"Not Ready to Make Nice": Indigenous Music Video and Lessons of History

Curator's Note

Missy Whiteman’s music video “Indigenous Holocaust” (2008), featuring the work of hip hop artist Wahwahtay Benais and the Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), exemplifies how Indigenous media creates “virtual reservations.”  These spaces open up imaginative sites where Indigenous people can contest, reconfigure, and revisit media representations.  The clip opens with a blurry, ghostly figure that gradually focuses to reveal Benais, an Anishinabe musician.  This shot reverses the dominant trope of the “vanishing Indian.”  Benais emerges out of the shadows to narrate the story of Indigenous genocide and survival at federal boarding school in the U.S. and residential schools in Canada, a traumatic history that shapes contemporary Native American existence.  

Benais utilizes the idioms of hip hop to Indigenous ends—his bling is an oversized handmade beaded and fringed medallion that features a black bear paw and his name against a white background and he’s accompanied by young men and women jogging in First Nations United t-shirts rather than in skimpy outfits.  The lyrics of the song narrate the history of forcibly removing Native American children from the homes from the 18th through the 20th centuries and the kinds of physical, sexual, cultural, and spiritual violence they endured (what Benais and Whiteman, an Arapaho/Kickapoo filmmaker and visual artist, refer to as an “Indigenous holocaust”).  Contemporary, vibrant mages of Benais are juxtaposed with archival photographs of children at schools such as Hampton and Carlisle, demonstrating how events that took place a hundred or more years ago still affect Native communities. 

As virtual reservation, this video invites the spectator to participate in the process of healing from this genocide, using the Dixie Chicks’ lyrics as a prompt:  “Forgive, sounds good.  Forget, I’m not sure I could.  They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting.”  The video transforms the lyrics from an individual’s grief and alienation to a community’s process of grievance and use of media as activism.  Yet I also wonder about issues of African American/Native American (re)appropriations in this video compared to, say, OutKast’s Grammy performance a few years ago.


Thanks to Faye for kicking off the week of Indigenous media posts, and to Michelle for sharing this great piece of music and video!  I am so excited to see this and will be forwarding it to friends in Australia, where both country and hip hop are extremely important genres for forms of future-oriented culture making, activism, and for a whole range of affecting, powerful Indigenous media. Both share the same media space, and are crucial expressive pillars of what Michelle has figured here as a 'virtual reservation.'


Just a note about the sample: It's probably worth noting that the recording 'Not Ready to Make Nice' (2006) came after the Dixie Chicks were roundly critiqued in the US for their on stage, off-the-cuff criticism of the GW Bush. After several years of media scandal, hate mail, and even death threats, the Dixie Chicks recording 'Not Ready To Make Nice' was received as a nuanced affirmation of the propriety of their comments. This was their return to recording, but one that explicitly did so in their own terms - with little retreat from a controversial position.


Although I don't want to attribute the Dixie Chick's politics to Benais in any simple way, or to suggest that this song and video -- with their explicit references to Indigenous history and an 'Indigenous holocaust' -- are about this other, media drama, the sharp overtones of the sample do lend this track another range of potential significance, redeployed brilliantly here by Wahwahtay Benais to speak to these pressing, tough aspects of Native history and their continued resonance in the present.


Thanks again to Michelle for bringing this to us here,  and to Benais and Missy Whiteman for such a moving, sharp production! Can't wait to see more...

Michelle, thanks for sharing this very moving and powerful music video. What a fascinating reappropriation and redeployment (thanks, Daniel, for contributing this perfect term) of images, lyrics, styles and genres that have circulated in mass culture, each with its own multilayered, accumulated trails of signification, in this new formation united by Benais' narrative and Whiteman's vision.


The interweaving and inter-referencing of all of these signifiers speaks the historical loss--and the continuing need for healing--into a new text that is both familiar and jarring, since it reminds us that even the youngest generations are still enmeshed in the legacy of the "indigenous holocaust." And it speaks these messages in a cultural language that not only is addressed to the young Anishinabe and Native Americans but which also, as Daniel points out, interpellates the youth of oppressed groups globally who have adopted hip hop and rap as a vital form of cultural and personal expression.


Thanks for the post, Michelle. The music video highlights the ways in which indigenous cultural producers can reflect on their traumatic histories in relation to their present realities. I think this video is particularly relevant given that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established last year in Canada that focuses specifically on the treatment of Aboriginal children in Indian Residential Schools. (See - http://www.trc-cvr.ca/). The music video draws attention to the fact that awareness about this history happens on several levels and through different approaches. National commissions are one way, but cultural production is another important avenue, especially in reaching younger generations. 

Thanks again for bringing attention to this music video.

Naomi Angel 


Thanks to Michelle for presenting and interpreting "Indigenous Holocaust" to us, such a provocative and poignant work. I love the idea of "virtual reservations" in both its possible senses, as in an indigenously constituted universe in cyberspace, reclaiming what has been defined by colonial contours. A second reading of "virtual reservations" could invoke the sense of actual hesitation or concern -- in this case about the too easy erasure of a particularly horrific historical experience -- of colonial boarding schools -- as it is passed down to the next generation, as they re-craft this experience into their own cultural futures, like watching DNA rearrange certain basic structures in new forms.  This is resonant with the remarkable work made by indigenous cultural activists in Australia with the revelations of the realities of the Stolen Generations in the 1990s.

I think about such projects as "screen memories", inverting Freud's use of the term to describe how people cover over memories of unbearable  traumatic events; instead, we see how Benais and others use screen media -- in this case, music video -- to recuperate their own collective histories -- many of them traumatic -- that have been erased in dominant national narratives, an erasure that renders them doubly traumatic.

Thanks to Danny, Pam and Naomi for their further insights on the political, aesthetic, and historical nuances of this text, and the ways it resonates across borders.


Faye Ginsburg Director, Center for Media, Culture & History, NYU

Thank you Michelle.

In the Southern Andes, Mapuche videos have merged with hip-hop movements and independent media blogs. Our colleague Juan Salazar (University of Western Sydney) has done extensive work covering the flows of Mapuche media from radio and video to the Internet. One recent work has become one of my personal favorites, “Newen/Life-Force” (2005) a music video made by a young hip-hop Mapuche artist JAAS (see her profile at http://www.nativenetworks.si.edu/eng/rose/aguilera_silva_j.htm and the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5IUmSA-tdc).

This video is also linked to her MySpace page at www.myspace.com/mcjaas. The “Newen” music track has been appropriated by the Chilean independent media collective Sindicato Audiovisual Ojos de la Calle (which translates as “Eyes of the Street Audiovisual Syndicate”) for an experimental video on Mapuche repression posted in January 2008 at http://ojosdelacalle.entodaspartes.net/2008/01/26/represion-protestas/. This period was marked by ongoing protests against the processing of Mapuche political prisoners under anti-terrorist law, and demonstrations of support for the prisoners who were carrying out an extended hunger strike (with outrageously scant news coverage). The video acts as a stream of denouncement and the lyrics turn more pointedly political with the newsreel-style imagery used in this version.

Similarly, “La Sangre Vengada... La Tierra Recuperada!” (“Avenged Blood…Land Recovered” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO9sNVqpC44) relives the shooting of young activist Matías Catrileo on January 3, 2008. Catrileo, then 22 years old and a student in Santiago, was participating in a peaceful protest that involved a symbolic land occupation in the community of Vilcún, in southern Chile. He was unarmed and was shot from the back by police. Audio was recorded immediately during the shooting, captured through a live cellphone link with Mapuche radio program Wixage Anai. Video was also being shot at the site. Sindicato Audiovisual Ojos de la Calle mixed both audio and video images with a rock music background in an audiovisual tribute to his death in the Mapuche struggle, and the resulting video clip was uploaded short after the events. No other language versions are posted however. More Mapuche hip-hop has followed: “Newen Peñi (Fuerza Hermano)” was uploaded on Oct 7, 2008 onto YouTube and serves as newsreel while calling for the reclaiming of cultural identity.

Amalia Córdova


•  This is a powerful video in terms of how it has reclaimed and transformed politicized memory images and re-presented them in a popular media/musical form. I wonder how and if it will stimulate current youth to engage with a culturally and psychologically traumatic period in indigenous history in a new way, perhaps in a way that will enable a rememory healing process to begin.


•  Michelle, I love your notion of “virtual reservations” which in many ways speaks to my notion of “media reservations,” as I apply it to the indigenous broadcasting sector.  I mean by this that much of First Peoples television is located on the margins of the electronic grid, so distant from the mainstream channels that many people do not become aware of its existence without explicit publicity.  I call this remote geographical location on the channel grid a media reservation because it parallels the sociocultural, political, and economic location of First Peoples on the edge of urban, metropolitan, centres of power.  Media reservations, too, reserve a space for indigenous peoples to reconfigure their own representations, but because of their location so distant from the electronic grid’s centre, they tend to recede into a more remote region of mediaspace.








Lorna Roth, Associate Professor Department of Communication Studies Concordia University - Loyola Campus 7141 Sherbrooke Street West - CJ 4.325 Montreal, Quebec H4B 1R6 514-848-2424 Ext. 2545 lorna.roth@gmail.com

the second clause of my subject line is 'trauma, identification and new songs of survival'...

Thank you Michelle for kicking of a lively discussion, and to Daniel, Pam, Naomi, Faye, Amalia and Lorna for weaving the thread in the ways you have. 

Wahwahtay Benais' story is one that is burning similarly in the hearts and minds of many young Indigenous people in Australia. His genre of choice - hip hop rhyme and mix - likewise echoes across many new cultural spaces including live festivals (www.thedreamingfestival.com), NITV (www.nitv.org.au), and online zones like Vibe (www.vibe.com.au). In Alice Springs, Central Australia, where I live and work, there are several young crews telling stories of cultural trauma and survival in their lyrics. In the outlying remote communities, hip hop workshops are regular and popular activities - delivered by mostly (but not all) non-Aboriginal crews from town or the cities (see http://inciteya.org.au/?section=gallery&category=7&subcategory=24 for some photographic record of one example of these). Other young musicians who work in desert guitar styles (country, reggae, desert metal) tell stories about connectedness to country, the costs of grog and petrol sniffing, love, and the oscillation of senses of intimacy and distance with/from the traditions of their ancestors. 

Easily available new media tools are enabling other small personalized Indigenous music video storytelling projects to grow in the hands of older producers. I have a little story to tell. Last year, as I was writing one of my PhD chapters on the stolen generations media made by CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, www.caama.com.au) at the start of this century I discovered an arresting clip that articulates a transnational Indigenous identification around parallel historical traumas without mobilizing the bling and rhymes, or imprints of mega-celebrity artists, that are the dominant lines of global youth identification. 

A Canadian Aboriginal woman had posted through her daughter's YouTube account a clip made out of old black and white still photographs and pictorial graphics overlaid with text that she had composed as a visualization of Australian Aboriginal singer Archie Roach's deeply emotive anthemic stolen generations ballad 'Took The Children Away'. See it at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpNSrqsU1eI . Perhaps you already know it. The clip has now had over 16000 views and is evidently being used as a highschool classroom teaching text. It is the first clip that shows up if you enter 'Took The Children Away' as a search term (dig a bit deeper for a classic low-fi early video clip of the song being performed by a very young Archie Roach). As the creator of this new work explained to me in a conversation we had through YouTube mail about the genesis of her work, she first came to hear Archie Roach when she was attending an International Residential School Forum in Vancouver in the mid 1990s:

"His music played during and after the workshops. The cd's were being sold during intermission and at the end of the workshops. At that time I purchased two copies of his CD knowing I wanted the music to last. During the height of Canada's IRS Awareness workshops this past year, I decided to make this video. I had been to a few sites of friends' and saw the pictures which they had gotten of residential school, and government sites, so I began collecting them to put them together with Archie's song. I thought his singing to be so beautiful and fitting for the video. :( ...  I have not been to residential school, but my older siblings have..."

She went on to speak about the healing that many First Nations people must undertake in the face of intergenerational trauma spiked by experiences like the child removals.

This piece is a striking example of the emergence of a new kind of transcultural Indigenous 'screen memory', to use Faye's term, facilitated by new media production tools and social networking technologies. I'd be very interested to know about any other examples of this kind of work and look forward to a future for these kinds of discussions. 




Hi, Lisa--and thank you for your wonderful post with such rich examples. Wow. The creative transcultural juxtaposition by "GiskaastWoman" of British Columbia of archival photos from the boarding school era in Western Canada with the hauntingly beautiful song by Australian Aboriginal singer Archie Roach is a testament to the power of the ability of pan-indigenous networking to bridge some of the common experiences of indigenous peoples who, although on different sides of the earth, have shared similar experiences of colonial oppression and suppression by the settler states and their hegemonic cultures.


Interestingly, I've just been talking this week to a friend who is Eastern Cherokee about his parents' experiences in boarding schools; his mother was sent from western NC to Haskell in Kansas; his father ran away repeatedly from boarding school and managed to return home to Cherokee. Not only their generation, but their children and grandchildren, are still affected by those experiences of forced removal. And of course, for the Cherokee, this was yet another forced removal, a half century and more after the devastating Trail of Tears, the pain and injustice of which is still a central part of my friend's narrative of identity.


Pamela Wilson

Reinhardt College


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