Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Brule Blessing

Maybe it's because the guy embodies what he testifies--I don't know. Maybe it's just the music, a scintillating mix of Native elements with traditional Anglo/Western harmony. Maybe it's just me--I don't know. But the concert on Saturday night was, to me at least, unforgettable.

And it wasn't just me. The place was packed. If there were empty seats in Sioux City's Orpheum theater I didn't see them. Getting in and out downtown took some doing because the sheer bulk of the crowd tested the place's seams. What happened on stage was a marriage of the Sioux City Symphony and Brule, a quartet of instrumentalists who redid Christmas with the unmistakably Native sounds of flute and drum and brought along Native dancers whose color and story-telling was itself a wonder.

The four tickets I bought weren't cheap--trust me. I knew it was a gamble with those who came with me. But every last moment was a joy.

Paul LaRoche, adopted as a child, was almost 40 years old when he discovered--or his wife did, secretly--that her husband's racial heritage was Native, Lakota. He was a civil engineer in the Twin Cities, but also one of those driven performers who can't shake the obsession to make music. Coming to grips with his own Lakota heritage created for him as whole new range of musical possibilities, a range as wide as the Plains his ancestors roamed. The result was and is, well, unique.  What Brule does is not quite Native but certainly not not. Whatever it is, it scores--and did once more, beautifully, on Saturday night for Christmas.

Grandpa's guests were enthralled, which is, I'm sure, another reason I loved the concert. They loved it. The kids.

For me, when Brule started off with their Native version of "O, Holy Night," I knew at that moment I could have paid twice as much for the tickets and been thrilled.

It wasn't just music either, it was more. I've listened to dozens of Navajo people tell me their stories; I've stood at their graves in New Mexico, and the South Dakota grave of Little Crow, the Dakota leader who only reluctantly led his people into a war he considered futile to reclaim their land from the swarms of European pioneers taking it away. Less than a month ago, I stood at the grave of the remains of hundreds of Ponca and Pawnee on a lonely hilltop in Nebraska. For months now, like so many others, I watched hearty Standing Rock souls protest the black snake that cut a swath right through my own neighborhood with a nary a voice of alarm.

I've brought buses of people out to Wounded Knee, where I've told white folks that what happened out there was no battle but a massacre. I've stood alone in the winter cold on the hilltop where the Seventh Calvary set one of its Hotchkiss guns and aimed it down on the place where hundreds of Lakota people were killed.

I've read dozens of books about Christian missionaries, well-meaning people who worked among the nation's Native populations in the 19th century. I've heard dozens of horrible stories of children strong-armed from homes and families, then sent to treacherous boarding schools.

It's just plain impossible to live anywhere in America and not realize that if you're European, like I am, somewhere along the line you were yourself an illegal alien, fully undocumented, an atom in an immense human wave who looked at very land beneath my feet as if it were only recently discovered and forever unoccupied.

On Saturday night, the Orpheum Theater, downtown Sioux City, Iowa, was a sanctuary of racial reconciliation. Brule brought the flute and the drums; the orchestra brought the violins. And the result was peace, a blessing of peace.

The result was Christmas peace. That's why I loved it.

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