with Nico Wind
The powwow drum has been described as the heartbeat of mother earth. As a drum travels around the country or the world, it starts to take on a spirit of its own, a voice of its own. When a drum is not in use it is covered and stored carefully and respectfully. Some drums are brought out only on special occasions. So it is with this drum. Traditional singer, Carlos Calica is the keeper of this drum; it’s a drum that belonged to his grandfather, a drum Carlos sang on as a child. In today’s Tribal Rhythms, Nico Wind brings you the music of the Warm Springs in a conversation with Carlos Calica, and the Art Mitchell drum.
I come out of the Mitchell family, Tewe family, Calica-Sumpter-Sidwaller families and Tohits. And I’m very fortunate to have grandparents who have taught me to be who I am today. And the songs that I sing is for them, for they have taught me to sing and provide music for, not only the children, but for our elders, and for the veterans and other people of the other communities.
A third generation singer, Carlos Calica’s memory holds the songs of his family, his tribe and from around the country. He learned this song from his friend Fred Hill, a Umatilla singer featured on another Tribal Rhythms.
What the song talks about is in our Sahaptin language, it talks about how important it is to teach our children the Indian ways.
In a carpeted meeting room in the Museum at Warm Springs, Carlos sits at his grandfather’s drum. It has a worn rawhide head painted with the image of an eagle and the words “Mitchell Singers.” Outside, a stream trickles through the courtyard and a man prepares to mow the lawn.
I really feel fortunate and honored to be here today to sing songs, to be here with all you listeners out there, you know, if you have time, come to Warm Springs, come and see what we have here. We have a beautiful reservation, a beautiful place to live. The atmosphere is really nice. The climate’s mild, mild to hot I guess you can say.
Carlos never forgets to acknowledge the importance of the elders in his life, in particular his grandfather, Art Mitchell.
My grandpa was one of the fortunate ones to travel and meet people. In the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day anniversary they had, he was one of the Native Americans that got to go back to the beaches of Normandy where he was stationed in World War II. And in that time, he was able to dress in his regalia and wear his war bonnet. Where it really enlightened a lot of people, for he was there as a military person but he went as a Native American fifty years later.
In this song, Art Mitchell sings an intertribal round dance for a boys traditional dance. Children are taught to understand the importance of honoring the drum, starting when they are inside their mothers womb, and continuing through their lives.
Arthur Mitchell, Arthur Tewe Mitchell, he just truly inspired me, you know. It just kind of put a lump in my throat just thinking about him, the songs that I sing, you know, with this drum.
We have a lot of songs that are shared and sung on a reservation, such as social dance songs, round dance songs, honor songs, chief’s honor song, the women’s honor dance song, the round dance. And it does have a lot of meaning when you sing these songs to how important it is to teach our people to be who they are and be proud of who they are and what they do. When they’re singing, they sing these songs to the Creator. They sing them for the People. There’s different meanings that people have when they sing at a drum and the respect that you have for that drum for, you know, the animals that were—that given their life to make you provide that music, to wear the feathers, to wear different things.
Carlos teaches his children and others to dance and sing because it is healing. And he reminds them about the importance of respect.
I do dance for my people. I dance to heal my people. I dance for the people who can’t dance. When I sing I do sing from the heart, I try and teach my children, not just to be out there dancing, not to dance for money, but to enjoy life. When I do sing at this drum, I do request, you know, the people that do sing at the drum not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to have respect. ‘Cause my grandfather always taught me to never have a person sit at that drum that’s intoxicated or on drugs. And when we sit down at a drum, we take that oath of brotherhood for we look to each other as family.
Carlos is carrying on the traditions that were passed to him. Art Mitchell’s spirit lives on, through Carlos, his children, and their children.
And they’re at a young age, my son is six and my other one is three, and I sit with them and sing at home. I sing with them every morning, we sing songs to pray for the day. Not only at the powwow drum, we have songs that we sing daily to pray for ourselves, to pray for others at those times of need.
I would like to share one more song that my grandfather always sang, it was a women’s round dance song, what they call a women’s honor song. And I welcome anybody that would like to learn the songs that Warm Springs has.
And my grandmother taught me how to be—to dance and sing and be responsible, to respect people, to dance for my people, to sing for my people. And I really do look up to, you know, others such as Sanders Heath and Wilford Jim, Herbert Stwyer, Grant Clements, George Clements, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to who’s opened their hearts and their drums for me to sing.
The value of the contributions to tribal life today by people like Carlos, are very precious.
These life-giving traditions are intended to survive for the benefit of all future generations.
These are the things that will matter to us 500 years from now.
For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Nico Wind.