Tribe leader Chief Seattle once said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
For centuries, the spiritual beliefs, artistic rituals, and governing practices of Native American culture have paved the very foundation of our nation. The origins of Native American Heritage Month date back to 1916, when New York was the first state to acknowledge an “American Indian Day.” In 1990, President George Bush signed into law a joint resolution hailing November as the official recognition month, paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. Historically through the present day, Tribal populations have faced many challenges including social and economic marginalization and attempted cultural erasure. Here at the Levitt Foundation, we believe it’s important to raise awareness not only this month, but all year long, to respect and uplift Indigenous cultures, customs and traditions and provide a platform for a broad range of Indigenous voices to share their artistry and heritage with Levitt audiences. Today on our blog, we’re paying homage to Native American Heritage Month by highlighting a few of the celebrated Indigenous artists who have performed on Levitt stages across the country this past season.
In Sioux Falls, S.D., contemporary new-age Indigenous music group and fan favorite Brulé attracted record-breaking attendance of more than 10,000 people this past July for a return performance at Levitt Shell Sioux Falls. A seven-member band led by founder Paul LaRoche, Brulé blurs the sounds of classic rock and contemporary Native American rhythms. Paired with dazzling moves from one of the top Native dance troupes, they bring Levitt audiences to their feet with dynamic artistic performances in colorful regalia. Hailed as one of the top-selling Native American adult/rock music groups, they were named by the Native American Music Awards as “Group of the Year” five times. Brulé’s origin story began when LaRoche’s wife, Kathy, reunited him with his biological family at the Lower Brulé Sioux Indian Reservation. Adopted at birth and raised by non-Native parents, LaRoche never knew about his Lakota roots. His reconnection with family brought a deeper understanding toward his own heritage and after experiencing a powwow, kickstarted Brulé’s musical inspiration. From then on, the family-formed band Brulé stunned the world with its rich Sioux culture.
Another standout performance at Levitt Shell Sioux Falls this past summer was D’DAT, an exciting multicultural, genre-expansive group fusing the uniquely American musical traditions of the native southwest, jazz, funk, and hip-hop. The trio’s spinning songs consist of Navajo improvised melodies from trumpeter Delbert Anderson, funk and Latin groove rhythms from drummer Nicholas Lucero, and the exploration of jams from bassist Mike McCluhan. D’DAT composes a melodic story of Northwest New Mexico and its surrounding Indigenous tribes, creating a unique sonic path with high desert-forged influences, world-class musicianship, and Native American culture. Their contemporary Indigenous sound wowed the audience with stories of tradition and personal identity.
In Stevens Point, Wis., Native American rock band Indigenous delighted audiences at Levitt AMP Stevens Point this past June when he kicked off their summer music series. Front man Mato Nanji (Ma-toe Non-gee), born and raised in South Dakota’s Yankton Sioux Reservation, dedicates his music to the indigenous youth living on Native reservations. The band, originally formed during Nanji’s youth with family members, is today a solo act that continues the mission of Indigenous while reflecting on the challenges faced by Native Americans, including cycles of poverty and isolation. Nanji’s music is heavily influenced by his father, the late Greg Zephier, and his uncles, as well as acclaimed blues artists Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and B.B. King. Zephier was a leading figure in the International Indian Treaty Council, and also a successful musician and band member of The Vanishing Americans. Nanji and Indigenous were additionally a musical inspiration to the award-winning family band Levi and the Plateros, coming from the Navajo Nation in Tohajiilee, New Mexico, who performed at Levitt AMP Gallup in 2020 and 2021. Nanji continues to “refine his guitar and vocal vocabularies with each new release and is also expanding his songwriting skills,” said Mike Varney, producer of the album Time Is Coming.
Gallup Mainstreet Arts & Cultural District in Gallup, New Mexico, welcomed Indigenous artists Raye Zaragoza and Mozart Gabriel to the stage this past summer as part of its Levitt AMP Music Series. As a Japanese Mexican-American Indigenous woman, Zaragoza grew up struggling with her mixed-race, multicultural identity. Raised in New York City, she loved listening to classic rock and roll artists such as Led Zeppelin and Simon & Garfunkel. She began writing her own songs at the age of 17 as she believed that songwriting was a powerful tool in building human connection through music. Her debut album Fight For You served as a protest anthem towards finding her voice as a woman of color. In her sophomore album Woman in Color, Zaragoza championed embracing one’s identity through emotionally compelling folk melodies. Today, Zaragoza continues to embrace her roots and explore her identity through music.
Mozart Gabriel is a Barcelona-based rock band and the name of its front man. Realizing that elements of traditional Native songs can be found in rock and roll, their music combines fast-paced guitars, warming bass, and quirky vocal hooks to create a fearless and bold style. Gabriel was born and raised in Taos Pueblo, America’s oldest inhabited village in New Mexico, where he grew up without running water or electricity. As a young artist, he developed vocal potential while performing songs for ceremonial events. He later developed a unique twist on contemporary rock fusing his Native roots into his music. Based in America and Barcelona, Spain, where his high energy performances once earned him a Battle of the Bands victory, Gabriel has developed a loyal fan base on TikTok for his honest portrayal of life’s struggles and his storytelling skills of Native American culture. Gabriel relishes the feeling he gets when he performs in front of a crowd because that’s the moment when he can be completely vulnerable and authentically connect with his audience.
This past September, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles in MacArthur Park partnered with social service nonprofit United American Indian Involvement to spotlight Indigenous artists Digging Roots and Tia Wood. Hailing from Canada, Digging Roots is a JUNO-award winning husband and wife duo, Raven Kanatakta and Sho-Shona Kish. Known for blending folk-rock, blues, and pop genres with the Indigenous sounds from their Anishinabe and Mohawk heritages, this powerful duo is committed to incorporating messages of social activism within their music. Although they come from different backgrounds, Kanatakta and Kish use music to highlight the shared Indigenous experience of oppression and systemic racism. Cree Salish singer and TikTok sensation Tia Wood sings traditional Native songs, putting an Indigenous twist on popular trends. Raised in Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada, singing and dancing have always been vital parts of Wood’s life. She grew up surrounded by a family full of singers and performing at pow wows as a jingle dress dancer. For Wood, raising awareness of her culture is crucial not only for other young Indigenous people to learn more about themselves, but for people from all walks of life to become exposed to its deeply rooted history.
Each of these Indigenous artists gave memorable performances that reflect the unique stories and heritage of what it means to be Native American today. The month of November serves as both a celebration of the immense contributions of Native American people and culture on our nation, as well as a reminder of the longstanding adversity faced by Native and Indigenous peoples. As found in Chief Seattle’s wisdom, we believe music is a thread that intricately connects people together from all walks of life, and its power is felt most keenly when we stand in unity and continue to expand our cultural horizons.