By Charles Clark, Director Tribal Rolls
I know it’s been a while since my last article and I apologize. But now that the hiatus is over I will be bringing back the Cornerstone on a regular basis. In the past I have brought you insights to our history as a people and culture, and everything that goes on in our lives today is a result of that history. And what better way to honor that history than by writing about our current tribal citizens? For that reason, I have changed the venue of the Cornerstone toreflect our contemporary history.
To start this new format I would like to introduce Marcia Bendo, a member of the Bertrand family. It was a couple of years ago, early on a Sunday morning the last day of the Family Festivalnext to a pond that I gave my firstcousin her Potawatomi name Kaukima, which means “reads repeatedly.” Kaukima, sister of Chief Topenebe, was an avid reader of the Bible.
The name was carefully chosen to connect her to our ancestral family that would in turn start her on a journey to connect with present-day family. As family, a lot of us live far away from each other and rarely see one another. I saw the naming ceremony as an opportunity to not only connect with our ancestors, but to form a new relationship between living relatives. And since that morning, the journey has been an immense realization.
Marcia has always had an ear for music and found it to be the perfect platform to getting back
to her roots. She picked up theNative American flute and hascome a long way since. When asked what inspired her to playthe flute, she said “two years ago,I became interested in the historyand cultural significance of the flute among North Americanindigenous people. Traditionsvary, with the flute havingsacred, spiritual, healing or social purposes. I was curious about therole flutes might have played inPotawatomi culture and music.
“Having played piano and violin since childhood, I was also inspired by the beauty and unique quality of sounds created when it’s played, often described as breathy, buzzy, haunting, or sweet. Through the voice of theflute, the player can express ideas,emotions, ceremony, spirituality, or relationships with the natural world. I’ve learned to play theseflutes from teachers and fluteplayers who embrace traditional as well as contemporary styles.”
With inspiration comes knowledge. It is not enough to simply learn how to playthe flute. One must go out andseek others that share that same passion and explore the richness in the variation of sounds produced by other instruments. To keep that inspiration alive, Marcia looks for any opportunity to view collections, old and new, to converse with traditional players about their perspectives, and to explore the versatility of these instruments at cultural and educational gatherings.
For Marcia, her inspiration comes from “listening to a variety of musical styles by contemporary performers who respect the history and traditionof the native flute, such as BryanAkipa, Joseph Firecrow, Kevin Locke, Mary Youngblood, R. Carlos Nakai and Hawk Henries.”
According to her, “every flute isunique and has its own musical spirit which inspires what and how I play.”
During this time she has also researched the spiritual andceremonial aspects of the fluteof the Potawatomies, but has found very little except that the music is usually passed down within a family much like the oral tradition of family stories. And because of that, the music is very personal within those family circles and not heard by the outside world. Though the task may be daunting it doesn’t deter Marcia from searching for these musical roots.
Some teachers or artists have published song books and there are websites which post transcribed songs in a variety of styles and traditions. Like mostflute players, she enjoys usingthese resources as well as relying on her own musical talents to improvise with other musicians or pre-recorded tracks and to write her own music.
Last year at the 2012 CPN Family Festival, Marcia made several appearances at the Cultural Heritage Center playingher flute that included traditionalsongs, improvisations and some contemporary songs written by Mary Youngblood and R.C. Nakai.
What’s next for Marcia?
She would like to help people get some introductory skillsto start their own flute journeyby conducting workshops at a Potawatomi gathering or event. Perhaps in Marcia, we have a future cultural music teacher for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
I asked Marcia what it means to be a Potawatomi and a Bertrand. She was quick to respond “... to be strong as a community with a common history. The strength of the Nation to survive migrations and adversity across North America is a remarkable legacy. Thirty years ago, I began to research my family history and became aware of how my Bertrand ancestors joined the Potawatomi people. When I attend the annual Family Reunion Festival, I sense that every family, every attendee is somehow connected to my Bertrand family. We are relations and share a bond.”
I want to thank Marcia Bendo for her time in sharing with me her personal story of what it means to be Potawatomi and the music she plays. Anyone interested in more information about Native American Flutes, including history and songs can log onto www.flutetree.com and www.flutopedia.com
If you or another tribal member you know has a unique story to tell, e-mail me, Charles Clark, Director Tribal Rolls at cclark@ potawatomi.org.
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