"Not Ready to Make Nice": Indigenous Music Video and Lessons of History
by Michelle Raheja — University of California, Riverside
May 05, 2009 – 00:58
Missy Whiteman’s music video “Indigenous Holocaust” (2008), featuring the work of hip hop artist Wahwahtay Benais and the Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), exemplifies how Indigenous media creates “virtual reservations.” These spaces open up imaginative sites where Indigenous people can contest, reconfigure, and revisit media representations. The clip opens with a blurry, ghostly figure that gradually focuses to reveal Benais, an Anishinabe musician. This shot reverses the dominant trope of the “vanishing Indian.” Benais emerges out of the shadows to narrate the story of Indigenous genocide and survival at federal boarding school in the U.S. and residential schools in Canada, a traumatic history that shapes contemporary Native American existence.
Benais utilizes the idioms of hip hop to Indigenous ends—his bling is an oversized handmade beaded and fringed medallion that features a black bear paw and his name against a white background and he’s accompanied by young men and women jogging in First Nations United t-shirts rather than in skimpy outfits. The lyrics of the song narrate the history of forcibly removing Native American children from the homes from the 18th through the 20th centuries and the kinds of physical, sexual, cultural, and spiritual violence they endured (what Benais and Whiteman, an Arapaho/Kickapoo filmmaker and visual artist, refer to as an “Indigenous holocaust”). Contemporary, vibrant mages of Benais are juxtaposed with archival photographs of children at schools such as Hampton and Carlisle, demonstrating how events that took place a hundred or more years ago still affect Native communities.
As virtual reservation, this video invites the spectator to participate in the process of healing from this genocide, using the Dixie Chicks’ lyrics as a prompt: “Forgive, sounds good. Forget, I’m not sure I could. They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting.” The video transforms the lyrics from an individual’s grief and alienation to a community’s process of grievance and use of media as activism. Yet I also wonder about issues of African American/Native American (re)appropriations in this video compared to, say, OutKast’s Grammy performance a few years ago.