Frank Waln is a rapper and member of the Sicangu Lakota. He grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Waln has rapped about the Keystone XL Pipeline, his battle with depression, and the modern Native American experience.
Waln joins Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson to talk about his new album, Tokiya, which comes out this year, and his efforts to be a role model for young Native Americans.
“This album Tokiya is a very personal album,” Waln said. “A lot of it is telling the story of how I’m trying to deal and heal from the historical trauma that has been dealt to me through my ancestors and through being a survivor of genocide.”
Interview Highlights: Frank Waln
On the parallels between black experience and Native American experience
“Hip hop just resonated with a lot of Native youth from my generation, especially growing up on reservations because we could relate to the stories being told in the music.”
“Black folks are coming up out of a history of slavery that their ancestors had to endure. And
my ancestors and myself we’re coming up out of a history of genocide — so we are both being oppressed by this system that was imposed on us.”
“When I moved to Chicago, I started doing workshops and going to schools that were in inner-city Chicago. And I saw the parallels there and I didn’t even know they really existed. And then it started to make sense why I gravitated to that music and those stories.”
On the erasure of Native Americans from U.S. history
“When I came to Chicago to go to school, I actually met a person my first week here, that was living in my dorm, who thought Native Americans are extinct. She thought we were gone and dead. And it really shook me. And I started looking at the way history is taught in this country, and a lot of history books don’t mention us past the 1800’s.”
“So I was talking about that white-washing of history, how history was told by the victors, and how our side of the story is never told, and it’s just as much American history.”
“Genocide did happen in this country, and our people did survive genocide. They tried to wipe us out many times, and that influences our reality, whether we want it to or not.”
On being a role model for Native youth
“My target audience is Native youth because I know what they went through, we grew up in similar circumstances. So I think it’s really important that young Native youth see positive Native role models doing what they love and succeeding.”
“The reaction that I get from Native youth is worth more to me than money. Almost every time I do a show in an indigenous community, a young Native person comes up to me and tells me my music or my performance has changed their life. I remember when I was growing up, I [had] never seen a young Native person from a reservation on a mainstream platform talking about real issues and being honest about who we are and where we come from.”