The spoken word poem “Modern Native” by Andrea Grant is about the storytelling traditions of our culture and the duality within Natives and Natives of mixed-blood who have been brought up learning both traditional myths and western fairytales equally. It’s about honoring your tribe and where you’re from and finding empowerment within your origins as you face up to life’s challenges and take control of your destiny.
“Modern Native” is also about how tribal myths are taught and learned throughout generations. In a lot of ways, the current shift from the print to the digital medium is similar to how so many First Nation stories have gotten lost in the transition from oral history to print. There’s an urgent need right now to share those narratives with the world in a contemporary, accessible format, such as video.
The Coast Salish and Haida people of the Northwest believed that they were surrounded, at all times, by supernatural beings interfering with the natural world. In their culture, spirits were connected to all living things. Their customs, beliefs, and history were passed down orally through stories, songs, and dances. They had stories about why certain things occurred, like the changes in season. There were stories about each tribe and how they first appeared in this world, and all of these stories were passed down to subsequent generations.
“Modern Native” explores aspects of what would happen if someone’s life was suddenly changed by being called to a higher adventure—as is often the case with artists—interacting with ancient deities, animal spirits, and being guided by the ancestors while going about daily life in a metropolis or taking a moment in nature where the supernatural voices can sometimes be deafening.
The spoken word art video for “Modern Native” is a visual representation of the audio recording of the poem. The storyline is about a modern woman (played by Andrea Grant) caught between two worlds. In one world is the modern, bustling, seductive metropolis of the city—where she physically resides and works—and the other world is Dreamtime, a parallel dimension where Natives believe people inhabit when they sleep.
The city streets seem a far cry from the mystical world of ancient spirits, tortured ghosts, and whispered prophecies of her homeland in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, these spirits and guides are there to help her, if only she can be receptive to hearing them.
In Dreamtime, there are twists and turns that depict some of the fairytales and myths she’s been taught. There are symbols meant for her to decipher that take the form of visual art and totems (Native art may be featured in this sequence), and Native ancestors who are trying to teach her important lessons about how to always stay true to her origins.
Her vision of being upon the precipice of change and possibly falling permanently into the spirit world awakens a new power within her. She wonders, “Where do you want to be in your life, and why? How willing are you to adapt within ever-changing realities? Who do you trust, and who has been sent to teach you a lesson?”
She is a woman who is able to survive in multiple realities, eventually looking within herself to uncover strengths that are superhuman. But in order for her to rise to the challenge, she must also be accepting of the ancestral voices and animal spirits that move within her.
As she opens her heart and mind to the possibilities of the magical powers that are rising to the surface, and she is faced with new responsibilities regarding her destiny. This crisis triggers her transformation and empowerment.
“MODERN NATIVE” — Spoken Word Poem by Andrea Grant
The bones of my ancestors burned beneath my ankles, and there was a certain amount of regret.
Their lost tales ignited the air: “Speak for us, for we have no voice.”
All the things documented, all the things insinuated and never written down. Their blackened eyes, cheekbones carved into the stone of forgotten prayers. Eyes. The eyes always tell the truth, and silence is also an answer.
I found a way out of cultural abandonment through an enchantment that would impress any Grimm brother, casting a veil of invisibility so that I might escape my entrapment. Swift of foot, I drugged the guardsmen of our house with plum wine. It was so sweet, so adamant. He slept for years.
Dancing shoes threadbare (only the young and the overly ambitious can stay out all night), but there were several handsome princes lingering in the bliss-dream amongst those who had not yet learned cynicism. Trees with golden branches and silver-diamond flowers. The land itself seemed repaired and decadent.
Reality transformed into a fairy tale that held more meaning than the illusion of daylight pivoting in the dusk.
Headdresses of golden eagles, patterns graffitied on the walls of museums. It’s difficult to calculate the consequence of shed blood, but every horror requires redemption in the ambivalent dreams of elders, sparking through the eyes of the next generation.
As for me, lulled, my viewpoint has altered: colors are bathed in translucent hues. My skin has grown one- piece metal, like a fish. I walk half in dreams. So here I am, with holes in my heart, wearing feminine accoutrements as my armor.
Red lipstick. Another kind of war paint.
So tell me which one is fairest of face?
Faces interest me now that I have one.
Girl transforms into woman, and a mask is required for that ritual.
Sometimes it’s a case of spherical eyeliner, narrowing the eye shape to resemble a wolf in an attempt to connect to animal origins.
Feathers are woven into the hairline, melting upon the edges of forehead, under pretext of a costume party or some other celebratory evening. When a mystical feathered-girl exits a taxi, the ravens hover around the bearer of their talisman, like winged shadows, and new myths are born.
The fairy-tale castle is an ornate illusion; the Park Avenue penthouse contains the same stone walls as any other prison. Kill me for a crown; the weight of gold and emeralds presses against the edges of my brain like a migraine headache. Dollhouse, doll-girls; my friends and I could never sleep after sitting properly in the dollhouse all day, dreaming like princesses, experimental eye makeup streaking as we suppressed our preteen heartaches.
Nowadays, people like to talk about nothing and dream of the things that used to be true. Where is the magic?
Dreams. Nightmares. Where is the in-between?
My nightmares are vivid paroxysms of blood and death. I don’t know how to draw the line between night vision and reality. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see the eyes of a wolf, and fire, fire, everywhere, as the city disappears. But a castle I recall from the lands of the in-between stands firm against the skyscrapers.
Fragmented. Redemptive. Modern Native. Mixed-blood.
Let’s not forget the men who took white women so that their children would be free. For all the mothers who gave their offspring new names and whispered, “Hush, everything will be okay now. Those without soul, who don’t notice details, have tried to steal my ceremonial necklace and sell the beads. They have tried to tear my drum skin.
But the strength of my ancestors flows ever on. The undercurrents of moon and water flow in my timeline, and Raven speaks tricks through my mouth.
MODERN NATIVE VIDEO CREDITS
SPOKEN WORD POEM + NARRATION
DIRECTOR & PRODUCER
Cassandra “Kaas” Cross
Cassandra “Kaas” Cross
EDITOR & COLORIST
Cassandra “Kaas” Cross
Sierra Tasi Baker
Ta’Kaiya Sierra Blaney
Taran J. Kootenhayoo
Charlene Ellen Johnny
Gina Mae Schubert
Mandy Collins Tanguay
Chloë Angus Design
Special Thanks to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council for supporting Modern Native.
Thank you to Beaumont Studios, Tina House from APTN, and Carolyn Lair.
Photos – Charlene Johnny