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Sovereign Sounds Music
2017/07/07
By : Thea Lagrou
The rustling sound of spiritual awakening heralded by the Native American cry of MNI WICON -- Water is Life -- swept through the nation, swiftly becoming a voice of justice heard around the world. While the corporate news media coverage at Standing Rock was minimal, Native American tribes uniting for the first time in over a hundred years joined with thousands of Standing Rock supporters to document real-time stories of the peaceful and prayerful protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Millions of people around the world witnessed these demonstrations through social media.

In service to the Standing Rock movement, Raymond St Martin and Compathos co-founder, filmmaker Nick Kalbach, set up a MASH (Media Artists Serving Humanity) tent : a solar-powered studio on the banks of the Cannonball River in North Dakota. The MASH tent enabled the production of short- and long-term media projects, and stood strong through the challenges and subzero degree weather. In the fall, the studio focused on multimedia works such as the Free RedFawn campaign, in which they raised nearly $130,000 toward Red Fawn's legal defense.

Compathos' fiscally-sponsored project, Sovereign Sounds, sprang from the MASH tent experience. In the winter, the focus shifted to recording traditional Native songs and stories using DIY equipment - field recorders, microphones, and a couple computers to make studio-caliber recordings. It was the first step in building a diverse library of Indigenous songs and stories. People from the Lakota, Dakota, Ponca, Nez Perce, and Pomo nations heard themselves recorded for the first time.

These recordings were in rotation on the local station, 96.9FM Oceti Radio and are now being used in multimedia projects by groups like Unify and Indigenous Rising Media to spread awareness for Indigenous-led movements.

In order to make compelling media around issues happening on their lands, it became clear that in order to tell these stories from their own hearts and cultural perspectives indigenous communities must be the producers of their own media. As sovereign nations, they have been telling their own stories for thousands of years. Recording gear and training could provide monumental benefits. As environmental issues take on growing urgency, the responsibility felt by the grassroots movement and message of indigenous voices advocating environmental protection will be more important than ever.

Since Standing Rock, Sovereign Sounds has traveled extensively to capture the movement's message and cultural essence. In conjunction with Indigenous Rising Media, they have done work in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico to help lay the groundwork and secure their role in the Indigenous-led environmental movement and political resistance:

● Led a workshop in Tohono O'odham Nation in Southern Arizona, where they were able to leave a full suite of audio gear for students to use in the community indefinitely.
● Traveled to the Gulf with Indigenous Rising Media to produce videos and record songs highlighting the Indigenous resistance to Big Oil.
● Recorded traditional songs in Bears Ears National Monument for a film based on protecting that area from the threat of extraction.
● Recorded all over the Southwest, from Santa Ana Pueblo to Navajo Nation.
● Helped cover pipeline stories from the Gulf at New Orleans to Big Bend, Texas.

Current work takes them to Mohawk Nation in upstate New York, to many traditional-based learning programs in the Southwest, up to the Plains again, and to the Pacific Northwest. Their ability to make these connections is due in large part to generous contributions made at the outset.

The documentation of indigenous culture is equally important for young people who want to participate in their cultural heritage while learning how to use communications technology. The project also offers intergenerational opportunities for elders who know their culture but do not know the technology. By teaching audio production and providing recording equipment to Indigenous communities, people can record their own songs, tell their own stories, archive and learn their own languages, as well as monetize projects.

Working towards these and other goals, Sovereign Sounds aims to acquire recording gear for the training of as many communities as possible. The outcome will contribute to keeping native oral traditions alive and become a cultural songs-and-stories project that will flourish from within Native America.

Alex Simon, Sovereign Sounds project director, noted that, "songs and stories have a way of breaking down walls between people and can teach us to love our lands and everything that walks, grows, swims, flows, sings, flies, breathes, lives, and dies on them. " The acknowledgement of water and life as a sacred, sustaining, harmonious, and symbiotic source of all planetary life is an essential part of this spiritual awakening. Music is the healing and uniting medicine we all need -- a song of justice, environmental protection, and a song of a new and ancient heart that is in harmony with the earth.

Listen to Sovereign Sounds recordings on Facebook and Soundcloud.
Please consider donating to Sovereign Sounds GoFundMe page to further the mission.
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