Litefoot: Outkast, Stereotypes, Native America

While many people may be unaware of the strong Native American Hip Hop scene that thrives independently in Native communities across the United States and Canada, one of it’s pioneers, Litefoot is calling on Outkast and the broader Hip Hop community to take notice and check the way they view Native culture. We spoke to […]

While many people may be unaware of the strong Native American Hip Hop scene

that thrives independently in Native communities across the United States and

Canada, one of it’s pioneers, Litefoot is calling on Outkast and the broader

Hip Hop community to take notice and check the way they view Native culture.

We spoke to Litefoot about his view of the Outkast Grammy performance and why

he’s issued a call to Andre 3000 and the group to meet with himself and Rev.

Jesse Jackson and publicly apologize. Give the people a little background on you and your role in the Native

Hip Hop scene. In more than 14 years you’ve put out 10 Albums, a clothing line,

and appeared in major motion pictures. Despite all that, the Native American

Hip Hop scene has been invisible to a majority of the hip hop audience, how

do you explain this?

Litefoot: First, I am and enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and I am

also Chichimecca(Aka Aztec). My name is Tecpatl meaning "Sacrificial Knife" also translated "Obsidian Tongue". I say all of these things I say

here in a humble way. I have been involved with Hip Hop since 1989 and I am

honored to have this opportunity to speak. I hope that my words are received

with the humility in which they are given. I have seen Hip Hop change and become

the powerhouse that it is now. For many years, I have been steadily speaking

through my music to try and get the word out about our peoples struggle and

to the world and to also provide our people with songs and albums so that they

can relate to a form of Hip Hop that comes from our perspectives. It has been

an uphill battle as I have found myself at different times breaking down stereotypes

not only about American Indian people but also about Hip Hop itself. I know

that I have pioneered Hip Hop to the reservation and performed my version of

it unashamed before it was ever as accepted as it is today. It has been a strong

tool to reach out to the people and I know that I have always attempted to express

my traditions within this contemporary art form. It has been a very strong way

for me to express the need for us to always maintain our traditions and to remember

our ancestors no matter what we do in today’s world. Mostly I have used my words

as tools to help better the people and effect our children. As my career has

grown it has taken my music around the world and is now spread to an ever growing

audience via the internet. I have been very blessed to have accomplished larger

things and have been able to travel the world and ultimately have a career as

an actor in many successful feature films (The Indian In the Cupboard, Mortal

Kombat II, Kull, The Conqueror, Adaptation etc…).

Litefoot: I have always remained intent in my pursuit of empowering Indian Country and

empowering the people. We as a people have been struggling for recognition within

society for literally centuries. It is an overwhelming battle as we are limited

to very few avenues to express ourselves worldwide and on a daily basis the

media, the film industry, the recording industry, cartoons, sports teams, the

government through it’s history books and the list goes on and on… reinforces

misconceptions and stereotypes regarding our people while promoting and reinforcing

inaccurate information and ignorance about American Indians.

Litefoot: Our relationship with the United States is one of the biggest cover ups in

the history of the world. We all know what was generally was done to the indigenous

people here in this country. But, does the average United States citizen know

that Adolph Hitler gave credit to President Andrew Jackson for his extermination

policies regarding the original people of this land? I am not making this up.

Hitler in his autobiography "Mein Kampf", gave this country credit

for all of his evil policies that caused the persecution of how many ten’s of

thousands of Jewish people. We had Indian Boarding schools, the Nazis had Kindertransport.

The Nazis had Kristallnacht and we had Wounded Knee. Many will then say that

I am drawing comparisons to Nazis and The United States and I will be very clear

that I am only stating what Hitler said. These are the ideas HE credited the

United States with. I don’t at all support or condone Hitler or his actions

in the least… But obviously he felt that he found a common denominator when

he studied American Indian history. We know about the plight and Holocaust of

the Jewish people but do we know about the American Indian Holocaust and the

continuing plight of our people?

If I would have dressed up like a Zulu and stuck a bone in my nose and held

a watermelon and sang one of my songs that had nothing to do with Zulu’s…

Do you think that I would have even made it out of that auditorium? We all know

the answer. But what we have here with Outkast is unintentional ignorance. I

don’t believe that Andre 3000 did this out of spite. I do believe that ignorance

is ignorance and regardless of what caused it-the end result is the same. By now everybody is well aware of the negative response from Native American

organizations to Outkast’s Grammy performance. Among rap fans and the broader

Hip Hop community, the response has varied from offense to apologist defenses

for the performance. What do you have to say to those that don’t understand

why many were offended?

Litefoot: First I would like to talk about what is wrong with our own house before I

talk about the homes of others. I will be asking the question of our "leadership" as to why they are solely going after CBS and the Grammy’s. Although they are

in part responsible, the performance given by Andre is what is in question and

offensive to Native Americans. Why are they leaving that or not giving it the

full attention and instead focusing mostly on CBS and The Grammy’s? I am in

no way excusing CBS or the Grammy’s or for that matter the FCC. We have had

a door open for us to bring our struggle to the attention of the world…for

the first time in literally over 500 years. For that I am thankful that Andre

did what he did out of ignorance because there is now a possibility that we

can learn from this, grow together as people of color, unite and move forward

together. I have dealt from day one in 1989 with comments from the African American

community like "You’re an Indian..Indians don’t rap. Indians ride horses

and live in Teepee’s. Do what Indians do and leave the rap game alone." I’ve been in the game for a minute and I have seen it change and I have had

to stay creative to keep up without getting left behind. My struggle in Hip

Hop has been a very INDEPENDENT one. It’s like my people early on were "Why

Rap?" And the African American Community just couldn’t get beyond what

they thought I was and what they were seeing me perform on the stage…BUT ALWAYS

when I have performed to mostly African American crowds they feel what I am

doing and what I am saying because our struggles are so exact. We each have

a unique history with the U.S. but where black people have been able to make

that next step we are a little behind that.

Litefoot: I have been blessed with the support of many legends in the game from Afrika

Bambatta and members of the Rock Steady Crew to the first American Indian in

Hip-Hop, Ernie Paniccioli (Cree) who has been photographing and documenting

the movement since almost day one. Maybe I could just give this analogy to those

who don’t get it? Since Eminem has been made the subject of recent complaints

about racism by the Source Magazine and others in the African American community

let me use him as an example. What if Eminem didn’t say "N#####" or

refer derogatorily to African American women. What if he just performed at the

Grammy’s and dressed up like a Stereotypical African American woman and performed

one of his hottest songs. Would it have bothered anybody in Hip Hop or would

have any African American women been offended as the laughable way that they

were portrayed by a "White Man"? It would have not been tolerated

if Eminem did this and therefore it has become a source of embarrassment to

the African American Community because it is blatantly obvious why it is wrong

and sometimes the best position to hold in these matters to save face- is to

offer for your defensive action, an offensive action. Which is to say, "Well

we just didn’t Know!" or "What’s the big deal?" Ironically, many defenders of Outkast’s performance have come from the

Black community. Despite the fact that many African American’s have Native American

ancestry and the historic role that Native American’s have played in the struggle

for Black freedom, this event has shined light on a large gap of understanding

that lies between the two communities. What do you feel needs to take place

to increase dialogue and coalition among African Americans and Native Americans?

Litefoot: I truly think that if Andre handles this in a good way and steps up to the

plate that he will be able to make changes that are far reaching! Changes that

he may possibly may have never anticipated or never even thought about for our

people and for African American people which could lead to unification and an

alliance that would bring many issues to the attention of the world.Really what

it all comes down to is that we have to use this negative happening to build

a bridge whereby we of all colors of people can use it to cross over and each

of us say "you can come understand me on my side so that we can better

understand you on your side". While many of the groups outraged at the Outkast performance targeted

CBS and the Grammy’s, you’re attempting to reach out to Andre and the group

to address your concerns using Rev. Jesse Jackson as a mediator. What do you

hope to accomplish with this move?

Litefoot: We must let our actions speak for ourselves and if we truly want to take this

problem and build then we have to look to the Creator and do what is righteous

and extend our hand to reach out in a good way to those who have offended us.

Our actions must speak louder than our words and step up to the plate and do

what will promote a better future for our children. Sitting Bull and many other

leaders of our people, mine included, said that we must make all of our decisions

today by thinking of our children seven generations from now. By involving Rev.

Jesse Jackson, I am sending a message to everyone that we do want to build and

that we are taking the first step in inviting everyone to the "table". Are you concerned at all that some may view this as a move to promote

your own career?

Litefoot: I think that people will always talk. But, I do know that I have always projected

and promoted myself as a Native person first and everything else second. If

something or someone ever called that into question… then I would let the

people speak on my behalf. I am their servant as all "leaders" should

be. My life has been dedicated to always serving the reservation and maintaining

a constant presence with encouragement for our people throughout the United

States and Canada. I have done this work and still do it when it hasn’t been

or isn’t financially the smartest thing to do nor "career building". Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Hip Hop community?

Litefoot: I would encourage all those in power within Hip Hop and those who have a voice

as Recording artists, DJ’s, Clothing Designers, Graffiti artists, Dancers etc…

to step up to the plate and promote "Equality" for all people and

to join with us TOGETHER to make a statement to the world that we can take a

bad situation and make it good for all of us. I hope that Andre makes the right

choice and is one of the persons that leads Hip Hop towards this call for action.

I would ask all persons who care for the basic human rights of people to rise

up to stand with American Indian people in support.