The performance was live streamed on the Arts Council of Big Sky’s Facebook page, which allowed for people across the nation – including students in Madras, Oregon on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation – to enjoy the performance. PHOTOS COURTESY DJ Soikkeli

The art of Supaman

The Arts Council of Big Sky’s Artist in Residence shares Apsaalooke language, culture and music

Masked Big Sky kids in Warren Miller Performing Arts Center (WMPAC) were greeted with a beat on an animal skin drum, a prayer spoken in ancient tongue and a man wearing a brightly colored regalia and a full headdress. That man was American Indian rap artist Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, professionally known as Supaman.

Last summer at the Montana Folk Festival Supaman opened his performance with a prayer in the Apsaalooke language. “One thousand years old,” he said and noted if he had a 1,000 year old coin, everyone would think it was very valuable.

The large crowd stood in the sunshine not knowing what he was saying, but feeling the connection to something ancient and realizing at the same instant how deeply rooted the artist is to his heritage.

As he stood on the WMPAC stage before distanced and masked Big Sky School District students, the difference between a pre-pandemic show and the recent one was staggering. Some things stayed the same, though. The evening opened with a prayer in the ancient language, but this time his son spoke it and he replied “Aho” – akin to “Amen” at its end.

The language and the oral tradition – the prayers, stories and songs are passed from him to his son, just the same as the generations before. That connection to their culture gives them a sense of identity unknown to some other tribes that have been overly Americanized, a high cost of colonization to indigenous peoples. Pow wows help for members of all tribes to maintain a thread of connection, even if the language or oral traditions are lost to them, he explained.

He told students of the evolution of dance even in modern day Pow wow culture. The “Men’s Fancy Dance” he has perfected actually originated in Oklahoma. Supaman taught students the intricacies of the dance in time with the beat of the drum.

This is the fourth year of the Artist in Residence program in Big Sky that is sponsored by the Montana Arts Council, Spanish Peaks Foundation and Office of Public Instruction Indian Education for All program. Megan Buecking, education and outreach director for Arts Council of Big Sky (ACBS) explained that Supaman had been on their list for years because he meets all of the criteria and “brings a fresh approach and positive message to hip hop music.”

Some of his music videos have well over a million views on YouTube and his songs are created with purpose – to empower and to educate.

Buecking explained that the intention of the program is to expose students to understanding the arts as a form of communication, develop a well rounded understanding of careers in the arts and expand knowledge and appreciation of diverse cultures.

“He also bridges a conceptual gap between Native Americans from a historical context to contemporary reality. His style is also undeniably cool and engaging for everyone, especially students,” she said.

Education is the primary goal, but the artist’s skill is taken into consideration in addition to their ability to enlighten students to other points of view.

The ACBS residency allows for students in this small, rural community to be exposed to cultural diversity.

According to the ACBS selection guidelines:

The Big Sky School District population has less than 11% minority enrollment. With limited cultural diversity in the area, students at the Big Sky School district have minimal organic opportunities to engage with people and traditions unlike their own. By bringing Native American artists, artists of color, and artists generally representing different walks of life, we allow the students and diverse artists to make meaningful connections through the arts. The arts serve as a bridge between cultures and this program allows our students to develop a more holistic perspective of the world and the people in it.

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