A heritage of artists highlight Chicago Inaugural Indigenous Peoples’ Day Concert

By Elena Bruess
Medill Reports

The Chicago show began by honoring those who owned these ancient lands.

It was a recognition of what was past, a moment of thought and solidarity with the natives peoples who held this land before it was taken away. Shout-outs from some of the audience and solemn nods from others came in response. This is a vital piece of every concert at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, but it felt especially eloquent at the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Concert.

Mateo Mulcahy, the director of Community Projects and Events at the Old Town School of Folk Music, had been approached by Native American singer OPLIAM about a concert to commemorate for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrated Monday with Columbus Day. OPLIAM would get the artists if Mulcahy could provide the room. The inaugural concert Wednesday offered a space for expression about indigenous rights and created awareness about native communities from all over the world.

Since South Dakota initiated the legacy in 1989, hundreds of cities and several states have now adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in favor of Columbus Day. Mulcahy said he hopes that Chicago will follow suit.

Frank Waln, NuFolk Rebel Alliance and OPLIAM performed.

The show concluded with songs by Frank Waln, a Sicangu Lakota Hip Hop artist and music producer. He is from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and attended Columbia College in Chicago. Between every song, Walen spoke earnestly with the audience about his experiences as a Lakota indigenous person.(Elena Bruess/Medill)

OPLIAM performs a mix of Reggae, electronic and hip-hop. “Nothing like playing for an indigenous audience if you know what I’m saying,” he said to begin his show. He is Native American on his father’s side, a heritage that often transcends into his music. OPLIAM brought the Indigenous Peoples’ Concert together with the help of Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and played the Indigenous Peoples’ March in D.C. in January 2019. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Leo Minimum Tek (front) and Pedro Erazo (back) make up the NuFolk Rebel Alliance. A fusion of North and South American folk music, the band got the crowd up and dancing. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Leo Minimum Tek chanted to the crowd, “One world is enough for all of us.” (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Pedro Erazo engaged the audience as he sings the band’s new acoustic folk single “Frontera.” (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Letizia Hernandez, 18 (middle) listened to Frank Waln as he performs. She is of the Oaxaca indigenous people in Mexico. During an intermission, she emphasized how important representation is to her and the community. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Frank Waln shared with the audience a moment when he first attended Columbia College in Chicago. “I get on the elevator and this girl gets on the elevator, too. And she looks over at me and says, ‘Oh you have really pretty hair. What are you?'” Waln explained. “‘I’m Lakota.’ And she didn’t know what that was, so I said, ‘I’m Native American.’ And she said, ” Oh, you guys still exist?'” Waln paused as the crowd let out a gasp. “How can there be college educated people who don’t think we even exist? How can there be people around this whole country who don’t think we even exist?” (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Reginald Sawyer showed a portrait of his Choctaw relative who passed in 1949. Sawyer works at the Chicago Two-Sprit Society fighting for the native LGBT community in the city. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
During intermission, Alejandra Lopez, 28, said music plays a big part in her life and these kinds of shows are super important. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Adam Gottlieb, a volunteer for the People’s Tribune, handed out newspapers after the show. The newspaper, also printed in Spanish, often covers issues involving indigenous peoples’ rights. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Jeff Baraka, a friend of Mulcahy, dancing to NuFolk in the back of the venue with is young daughter, Amelia. (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Waln rapped a counter-remix to the old Disney Peter Pan track. “We [my family] didn’t have the privilege to talk about things like stereotypes and representation on TV. We were just trying to put food on the table and survive. So, no one explained these things to me,” Waln talked to the crowd before his song. “As a child, when I was watching this [Peter Pan], I never thought that was supposed to be me. I remember that scene where the Indians were running around like they were animals. And I thought those are TV Indians. TV Indians.” (Elena Bruess/Medill)
Photo at top: Frank Waln raps a song dedicated to his mother. At the end, he shouts out to all the strong “big sisters, mothers and aunties” in the audience. (Elena Bruess/Medill)