Yo-Yo Ma visits the Grand Canyon to play and listen to Indigenous perspectives | Navajo-Hopi Observer


FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – The world’s most famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma visited the Grand Canyon in November not to play, but to listen. He has listened to the Canyon itself and the views of Indigenous peoples related to the Canyon for generations.

“I really liked the purpose and focus of his visit,” said Ed Kabotie, a Hopi-Tewa musician who met Ma. “It’s important to recognize that there are many intimate perspectives in this discussion , the perspective of Hualapai, Havasupai, Navajos, Hopi, Zuni. It was a good group of voices, to interact with him.

Yo-Yo Ma has toured the American Sacred Landscape to explore how her lessons about weather, nature, and how the relationship with the two can help shape a better future together.

This was his second step in a project to explore how culture can help us strengthen relationships with nature and with each other. In July, Ma traveled to Maine to meet with the Wabanaki people. As the people of the dawn, they see it as their responsibility to welcome the sun for the rest of the continent.

“Today, as we navigate a new relationship with each other and with the natural world emerging from a global pandemic, we look to our indigenous neighbors for guidance and to give us hope,” reads -on on Yo-Yo Ma’s website about this visit.

A short film documenting the Maine experience is co-produced by the Nia Tero & Upstander Project. For the moment, nothing has been announced on the results of the visit to Mas Grand Canyon.

At the Grand Canyon, Ma met Havasupai writer and lawyer Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, Zuni farmer and thought leader Jim Enote, Hopi cultural leader Clark Tenakhongva, Navajo archaeologist and firefighter Jason Nez, and many others. Ma’s office had worked with many local organizations to organize the meetings, including the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Colorado Plateau Foundation, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the Grand Canyon Music Festival, the Native American Composer Apprentice Project. and Grand Canyon National Park.

Watahomigie-Corliss was the first to welcome Ma. She took him to a place near Red Butte, where the road forks. A branch of the road leads to a traditional Havasupai gathering place. The other is at a uranium mine that threatens the Havasupai’s water source. There she showed Ma how the Havasupai presented themselves to the land.

“It involves the plants, it involves the earth, it involves talking to the earth literally, I thought that would be a good start,” she said. “We are of this land and we have taken care of it and it is our responsibility to continue to take care of the land and the water.”

Ma played a song for Watahomigie-Corliss’ baby on her cello.

“The cellos so beautiful. I shed a few tears too, “she said.” I knew the experience would be good for the baby and I knew the cello music would be good for the baby. “

The next day, they hiked a short path together in the canyon, on a trail labeled by the National Park Service as Bright Angel Trail, but known to the Havasupai as the Qatt Viì hÄ“h ñ ñaa “Coyote Tail” Trail.

“All the trails there were animal trails, and then the animal trails were developed by the Havasupai, which evolved into the trails they use today,” Watahomigie-Corliss said. “He was interested in the real history of the region.

This story includes the Supai inhabiting the Grand Canyon for thousands of years before being hunted by the national park. In recent years, the National Park Service has worked more with natives and agreed to change the names of some locations in the park, including Indian Gardens to be called Havasupai Gardens in recognition of the families who lived there until they are forced to move.

“Now is the right time for people to be ready to listen,” said Watahomigie-Corliss. “It’s been a very long time to come.”

Ma also joined three generations of Indigenous composers: Raven Chacon, her alumnus Michael Begay, and student composers Christina Shupla and Arika Morningstar, of the Native American Composer Apprentice Project at the Grand Canyon Music Festival. Together they explored what it means to listen to the world around you and respond with human expression. The students explained how they want to shape the next generation of culture on behalf of their land and their communities.

“It was great,” said Steve Darden. “As an elder it was good to have seen Yo-Yo Ma spending time with Hopi and Navajo youth, young adults who want to pursue something in the vein of what Mr. Yo-Yo Ma is doing. . “

The experience culminated with a sunset show at Shoshone Point, where Ma and others shared music, poetry, and dance. Darden opened the gathering with a blessing and a Diné chant. Standing at the end of the point to give the blessing, Darden was captivated by the breathtaking view of the canyon to the east and west, and to the north looking past the small gathering of people to see the sacred peaks. of San Francisco in the distance.

“We don’t want such a place to be trampled on by outsiders who just treat it as a tourist spot or an entertainment area,” Darden said.

Val Grover and Selena Sterling shared a Hualapai dance and bird song. Jim Enote recited a poem he had written.

“It was a very peaceful, very deep and multisensory experience, where you hear the voices and instruments of people who don’t usually work together, people from different tribes,” said Kelley Hays-Gilpin, who represented the Museum of Northern Arizona at the rally. “Just to make it all happen at the same time in this amazing setting, it just wasn’t something I expected or thought about, but it worked and you wished there could be more of that, just people from different traditions and jamming. “

Ed Kabotie was one of the musicians. He performed the first part of his original song Loloma (Beauty), solo at Canyon, then Ma joined in the second half of the song.

“It was pretty special,” Kabotie said. “The Canyon is for us a place of beginning, a place of end. It’s a place of renewal, but it’s a place that we approach with a lot of respect and a degree of fear at the same time. It’s hard to communicate that, how your culture and cosmology revolves around this place. “

Music can be a way of expressing what is beyond words, but Kabotie believes that certain types of music are not appropriate at the edge of the Canyon. When he organized Rumble on the Rim to draw attention to the need to protect the Canyon and the Colorado River, Kabotie is hosting the event at the Shrine of the Ages, not at the edge of the canyon.

The cello seemed appropriate for the venue, especially with Ma’s strong personal expression from the instrument.

“I was very moved by this,” Kabotie said. “It was very meditative and prayerful.”

Ma’s cello music carried a powerful message, as did her choice to collaborate and listen. Ophelia felt that this showed that he knew that the Canyon is a place of many people who needs to be represented by many people.

Ed Keable, the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, also spoke about his goal of making the National Park Service more inclusive to Indigenous peoples.

“It just filled my heart with hope,” Hays-Gilpin said. “Indigenous knowledge of the Grand Canyon is really important and everyone should have the opportunity to hear. These voices need to be heard and acted upon.


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