“The beat goes on.” In my teens that was the title and repeating refrain of a Sonny and Cher song. “Beat” also refers to the rhythm. It’s what literally holds us together, everyone, even beloved Earth. When someone gets sick, the rhythm is off somewhere in the body and spirit. “Beat” also refers to journalistic territory.
I’m back, on beat for our tribal paper. My beat is Indian country at large, and Indian country is vast. And my path in life seems to involve traveling around and getting to know people especially in Indian country. And everywhere I go I meet up with Creeks, or Mvskoke Nation expatriates.
The month of May I was in residence at Koahnic Broadcasting in Anchorage, Alaska. This is the home of one of my favorite radio stations, KNBA, a native station. David Sam, Athabascan spins great tunes on his show Indigenous Expressions, and used to hang out with Mvskoke citizen, the saxophone player Jim Pepper when Jim ran there years ago.
Danny Preston is another favorite DJ, or on-air host. And there’s the inimitable Shyanne Beatty, Athabascan producer and host of Earthsongs, a national native music program. While I was there I worked on a show idea, performed with a band at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on Mother’s Day, and traveled about giving performances in native communities.
One of my favorite places is Nome, a community at the edge of the Bering Sea. The first thing I saw when I got off the plane, after flying over ocean and ice break, was a man driving a pickup with a pet reindeer in the back. My friend, the writer, artist and healer MaryJane Litchfield and I watched walrus hunters go out into the sea to hunt, then she took me to the summer camps where drying racks were hanging with seal meat. The next day I traveled out onto the tundra with her son. We got close to musk oxen herds. The tundra smelled sweet. The spirit there was very strong.
Next I flew to Barrow, the northernmost point of the U.S., Inupiat territory. By mid May the sun was out twenty-four hours. I arrived at the end of whaling season. The morning I was there I walked around the town, saw a lemming, a kind of rodent, run under a stored boat. My favorite moment was hanging the Tuzzy Library with some young Inupiat boys, Steven Ivanoff and Eben Hopson.
One of our tribal members, Jim Pepper Henry, Jim Pepper’s nephew, is head of the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage. He took me on a tour of the museum, from the basement with its impressive heating system to the top floor with the mastodon exhibit. The museum is quite impressive. Not only are the roots of the indigenous cultures of Alaska beautifully acknowledged and displayed there, the museum also maintains a gallery of contemporary native artists. The operation is first class, and Pepper Henry does us proud. He is also in charge of his uncle’s affairs.
This reminds me, that on November 16th Jim Pepper, jazz player and world music innovator of the Mvskoke Nation will be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, right there in Tulsa. Jim Pepper Henry will be there. I plan to also be there to celebrate this honoring. When one of us is honored, everyone is honored. I hope to see you there.
I’ll be back in the Nation toward the end of August and look forward to visiting. Porky, you behave yourself.