(Frank Waln, photo courtesy Tomas Karmelo)
Frank Waln, a 28-year-old award winning Lakota hip-hop artist, always wanted to challenge what he saw as racist stereotypes in the 1953 animated Disney film Peter Pan, particularly the song called What Makes The Red Man Red.
“I wanted to address the racism in colonial propaganda,” he said.
One day while walking through a music store in Minneapolis, Waln found a scratched old copy of the Peter Pan soundtrack and his idea began the journey to reality.
Waln produced his version and kept the original song title.
On Dec. 29, 2015, he released his track on KOYA FM, the local radio station for the Sicangu Oyate (Oyate is the Lakota word for nation).
It was a gift to his community to recognize the significant date.
On that December day in 1890 about 300 Lakota, a third of whom were women and children, were slaughtered by the rifles and Hotchkiss guns of the U.S. 7th Calvary. That day is known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Lakota people see it as one of the most infamous acts of genocide in an era where genocide took various forms across Turtle Island. The colonial authorities, whether the US or Canadian governments, were actively engaged in decimating the nations comprising the continent’s original inhabitants through forced relocation, separation of families and communities, and boarding and residential schools.
Indigenous leaders see it as a system that continued all through the 20th century in the guise of health care, child welfare and education.
Waln grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the Sicangu Oyate. That territory is also known as South Dakota.
His version of the song challenges the stereotypes that Hollywood, and even mainstream society, have established as truth about Indigenous people.
“I couldn’t believe the slurs that came from a children’s record,” Waln told APTN.
The first lines of Waln’s song are “your history books lies, your holidays lies.” The song later continues with the lyrics “manifest destiny arrested what’s best for me.”
His version of What Makes The Red Man Red calls out genocide, false assumptions, and cultural appropriation.
Waln’s hip-hop has challenged many issues faced by Indigenous people all over North America and with song titles like Oil 4 Blood, White War and AbOriginal one quickly gets the sense that he doesn’t mince words with his art form.
He has been performing for nearly a decade but he was a pre-med student before shifting gears and studying music. Although he loved music growing up, playing piano for around seven years of age and discovering hip-hop at 10, he thought medicine was a good choice until he burned out.
Music was still his passion though. He had been part of the group Nake Nula Waun for four years before he graduated in audio design at Columbia College Chicago in 2014.
Waln won a Nammy (Native American Music Award) for best producer in 2011 and Nake Nula Waun also won two other awards at that time. Waln has a career as a solo artist with numerous singles and a new EP called The Bridge.
One can hear the song when APTN Investigates looks at the phenomenon of redface, or playing Indian, on Cowboys and Pretendians airing April 20.