Oyate Ta Olowan: Songs of the People

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary, Media Reviews

Produced by Milt Lee and written by Jamie Lee

Review by Marjane Ambler

I like to sleep in on weekends as much as everyone, but every Saturday, I get up before 7 a.m. to hear Milt Lee say, “Music is the fingerprint of a culture.” Milt and Jamie Lee travel across the continent seeking out traditional, indigenous music. They interview people such as Betty Mae Jumper, who shared not only her songs but also her trick for pacifying alligators. (She wrestled alligators for the tourists to pay the bills for her family.) We gain a visceral knowledge of diversity as we hear the different cadences and instruments, from the Aleut Islands to the Tohono O’odham of the desert southwest. Visiting tribes across North America, they convey complex, evolving cultures by introducing us to human beings, not static icons. Betty Mae sings “Jesus Loves Me” in her Native Seminole language. An Aleut describes how his people took their traditions with them when they joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Describing a pow wow, Milt Lee says, “Something magical happens when the young people shed their baggy jeans and t-shirts and become royalty.” The Zuni tell us, “One sure sign that our culture has not died is that the songs continue to evolve. Without our songs, we will all perish.” I recommend this collection of tapes for classrooms, museums, and the general public. The Lees have done for Indian people what the Lomaxes did for grassroots music of earlier generations. Side B has uncut versions of songs. For information, call (800) 486-8940 or go to <www.oyate.com>. 

Marjane Ambler has been editor of the Tribal College Journal since 1995.

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