The Halluci Nation’s Role in Civic Imagination

It’s a cool November evening in Seattle, and The Crocodile is full of people. There’s lots of Native Pride and NoDAPL shirts, jeans, sweat and gleen to go around. Faces range from solemn to joyful. Anticipation is high. People are here to see some of the most revered and famous indigenous musical performers of the 2010s. The lights dim, and the music starts – the crowd goes wild as Bear Witness and DJ Shub drop massive dubstep-like beats over tribal chants. The crowd is wild, rhythmic, lost in the beat and the moment, while a hoop dancer in fluorescent green traditional dress spins and jumps multiple hoops.

Rather than lament a culture’s echoes, Halluci Nation, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red, brings a current lens to the indigenous experience, and imagines it as one that packs nightclubs and builds on centuries of rich cultural heritage. The songs touch on every aspect of native culture of both their host colonial country Canada and the tribal lands of America. But there’s something that goes beyond mere defiance or zeitgeist–there are clear messages in every song: we’re still here, you can’t erase us, you can’t mistreat us anymore, these are still our lands.

It’s not uncommon in American history for people to believe that a specific tribe, or indigenous people at large, are essentially gone. Cultural erasure has been a longstanding practice in the American and Canadian colonization of indigenous lands, as evidenced by the many massacres, forced adoptions, westernized boarding schools, and land seizures. It is one of the worst genocides to have ever been perpetrated, costing an estimated 13 million pre-modern lives in the United States alone.

So to rise from the metaphorical ashes and highlight everything that’s possible within native communities is, for some, a surprising antidote to the typical image. The music produced by The Halluci Nation is electronic “pow wow step,” a fusion of traditional rhythms and chants via samples or current singers, dubstep and electronic dance music, and visual and narrative imagery of a better, more indigenous world, something they refer to as The Halluci Nation, which operates as both a uniting theme, an imagined cross-dimensional tribe, and the name of the artist.

If you watch enough of the videos, the idea emerges that other indigenous futures are possible than those architected by the colonization and history’s blind eyes. To emphasize this point, their tracks feature singers hailing from diverse backgrounds, from the Canadian powwow drums and dancers of Northern Voice to the political songs of Columbian-Canadian Lido Pimienta, to the hip hop stylings of Yasiin Bey. And the dancers harken to both traditional tribal dancing and modern club dancing. 

Additional cues are derived from videos like Indian City, which shows traditional tribal dancers in full regalia squaring off against breakdancers in a friendly battle at the outskirts of a city, or Stadium Pow Wow, spotlighting Kenzie Wilson, a young Native boxer, and Joe Buffalo, a middle-aged skater and survivor of the Residential School system. 

These thematics may also be found in the stories of Moonshot, a graphic novel compendium featuring indigenous stories of past, present, and future with a firmly established principle that the stories, the peoples, and the culture itself did not die. One of my favorite examples is Journeys, which features a Suquamish astronaut testing an interdimensional portal for NASA, only to find himself on a sacred canoe trip with his uncles in the in between. We share one feeling, they remind him. 

Overcoming centuries of trauma inflicted upon indigenous cultures requires a systematic change that at times feels like an insurmountable challenge. But lest we forget the resiliency of North and South American tribes and cultures, The Halluci Nation reminds us that their common experiences serve as a uniting banner, and one that will continue to inspire social change. 

The final example, then, comes in the form of “The Virus,” a video released in 2016 by The Halluci Nation, and featuring a number of globally diverse indigenous visuals intercut with flashes of white police forces clashing with Standing Rock protestors in South Dakota. It takes place on the fictional Turtle Island in the year 2047, addressing the cultural genocide of colonization and the oppression of the police state, and reminding the listener and watcher that when it comes to indigenous culture, “we are not a conquered people.”

When it comes to civic imagination, the voice of The Halluci Nation is a critical one, reminding all who will listen that Amerindians / First Nations / Native Americans are an active, vibrant part of global culture, and are helping shape our collective decolonial future from the roots of the past. The Halluci Nation’s motto on the Great Seal: “500 Years And Still Drumming.”

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