Changing Lives With Personal Songs

Donna Loring

I was surfing the net one day and came across a BBC Video on You Tube of a young man named David Hodges.

The video showed how David went to various Cree villages around James Bay in Canada to teach the youth how to put their thoughts to words and those words to song. They created songs and produced them. I watched this video as the kids were just transformed from sullen and shy to happy and self- confident.

It was amazing to watch the change and to hear hope for the future in their voices as they talked about how their whole outlook on life had changed. I wanted this for our young adults here in our communities. I was determined that I was going to contact David Hodges and see if he would come to the States to hold a music workshop for our tribal communities. I was to learn later that nothing worth doing is simple and was going to take some tremendous amount of work and determination to bring him here.

I had always wanted to find a way to showcase the talent that exists in our Native Communities. Seven Eagles Media Productions was created by myself and Penobscot Tribal Member, Susan Lewey Hamilton. The mission was to "Create a pathway for vision and voice of Native People. Seven Eagles was the perfect vehicle to bring him to Maine.

Pleasant Point is, from left to right: Monique Sockabasin, David, Madison Keezer, Willow Gabriel, Kailyn Sockabasin & Reagan Moore

As I watched the YouTube presentation my mind went back to a few summers ago.

I was walking through the Bangor Maine Mall when I heard a familiar voice call my name. It was my cousin Charlie who was very excited that his son was going to be a contestant for a national talent show. I had heard from various tribal members that indeed this kid could sing. Knowing the talent that exists on Indian Island and in the other Tribal Communities I knew he must be better than average.

I grew up on Indian Island with some very talented people, singers, actors, writers, wood carvers, and artists’ of all sorts. I watched them show their works to fellow tribal members and friends and then never see anything come of it. Most of those very talented people never got noticed and never found a pathway to fame or to recognition.

I stood there waiting for Charlie's son to sing. When it was his turn they announced his name and said he was from Indian Island. I saw the panel of judges look at each other and knew instantly that no matter how good this kid was he would never get chosen. I know that look; I've seen it many times just before a No vote on committee in the State Legislature. You might say I'm an expert in that sort of body language.

My second cousin was exceptionally good but he was not chosen.

Remembering that episode and thinking of all the undiscovered talent in our communities I sent David a facebook message and he responded immediately that yes he was interested and excited about doing it. He had never been to the States before to do a workshop with Tribal youth. We communicated back and forth over skype and Seven Eagles set about getting funding to bring him here. My thought was to keep it small at first as a pilot project and if it was successful bring him back for a return visit.

The date was set for him to arrive and we had some excited kids. The magic dates were July 6th through the 12th. He was to spend three days in each community.

Funds were raised, youth workers were contacted and posters put up and notices placed in the community flyers.

On the evening of his planned arrival I got a call from David telling me that he had been turned away at the border.

We were all very disappointed but we had put so much time and planning into this project and it was so important to give the youth a pathway for their voices that we were determined to bring him here through hell or high water!

Penobscot, from left to right: Shantel van Dyke (Penobscot/Onieda), Leigh Neptune (Penobscot/Passamaquoddy), Alexis Ireland (Maliseet), Nakoa Parson (Penobscot), Julian Loring (Penobscot)

We learned that in order for him to be allowed into the Country he would need a P-3 Visa. We set out to learn about what that entailed and it entailed a whole lot of government paper work over thirty pages of government speak.

We knew we couldn't over come this obstacle without help from our Congressional delegation. I contacted Senator King's office and was connected with Barbara Hayslett who worked with me diligently to get his Visa approved.

The process started in July, Seven Eagles first request was denied stating that we needed a letter from a Performing Arts Union giving their approval to allow him in (They provided a list or organizations, we chose one we thought was relevant) We paid over three hundred dollars to join an organization who could not guarantee their letter would be accepted. IT WAS NOT.

The immigration Office recommended a specific Art Union in their rejection letter which we contacted, paid them another fee, they wrote the letter that was finally accepted. Immigration further stated they did not see the cultural relevancy of the work David would be doing with our Native Youth. I found this totally ludicrous as who better to know the cultural relevancy then a tribal member!!! It was useless to fight a nameless entity so we had no other choice but to find a way to convince the immigration person (whomever THAT was, they never signed any communication so we never knew who we were dealing with) that this was culturally relevant. We reached out to Dr. Darren Ranco a Penobscot Nation Tribal Member and the Director of the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine in Orono. Dr. Ranco agreed without hesitation to write the letter for us. David had given us dates that he could be here.

The dates were October 12th through the 18th. We were quickly reaching those dates. Barbara Hayslett, from Senator King's Office requested an expedited process from the immigration office. We received the approval notice October 8th. Senator King's office emailed us with the good news but we did not get the official letter until the 10th just two days before David was to arrive for his first day of workshops.

I held my breath until David actually crossed the border on October 12th. We had no idea of how many youth would actually attend the workshops on such short notice but we had come this far and now it was up to them and our contacts in each community. John Neptune, Roger Paul and Gabe Paul in Penobscot and Rena Newall at Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Community.

The workshops started that Monday on Indian Island after school at 3:30PM and lasted depending on how much they needed, until 10:00PM or so. David worked with the youth to get them to write their thoughts down and put them into song. He had three days to get this done before leaving for Pleasant Point.

He worked with them to get them to talk about what they were thinking and feeling and then to get them to sing in front of each other. There were a very few who were not shy, but by the end of the three day workshop they were all self confident and wanting to do more and make their voices heard.

Pleasant Point had younger kids and they were excellent.

I was amazed when we heard the finished product from both communities. We were proud to hear that it made a difference in their lives. One young man, told me this was a life changing experience and one he would never forget.

At the end of the day Seven Eagles was so proud of the songs these youth had created.

We do have Star Power in our Communities and in my humble opinion these songs are good enough to be on the National Charts.

You can hear the songs created by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy youth and David Hodges by clicking here.

This is a joint project with Seven Eagles Media Productions and David Hodges N'We Janin tour.

This is an amazing project, it is made possible with funding from the Davis Family Foundation, Maine Expansion Arts Fund, The Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. A special thank you to Barbara Hayslett from Senator Kings Office and Barbara McGowen the Project Director of Seven Eagles who worked diligently to wade through the over whelming paper work.

Donna Loring is an author, playwright, and Penobscot Tribal Elder.

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Sammy7's picture
Donna, what an endearing story of hope, happiness, and accomplishment achieved in the gentle harmony of Indian culture, with a sprinkle of wonderment added. Thank you for your mindful and caring efforts on behalf of our children. You are so kindhearted, thank you.