Native American hip-hop and expression artist Talon Ducheneaux, a Natives at Penn alumnus and 2015 College graduate, will perform at the group’s eighth annual powwow on Saturday.
The event — which attracts native and indigenous people from across the country — celebrates indigenous culture through traditional dances, drum performance and stories with a modern twist.
Ducheneaux, who performs under his middle name “Bazille,” started rapping while growing up in South Dakota in “the poorest county in America.” As he began helping to support his family at 14 years old, he turned to performing as “the cheapest thing financially to do” to make money. Nevertheless, music also provided him an artistic outlet and acted as a source of “therapy” to help deal with trauma in his personal life.
Music “made sense to me because my family is traditional and they believe in our [native] religion and they blend it in with Presbyterian,” Ducheneaux said. “At that point in my life, both of my parents were divorced and dealing with their own addictions and I didn’t have access to understanding my culture in that way so … the way that I made it make sense to me was through hip hop.”
The influence of his indigenous family culture is tangible in all of Ducheneaux’s music, from the Lakota and Dakota language words he has “sprinkled in” to the story-like lyrics that chronicle his life and struggles — much like a traditional tribal story.
The artist described the songs in his discography as sections and chapters of a book, saying “I haven’t said anything that isn’t true [in songs] yet.” His latest work features the #noDAPL hashtag in protest of the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which he says “runs right through my home.”
Storytelling is present in all of the performances planned for this year’s powwow. A master of ceremonies will narrate the stories throughout the show and explain the cultural and traditional significance to audience members. Nursing junior and Natives at Penn member Keturah Peters described her performance in a traditional Eastern blanket dance that depicts the life span of a woman “starting from the womb and [going] through her lifestyle” until the blanket is on the floor and she is “laying to rest.”
Wharton sophomore and Penn representative for the Ivy Native Council Erica Dienes described some of the more “modern” elements that students have incorporated into traditional dance performances, students have made into their own. Both Dienes and Ducheneaux alluded to the mixing of contemporary culture into Native traditions as typical of the youngest generation of natives in the United States.
“You learn to dance from the elders in your tribe,” Dienes said. “So you don’t want to do the same moves that your mom and dad did.”
To the students in Natives at Penn, the celebration represents more than the traditional meaning of powwow, which Dienes described as a social event for tribe members to “just come together and watch people of amazing talent.”
In this context, Peters said powwow means “coming together and sharing our culture with not only each other but people on campus."
“Across the country each tribe has their own culture and traditions, so it gives us a chance to see other native cultures," she added.
Dienes talked about the cultural exposure she feels the powwow provides for students at Penn, who don't have much, if any, experience with native and indigenous cultures. However, she also noted that the powwow format can sometimes “play into the stigmas” surrounding native cultures since performers dress in traditional regalia which “is not how we operate on a daily basis.”
Both she and Peters hope that by bringing their non-native friends and by having a large student attendance, the show will reduce stereotypes of natives and promote a meaningful cultural experience for those who come.
The powwow will take place at 11:00 a.m. Saturday at the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall. Natives at Penn encourages the entire Penn community to join their cultural celebration.