Response to Maggie... Arlie responds to many common questions from non-native people...
From: Maggie
To: "''"
Subject: Song of the heart
Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 17:14:15 -0600


    First of all I would like to thank you for taking the time to put the "Rainbow Walker Music" site together! It is a great source of Native music and musicians! I will have to tell you that I signed your guestbook before I read your "Flute and Whistle Traditions" and asked you to give me contacts of Flute musicians to learn from without telling you where my heart is with respect to music.. I learned a lot from "Flute and Whistle Traditions." Thank you.

Glad that it was helpful, I have tried to provide some clear, traditional information, not adulterated by non-native ideas.

    I am a musician who also happens to be in a white female body this time around.

You know, I receive lots of comments regarding this kind of previous life philosophy. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, cause to this day I have not heard any medicine persons of North American Native Peoples talk or discuss "past lives", therefore it is something quite out-of-context with what I have learned of our spiritual perspective. It brings up yellow flags for me now as past experience has shown that some people who say they were native in a previous life... barge right into a our cultures in very inappropriate ways. Many non-native people have "confided" in me that they were thus. It is something we hear quite often from non-native peoples, yet you never hear a Native person say they were "Apache, Modoc, Assiniboine, etc, in a previous Life..."

    My major performing instrument has been the piano, however, recently the Native American Flute and Drums have sung to my heart and with all my being I want to play them and play them correctly. I always approach an instrument with respect. I always take into consideration from whence it came. Who are the people that created this instrument? It is their voice and hearts that it sings.

It is my firm belief that what non-native people experience is the reconnection to the Original Instruments of the Earth. These are some of the first instruments of many, many cultures. Some kind of percussive type and some kind of blown, wind type. Strings and things came later. It troubles me though, that the majority of persons who are attracted to our music do not recognize the core of this music, which is the Voice. For example, if you take all of Native Music and lay it out... less than 5%, if that, of it would be flute music. Flute music is a tiny part of the Native Music world. The other 95+% percent is vocal. Same thing with the drumming, non-natives are almost obsessed with drumming. It might almost be appropriate to say that, the opposite is true, that traditional Native Musicians are obsessed with singing!

The Drum is very sacred to us, we honor it. But it is very seldom, in fact, rarely used without a song. I personally never use my drum without a song. There are many, many songs, however, that are used without a drum. I don't know who started all this "shamanic drumming" stuff, but it is not anything that I have ever heard North American Musicians or Healers talking about. We don't use the word "shaman", that is some anthropological term or other culture's word. We have names for our medicine people that are specific to each Nation. But if we did, I could see the point if someone said, "shamanic singing", that is more a correct term for what we do here in North America. We heal, call the Spirits, travel, chronicle our passages, etc, and etc., all those things that "shamanic drumming" is supposed to do. We accomplish this with our Songs.

Notice I don't use the word chants. We in almost every case, refer to them as Songs. It is almost a sure giveaway if a person refers to these as chants, that they have no or little upbringing with traditional music. Some exceptions do exist, for example, my Dine' people may refer to a ceremonial song as a chant. But it is more likely they translate both the word for the Healer, into Singer, and for the ceremony, into Sing. For instance, a person may say, "we are having a Sing for my sister who is troubled by nightmares." Or, we are having the Arrow Way, sung over our sister. Very rarely would they say, "we are having a chant."

    I believe Spirit has many voices of love and the Native American flute has the most beautiful I have ever heard. I would only want to study with a Native American Flutist because I want to learn the song of its people through the human artist and then once my heart can hear, through the instrument itself. Every instrument, I have found, will speak to me and through me if I learn to listen.

This is the proper way to learn this Music, whether flute or vocal. A person needs to be able to trace their story of these songs to a source. We as Native Musicians take this very seriously. For many of us, it has taken years, decades, to acquire the songs we carry. For example, I love the Bird Songs of the Peoples of Arizona and Southern California. They are some of the most beautiful songs on the earth. I have many tapes and CD's of this music, yet I do not sing them, as I have not been "given" these songs to sing. It is my discipline to be able to recount the story of how and from who that I acquired these songs, if I am confronted by a member of these tribes. This is a major core of our musical tradition and we are trying hard to maintain this for the future generations. I believe it is very disrespectful to just take another person's song and sing/play it without their consent. Your world has copyright laws to protect your composers from this. Just because we don't recognize this within our musical framework, doesn't mean we don't have mechanisms as socially and ethically constraining. A singer who uses a song without consent, is tagged a "song stealer" by other Native Musicians and looked upon with disdain, or in the case of stealing sacred music, they may be seen as a dangerous and potentially evil subject, and avoided.

Our music is not written down, I hope it never is. This is why our traditions have evolved thus. And the NUMBER ONE REASON we still have Them. For the focus is on face to face transfer of music and accompanying traditions through and within a living relationship. That is the proper way... And that is why it is a VERY GREAT responsibility for each generation to discipline themselves to maintain this Unbroken Chain.

If you come from a culture that relies upon written traditions, then there is no worry, someone else will write it down, someone else will put it into a book, for later recovery, so it WILL NEVER BE LOST, so they tell me... But, ever wonder why non-native people are in anguish due to the fact that they have no more direct connection to their Knowledge Root? They broke the chain and relied on books, and science, and now have to speculate about what is Knowledge? Please, please don't mess with our Chain, don't try to convince us to abandon these teachings or ease up on what they require of us, for you. They have served us well, this is why you seek us out.

If writing things down is the key to civilization, then where is your Knowledge of these things? Some library should have what you seek? Why do you have to ask us? You should know these things... That is why we struggle to maintain this Connection to Original Memory, so that it endures.... as was given... for the Generations...

    I have learned through your article that I need to be careful of the instruments I choose before I buy. I had no idea that the Native Whistle should only be played by a male. This I will respect and honor and never play one.

This is a general rule here in North America, though there may be exceptions that I have never learned. And in this specific case applies to whistles made from the wing/ulna bone of an eagle. These are held in high respect and are considered holy, by many tribes.

    You also said that the Flute is a male instrument as well but I was unclear as to whether it was still OK for women to play. Is it OK for me, as a white female, to play this instrument?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. If you were a Native woman asking my advice, I would say go to your elders and ask them what to do. Originally, this instrument was used mainly by the males. But starting in the mid-eighties, several Native women came forward to play. Some were daughters of noted flute players, others from tribes with strong flute ties. But the final outcome is that, there are Native female flute players who play today. That being said, there are many tribes that prohibit females from playing this instrument. When I teach voice or flute, I ask my female students to check with their elders regarding the appropiateness of their learning. In this regard, a mentor should provide guidance.

    I would never play any of the sacred songs of the Native people or ever claim to be a Native person. When I play my music I do not get paid. Would you like me to announce some sort of disclaimer before I perform on a Native flute, please let me know and I will do so. If you would like me to quote you word for word I will do so naming you as the author. It would sadden me very deeply if I could not play this instrument. In fact, if you don't mind, I will just check with you first before purchasing any Native instrument from now on to see if it is OK for me to play. On this note, is it OK if I play a Native Drum? As you said this instrument speaks of the earth. When I play it I feel its energy go through me, then pull me down into the Earth Itself. It's an incredible experience. When I play the Flute I become the wind and I fly.

I appreciate you willingness to learn and be respectful of our musical traditions. Some of the things you ask are not possible for you to accomplish. In a way you see me as a mentor, in a way I am, but not the kind of mentor you need. You require a mentor with a personal relationship whose teachings you respect. For instance, if I was your mentor, I would not allow you to drum until you learned some songs. Singing comes first, drumming is accompaniment. The songs require a personal relationship, which we don't have due to distance and the fact that this internet thing is a poor replacement. But that is how it is, it's not too far a stretch for what a person will put themselves through to dedicate themselves to the strict oversight of a famous ballet teacher, martial arts sensei, or other noted arts master.

If you feel like what you are playing is inspired by Native Music, then I think you should tell people that is what you play, Native-Inspired or Native-Influenced music. That is all I would have you do. If you don't believe that is what you are doing, then just play and respect and enjoy the instrument. You just don't want to find yourself in the predicament Vanilla Ice did...

In regard to questions about instruments, I will try to be of assistance in this regard, you are welcome to ask.

Hopefully, a mentor will come to you. I was always told by my elders, if something was meant to be for you, it will come to you. For that reason I have never purchased a flute or drum, they have all been gifts... It took decades of patience, but now my flutes have their own stories of how they found their way to me... My children will recount these to my grandchildren... And my flutes are simple instruments, none of the fancy "fetish" things, no fancy wood. You could probably buy both of them for less than $100.00. And boy, do they sing!! I see so many people with flutes they bought for $500-$1,000 dollars and they still have no connection... no songs... no teacher... no stories... only what comes with the video or manual... Are their grandchildren going to read that manual and pass that on??? I don't think so... So, some things you can't buy.

    With the Native People's permission, may I play these instruments? If I can, would you put me in touch with some Native musicians in my area that could teach me? I live in Iowa City, Iowa which is about two hours from the state capitol of Iowa, Des Moines.

First of all, I don't represent the Native People. I am just one of the Songcarriers. The way it is, if a Native person heard you playing, and came to you to ask how you came to play. Could you tell the story? Would you be able to name the relationship from which you take your guidance? From whom did you get your first song? Those are the standards to which I am held. That is the way we show respect to the Music, the Instruments, the Musicians before who cared for this art, and the Sacred Beings who give them life... The Tree, the Wind, the Animals, the Water, that is why non-native people are drawn to these things, we maintain this protocol and respect and it comes through in the Songs...

If there are any native flute players in the Iowa area out there who might be willing to entertain a request from Maggie, please email me here at Rainbow Walker and I will get you in contact with one another.

In terms of Flute Traditions, you are near one of the flute "Mecca's", the woods of the Sac and Fox Tribes. It was from these people that Kevin Locke was mentored in the traditional flute arts. He was one of the young men along with Carlos Nakai who brought about the resurgence of this art. Some of the oldest knowledge regarding this instrument is there. Tama, Iowa is where the Sac and Fox still live. I don't know if they would be open to the idea, but I would like to see Nations such as theirs show some direction in this regard. If they see fit, they might sponsor a Native Flute University... so to speak... It would need to be proposed in a very respectful manner. The result, would be a source, a touchstone, where the Knowledge can be passed respectfully. Of course, the choice would be theirs, and they may very well choose to keep this within their community. Especially, with what they may have seen in the non-native exploitation of this instrument through the last decade. They may respectfully refuse, and again, they may accept... Things like this have never been done. People just go out and buy books and think since they spent 30 bucks, they have full rights to this Knowledge... hahaha, what a joke... all they have is a book.

    If I am granted permission and do make a connection with a Native artist, what form of tobacco should I give? Should it be in a pouch? I am not that familiar with tobacco. Is tobacco the gift of honor for all Native Tribes? Any light you can shed on this tradition would be appreciated.

This tradition is recognized among many, many Nations. I have received everything from organically grown tobacco, ceremonial tobacco made from healing herbs, to cheap generic cigarettes. What kind isn't the priority. Of course, if you are asking for a ceremony, you would make a more formal presentation. The most common is a package of rolling tobacco. To native people we recognize the Tobacco for what it is.... Brand doesn't really matter. It is one of the highest signs of respect we know. If someone comes to me with tobacco, a pouch, package, a single cigarette, I immediately know they are going to ask me for help. The tobacco is the sign, that they are willing to;

1. Listen
2. Learn
3. Take Guidance
4. Hold what is given, with the utmost respect
5. Treat the Instruments as Living Beings to be respected
6. Honor the Unbroken Chain, the Generations who laid down their very lives for the right of this Knowledge I am seeking, to endure...

If a person doesn't have this mind, the Tobacco means nothing and shouldn't even be considered... just go buy a video... Save yourself the shame before the Music and the Instruments...

    Thank you. Maggie Rustenbeck

So Maggie, here is just a very tiny bit of what there is to learn of the Music Traditions. I hope this has been helpful and that your request which I have taken in a respectful manner opens the door for you and others to "make a relationship". I personally don't believe that the Music People or the Instrument People are racists, or prejudiced. We Native Music Carriers are trying to save the proper way to show them the respect they deserve... Which was taught to us by our Elders... It is in these traditions that the very power and spirit of this music that touches your soul is retained.. It's an intergral part of this business of songcatching...

There are many other things to consider. For example, so far, the way that the Tree People have been treated by the Invaders has been very troubling... hewn down by the masses without a single word, crushed into paper and money... to carry the image of America's leaders on their backs... and the descendants of these destroyers want to learn to play flutes now made from their bodies??? Want to treat them with respect??? I think any non-native seeking a relationship with a flute/Tree Person, might want to have a conversation with them about that history...

How are you gonna explain to that flute that you traded paper money... made from the crushed, bleached bodies of their relatives... to acquire it??? quite a dilemma....

Maggie, I hope this is helpful. You seem to have the attitude necessary to go on to the next steps. Keep your eyes and ears open, a mentor might come. It is my hope that these conversations DO take place, peace with the Tree People is begun, many new relationships are made, and new songs of joy heard throughout the Land.

Walk In Beauty,

Arlie Neskahi

Maggie replies...

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email. You speak so beautifully and eloquently of your culture!! I have learned so much from you!!

I apologize for assuming Native People had a previous life philosophy. I am beginning to realize the damage being done by non Native people (such as anthropologists, historians, New Agers, and Native wannabes) claiming to be experts on Native culture. To me it is such a beautiful culture that should only be spoken about by it's people. I am beginning to understand the enormous odds you are up against even today!!!

But you know Arlie, it is people like you that are helping people like me to understand. I truly believe one person can make a difference. I will bet your website has touched many!!

Yes, I give you my full-hearted permission to post my previous email on your pages, in fact you may post this email as well if you feel there is something in it that might help others understand.

I had read the "Healing Songs" section of your pages and had decided before you emailed me not to purchase a Native Drum because I realized it is a sacred instrument. I had also decided not to play the Cedar Flute because I had no right to. I agree with your elders when they say: "If something was meant for you, it will come to you." I will seek out the Sac and Fox People and ask if they may allow me a mentor to study with. If they decline I will respect and honor this. Some paths a person is just not meant to walk down. Later on I always find out there is a good reason for this.

I think it is extremely important that the Native Song and Voice be retained and not lost. Equally important is that the Connection to Original Memory also not be lost. That this be passed down from generation to generation so that the message of the Spirit People remain pure and that the heart of the Native People remain open to receive it. This is just too beautiful a gift and too great a loss if it falls into the hands of the wrong people. This is why what you are doing is SO important!!!

You are doing a great service to Native and non-Native people -- and to the future as well!

Your friend,



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