Nakai kicks off pow-wow

by Catherine McCarthy | 5/8/98 5:00am

Traditionally during the weekend of Dartmouth's annual Pow-wow, the Hopkins Center invites a Native artist to come and perform as a cultural complement to the Green events.

This Friday at 8:00 p.m., the music of R. Carlos Nakai's cedar flute will herald the beginning of Dartmouth's 26th annual Pow-wow. The fact that Nakai is the opening note for the Pow-wow has become the source of interesting reactions in the Native community.

The history of the native flute is a tradition found in many Native American communities. Unlike its cousins found in modern orchestras, each native flute is unique and produces an individual style that can become a trademark for its player.

Nearly 30 years after Nakai first began studying the flute, he is now considered by many to be the premier Native American flutist. Since the 1980s he has produced numerous albums, becoming a Grammy Award nominee in 1994.

While Nakai's music often touches on traditional ideas and concepts, he should not be viewed as a traditional Native artist. He himself prefers to be seen simply as an artist -- which is exactly how he should be seen.

If you go to see him at Spaulding this Friday, do not go expecting to be enlightened on the ways of Native people. Instead what you will find is music that has been "inspired" by Native traditions.

Another controversial aspect is how Nakai presents himself. Most people tend to have a stereotype about how Native people should look, despite the diversity that exists in Native communities throughout America.

Nakai performs in full Plains regalia, which in many ways appears to play into this stereotype of the "traditional Indian" image. Why then is he not shown in traditional Dine or Ute dress? This is a mystery.

What is not a mystery is that Nakai is a talented performer. In a weekend that will celebrate the many faces of Native America, Nakai will bring one image to the stage -- an artist in America -- while the Pow-wow will bring many others.