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Indigenous Music in Today's Music Class

Indigenous Music in Today's Music Class

This November, ETM Teacher Joshua Kinney has put the spotlight on the musical contributions Native Americans have made to the American musical canon. They started by discussing and performing more traditional Indigenous songs such as “40 Wheels” by Martha Redbone, which tells the story of the Trail of Tears, and then providing a more modern Indigenous contribution with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. 

Image of the band Redbone
The Band Redbone

We caught up with Joshua and asked them about why they believe it’s important for their students to have lessons like this.

Education Through Music (ETM): Why did you decide to focus on Native American Music this Month? 

Joshua Kinney (JK): Well, it is [Native American] Heritage Month and I’ve been trying for every cultural heritage month to do some music from that culture. And there’ve been a lot of Thanksgiving events around the school but none of them have been talking about colonization and other things that I think are pertinent parts of the holiday. 

ETM: Can you elaborate a bit more about that?

JK: I feel like the biggest thing any teacher should do is “windows and mirrors,” as they say. You reflect the students’ culture and heritage and provide a window into other cultures. In this case, I have no Native American students, so they don’t know a lot about this big population of the country that has been here longer than any other ethnic group has. Music is a really easy way to introduce some of the more colorful sides of these cultures and get a bit more background before they learn [the more traumatic moments]. 

Rather than just hearing about horrible things that happened to Native Americans, why not celebrate how rich their cultures are through music? In history class, you’re going to learn about the horrible things and that’s probably it. Where else are you going to learn about very positive contributions to our world by Native Americans? Probably not in a lot of places. So, I thought it was important that I do my part to give at least a taste.

ETM: How did you come up with your lesson? 

JK: Well [my Instructional Supervisor] Beth Buehlman helped me out. I knew of the band [Redbone] and loved their music. We’ve been primarily focusing on folk songs, which is a fun way to get the students involved. But this was interesting because the kids already knew the song from [Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy] and TikTok, so I knew it would be an easier way to talk about the deeper issues with Native Americans and the way they are treated in this country. When I found the video, I pretty much built my entire lesson around it because there’s so many directions we could go with it and fosters really great discussions.

Thank you Josh for sharing your class with us! Happy Native American Heritage Month! 

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A music teacher plays the ukulele.
Daniel Rader/Education Through Music