Day 28: Indigenous Artivism

I heard the word artivism for the first time on CBC Radio’s Podcast Unreserved. 

I loved the idea right away.

It’s something that indigenous people have done for a long time–using art as a means of resistance.

Today I want to celebrate that again, with the release of my friend Tall Paul’s new music video, Someone Great Who Looked Like Me. 


Tall Paul is an Ojibwe artivist from Minnesota–he uses his hiphop music to bring indigenous issues into America’s view. I asked him a few questions about his video and his passion for music.

The video shows some pretty meaningful places. Can you tell us about some of them?

The Haskell Football Field is, or approximately is, where Jim Thorpe had his first exposure to the game of football. It’s also where he got his first ever football from a mentor of his by the name of Chauncey Archiquette. They both attended Haskell boarding school in the 1890’s. An interesting thing I learned about Chauncey is that he’s credited with inventing the zone defense in basketball. The inventor of basketball himself, James Naismith, credited him with that. A statue of Jim Thorpe stands not far from the entrance of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Jim was a member of the inaugural NFL hall of fame class in the early 1960’s. This is the scene in the video where I’m wearing a replica of Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs jersey. When I’m wearing the suit I’m at Jim Thorpe’s mausoleum and memorial in Jim Thorpe, PA. In short, his remains are there because his last wife agreed to lay him there in exchange for the town being named after him, the town having been looking for a tourist attraction. He had no previous connection to that town and most likely had never even been there before.


Why did you decide to write this song?

I wrote this song because Jim Thorpe and his legacy inspired me as a native youth athlete. Growing up I had been curious if there were any famous native athletes at any point in time and when I found out about Jim I was amazed. For him to be native (Sac and Fox) and frequently mentioned amongst the greatest athletes of all time by sports historians and fans who really know about athletics impressed me. I felt a connection to him and his story.


What do you think music can do to show non-natives in America today who we are?

Music is a powerful form of communication and even education. So many people are drawn to various genres of music, especially hip hop, and lyrics carry a lot of weight with them. When native musicians make music we’re able to convey ourselves from our own perspectives. Any time a non-native listener hears our music I think they’re bound to learn more about us just through that art form. Of course that requires the artist to have a message in their music that is educational in some way. But when that happens, it’s pretty much automatic that someone who doesn’t know about us is going to learn about us at least a little bit.


If you want to know more about Jim Thorpe’s legacy, watch this video:


Honor the indigenous artivists in your midst today, friends. We’re still here, and our work is to educate others and to thrive in our own indigenous cultures.

You can order Tall Paul’s music here. 


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