in a state of constant survival. We don’t even have the time to stop and think about these things, you know? And so, I didn’t even get to question, "Why did Grandma Lulu take our language to the grave?" And then, I learned about boarding schools and I realized that she had went to a boarding school and I realized that she—those things are never really talked about yet in my home communities. Even our grandparents that suffered from that, a lot of them took it to the grave.

And my grandmother did not teach Lakota to our family to protect them and keep them safe because she was abused for speaking our language. And I didn’t know that until I was in my 20s and I felt—imagine, I felt like I realized there was a hole in my heart my whole life. Something was ripped out and I didn’t even realize that whole time. And that’s where a lot of pain and different things were coming from. That’s historical trauma.

So, I decided to use my songwriting to re-learn my language and, you know, I have songs now where I’m rapping in Lakota on stuff, but what I’m about to do is another method I use to help me learn and express and heal. So, I wanted to write a thank-you song, but I wanted to write a thank-you song for someone who saved my life. This is a song I wrote for a medicine man back where I’m from—a spiritual leader. He passed away about a year and a half ago and he was like a grandfather to me. He was a very old Lakota man and he was a medicine person for a lot of people on my home reservation and a lot of people got a lot of help and healing from him.

And the things that he did to help us and save us were illegal until 1978, you know? So, he had to do these things in secret to keep them alive so someone like me could go there and pray and have my life saved, because I went to him at a point when I was very suicidal—and that’s another point of our historical trauma is Native youth are 10 times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. And that isn’t just for some any abstract reason. It’s rooted in our genocide.

It’s rooted in the fact that we live in a country where, from the ground up, they made it hard to be a Native. And I know a lot of Native people, every day, we wake up, it’s hard to be Native in this country. And that was systemically engineered for hundreds of years. And luckily, we now can get in touch with our ceremonies and our languages and our songs and our dances and the things that they took from us and made illegal. And so, this man saved my life when I was 19 years old and gave me my Lakota name.

My Lakota name is Oyate Teca Obmani, which means, "Walks with the young nation" or "Walks with the new nation." And they gave that to me because of what I’m doing as an artist and they gave that to me before I even started becoming successful as an artist. It was like foreshadowing. And I was taught that that name is what belongs to my spirit. You know, Frank Waln, what is that? That’s English.

And so, that man passed away and he treated me better than a lot of my own blood family. And this world is a lot darker without him. And I realized that the only way I could really say thank you is to use my gift to do stuff like this and use my gift to its fullest potential. And I could never say thank you enough in English. It just wouldn’t do it. And so, I put it into this song, and I took our word for "thank you," which is wopila,and for males, it’s wopila yalo,is how we express it, it’s the masculine way.

And so, another thing that I naturally started doing as I was playing flute was, I would listen to the birds. I live on the South Side and the birds would gather in my alley and I’d listen to the birds for inspiration. And I recently learned in my research at the Field that that’s how my ancestors used to write songs, before colonialism is, we would listen to the birds. And so, this medicine man, he had an eagle altar, so, I was thinking about that, and I mimicked the eagle call in the way that I play this song and literally put the syllables wopila yalo like I’m speaking it through the flute.

And so, you know, kind of distilling my practice down to its core. This is one way I carry the past, the present, and the future with me as an artist and try to create tools that’ll help me heal because I found that when I did that and put them out into the world, they helped other people heal, too. ‘Cause I wasn’t alone. You know, I think that’s one thing we’re seeing here in this room. We’re not alone. And so, I’ll leave us with this song.

This is a thank-you song. This is a thank-you to you all, too, for being here and just taking the time and space just to be here and learn ‘cause you could have been anywhere, but, you know, I think we all learned something here tonight. I know I did. So, this is "Wopila yalo."Deck. Check, 1-2. This is for medicine man named Roy Stone Senior, Sicangu Lakota medicine man.

[Flute plays]

Thank you.


JPA What a beautiful way to end this evening. I want to thank all of you for sharing this space with us tonight, for being here, for bringing your thinking. It’s just inspiring to see all of you and to hear from you. And, most especially, thank you Frank and Britt for being here and for sharing so much with us tonight. It was truly appreciated.