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Native News News: Ojibwe flautist shares message with music

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Darren Thompson performed at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, on February 20. Photo from Darren Thompson

Ojibwe flautist Darren Thompson performs at the Dahl
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY –– Musician and champion of causes, Anishinabe flautist Darren Thompson performed at the Dahl Arts Center and began recording his second album on February 20.

A native of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Nation in northern Wisconsin, Thompson appeared in Rapid City as part of a two-year-long slate of public engagements across the United States, which has turned him into a role model and de facto ambassador for indigenous cultural survival.

“My music allows me to share the rich history and culture of my people, as well as the plight that many other American Indian communities face to this day. We share a tragic history of great loss in all ways the term is defined -- centuries of misplacement and oppression,” he said.

“It is extremely difficult to communicate our history for countless reasons and most times it is unspoken of," Thompson added. "However, my music has blessed with me with many opportunities to build relationships and bring truth to light. I am always humbled by the reaction of not only Native people, but non as well.”

While living in Rapid City in 2014 to help produce Steven Lewis Simpson’s upcoming independent movie “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Thompson met sound engineer Rick Van Ness of Hill City. Van Ness agreed to help with the recording of the next album in the Black Hills.

Some of the tracks will be used in the film based on the book by the same name, written by 1996 Minnesota Book Award winner Kent Nerburn, and starring Cheyenne River Sioux elder David Bald Eagle, Thompson said.

He hopes to have the new album released and circulating by June, he said.

His previous album, “The Song of Flower.” is a collection of compositions, improvisations, studies of both past and contemporary Native American flute music.

Before arriving for the Rapid City event Thompson was scheduled as master of ceremonies and performing artist in his home territory of Minocqua, Wisconsin, for a Valentine’s Day community fundraising concert to rebuild the historical Waaswaaganing Indian Bowl Living Arts and Culture Center.

The “Sweet Spirit” event aimed to celebrate Northwood’s culture in the very heart of “the town infamous in its opposition towards the Ojibwe's right to fish, hunt and gather off the reservation,” as Thompson describes it.

Minocqua, where he went to high school, was where his eyes were first opened to the existence of racial prejudice.

“It wasn't until I became a teenager did I realize that I was ‘Indian’ and different from those in the surrounding communities, which are non-Indian,” he said. “Like my peers, I didn't like the stares directed towards me and my family when we left the reservation and knew all too well that those in the surrounding communities didn't like us because of our race.”

In a 1970s, when his tribe won a lawsuit against Wisconsin, protecting members’ right to fish off-reservation, the backlash from non-Indian sectors engendered protest rallies and slogans such as "Save a Walleye, Spear an Indian," and "Go home, timber-nigger," he recalls.

“I learned as an adolescent that I was to both be a representative of my community and be my own person, which was not an easy thing to do because I didn't know how to do either of those things very well,” he said.

“I focused so hard on breaking the stereotypes of the dumb, lazy Indian that I was welcomed on the National Honor Society and became the captain of the Boys' Varsity Basketball and Track and Field Teams,” he remembers.

That led to his entrance to Marquette University, where he was thrust into the limelight as an opponent of retaining the school mascot of the “warriors” and eventually gained the Jesuit president’s backing to lead a successful struggle for renounce that icon.

“As soon as the journey ended I went all over the United States speaking at colleges, conferences and events about the issue I just experienced and changed a lot of opinions from personal experience,” he recalls.

“Let us determine our identity, our future, our culture and respect that,” he said. “It's okay to not know. If you want to respect us, ask us,” he said on his new journey, on which he still had a long way to go.

In January, he performed at Sinte Gleska University's Annual Student Awards Banquet in Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, observing, I felt so privileged to share my talents with some of the Rosebud Sicangu people.”

After Rapid City, he’s headed for Battle Creek, Michigan to perform and deliver a keynote presentation at the Michigan Indian Education Council's Annual Conference for Great Lakes area academics on March 13.

On March 20, he will be a performer during the runway showcase for the Second Annual Native Fashion in the City event, in conjunction with the Denver March Powwow. Native American artists Cher Thomas, Jolonzo Goldtooth and Marcie Bain are among other headliners scheduled.

Thompson said he is looking forward to his second annual Native Flute Retreat at Dillman's Resort in his hometown of Lac du Flambeau. He calls it “a one-of-a-kind opportunity to visit Indian country and learn a nearly lost cultural tradition - flute playing.”

While honored as an Artist in Residence at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee, in Franklin, Wisconsin during 2014, Thompson not only gave flute classes, he traveled to attend numerous events, including: the World Flute Society Inaugural Convention in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; the 33rd Annual Bear River Powwow, in Lac du Flambeau; 3rd Annual Blue Canvas Orchestra in Lac du Flambeau; Native American Tourism Conference of Wisconsin in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Dillman's Resort Festival of the Artists in Lac du Flambeau; International Institute of Wisconsin's World Citizenship Celebration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Educator's Network for Social Justice in Milwaukee; First Annual Mawansomag Powwow in Gurnee, Illinois; 2014 Anishinaabemowin Teg Language Conference and 20th Anniversary Celebration in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; Governor's Conference on Tourism in Geneva, Wisconsin; University of Louisville's Native American Appreciation Night, Kentucky; Trickster Gallery Showcase in Schaumberg, Illinois; and American Indian Center of Chicago's New Year’s Celebration.

(Contact Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment Editor at

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