Frank Waln is a 26 year old Sicangu Lakota Native American. He was raised by his mother on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. At a young age he was given the Lakota name Oyate Teca Obmani which means “walks with young people.” Within his culture, the Lakota name one is given holds a path or directive for that person to follow. Waln never lived off the reservation until the Gates Millennium Scholarship landed him at Creighton University in Omaha, where he studied pre-med as a means to be able to help his people. He later spent time at Columbia Art College in Chicago, which expanded his artistic vision and helped him develop his passion for music, a passion that was ignited in high school. Now an award winning hip-hop artist, performer and producer, Waln is helping his people by giving a voice to the realities of contemporary Native American life. A life faced with the perpetual stereotype of being labeled “a culture of the past” he says. Waln recently performed a number of songs including “My Stone” (click on the play link above) in New York City at the National Museum of the American Indian. BASTARD fanzine caught up with this remarkable young truth teller, who is living up to his Lakota name, to gain further insight into a culture with a rich, diverse and complex history.
Written by The BASTARD Child
Photographed by Idris and Tony
What are some of the realities that the people on your reservation are faced with?
We’re living in the aftermath of colonization and genocide of our people. We live in a country and system that is built on the destruction of our homelands and our people. We live in a country that wants us to be dead. We face natural energy extraction on our lands that endanger our lives and health. We face the systematic erasure of indigenous people throughout all forms of everyday American life. The US government is still trying to kill us. There’s too many issues to name and they’re complex.
“…what kind of ancestor will you be?”
Tonight you performed a song titled “7th” off of your forthcoming album. What is the significance of that number to you.
7 generations ago, my people had a prophecy that foretells of a resurgence, healing and cultural reclamation that will take place during the 7th Generation. We are now living in the time of the 7th generation. I see that prophecy coming into fruition all across Turtle Island (the name of North America, according to some aboriginal groups). This prophecy also teaches us to think ahead 7 generations when we make decisions that will affect our people. The 7th generation from now will be impacted the most by the decisions we make today. Basically, what kind of ancestor will you be?
In your song titled “Oil 4 Blood” you share in the fight of your people and many other Americans across the country against the Keystone XL Pipeline. You refer to this as “the black snake.” Where does this reference come from?
This reference comes from another prophecy my people had hundreds of years ago. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t know the prophecy by heart yet. This prophecy told my people that an evil force, a large black snake, will come and try to make its way through our land. Two things can happen. This black snake will enter our land and destroy everything we know and love, or we will stop the black snake from entering our lands and it will help unite people from all walks of life. I believe the second path is the one we are on right now.
“I am Lakota and that means I have ideologies that are older than the concept of activist.”
Truth tellers are often labeled as activists. Is that a term that you wear proudly or do you feel that the radical nature associated with the term hinders your message?
I don’t think I’m an activist. I’m just Lakota. I’m trying to be a good relative and live in harmony with creation like my elders and our culture teaches me to. That’s why I use my art and platform to shed light on the things that are keeping my people from being happy, healthy and respected. I don’t care what people label me as because these English/western labels don’t matter to me. As long as people are hearing, understanding and feeling my message, I’m good. But when people try to call me an activist, I correct them if I have the opportunity to and let them know I am Lakota and that means I have ideologies that are older than the concept of activist.
You combine sounds, textures, and elements of your culture’s traditions and integrated them in to the genre of Hip-Hop. Why hip-hop?
Because hip-hop is a beautiful, life changing culture. The music, the dancing, the graf writing, the style, the knowledge are all dope. It reminds me of my culture but hip-hop came to me even before I reconnected to and went back to my own culture. The artists inspired me. Making beats and rapping is fun. It lets me tell my story in a way I want to. Hip-hop became the place where I could reclaim my own identity as a young Lakota man and I’m forever grateful to the culture and folks who created it for that. I’m a storyteller. Hip-hop music is the vehicle.
Why does the stereotype of your culture being that of a “dead culture” continue to plague the Native American people?
We’ve been wiped out of the American conscious by the whitewashing of US history and false representations in the media. Settlers and the descendants of settlers told the world that our culture was dead for hundreds of years so people believe that now all across the world. People care about upholding their false beliefs of Native Americans more than they care about actual Native Americans living today.
“…we can be proud of who we are, be proud of where we come from and live our culture as well as be successful…”
You were recently a part of a Rebel Music documentary that premiered on MTV’s Facebook page. The episode focusing on young Native American artist has amassed nearly 5 million views since it premiered one year ago. What was it like to be part of that experience and to be the face of the marketing strategy? What impact has it had on your career?
It was a blessing and privilege to be part of a mainstream media project that actually treated us like human beings and listened to us. A lot of this was due to the fact that there were not only indigenous people in front of the camera, but many behind the camera as well. One of the co-directors, Billy Luther, is Native. The lead researcher for the Native America episode was a Native woman, Melissa Leal. She’s a boss. She went to bat for us many times and made sure the interests of the artists and the communities were always heard. The outside production team, Nomadic Wax, always listened to the opinions and ideas of the Natives on board before anyone else’s opinion. That’s why we were able to tell our stories in an honest way on a mainstream outlet. That’s why it was so successful because they let us tell the truth. The world is hungry for the truth of Indigenous people right now. The world needs more indigenous stories. Unfortunately the old guards holding the gate aren’t letting us in yet. Rebel Music Native America was an example of us busting through that gate as a team and bringing our stories to the world.
I’m very grateful to have been not only a featured artist but also the image for the poster. It has helped me turn my art into a career and bring my message and story to more people around the world. It also showed young Native kids that we can be proud of who we are, be proud of where we come from, and live our culture as well as be successful doing what we love. I’ve never seen anything like Rebel Music Native America in my 26 years of living. At the end of the day, I’m thankful the opportunity came my way.
Where do you go from here?
I have many exciting shows all over the world that are booked into the summer. I have an album coming out in the winter that is the greatest thing I’ve ever created. Despite all that, I’m most excited about the next time I get to go home, to the He Dog community on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota where I can be with my family and the land that made me.