Five inspiring Native musical artists come together as 'Dream Warriors'

Dream Warriors is an artists’ cooperative of Indigenous musicians, hip hop artists and spoken word performers

If you take five talented Native musical artists--who have made waves all over Indian Country and beyond— what do you get? As demonstrated by Tanaya Winder, you get a group of movers and shakers in the musical world known as Dream Warriors.

Dream Warriors is an artists’ cooperative of Indigenous musicians, hip hop artists and spoken word performers who embody and deliver statements of empowerment, truth to power such as “love is the greatest revolution;” and “Our youth are our future,” with the intent to create change and better Indigenous communities.

The birth of a Dream Warriors concept started in 2015. Following a performance in Denver that Frank Waln and the Sampson brothers joked that Tanaya Winder should be their manager. “We were all just joking around,” Winder recounted. “But later I got to thinking about it and realized the idea made sense.”

For Winder, launching an artists’ management collective seemed an ideal fit for her and the next logical step for sharing a message of radical love and what Winder calls “Heartwork” to Indigenous youth at colleges and universities and within tribal communities.

It was with these qualities and aspirations that Dream Warriors was born. The Dream Warriors kicked off the “Heal It Tour” earlier this month at Arizona State University with performances, talks and workshops that centered around family, community, creating safe spaces, indigenous masculinity and femininity, and the importance of story and tradition. Participating Dream Warriors include Tanaya Winder, Frank Waln, Mic Jordan, Tall Paul, and Lyla June.

Tanaya Winder

Tanaya Winder, courtesy photo

The multi-talented Winder, who grew up on the Southern Ute Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, has directed the Upward Bound program at University of Colorado Boulder since 2013, and who—among many of her accomplishments—acquired years of experience administering to students’ needs, organizing a variety of events and successfully managing her own professional speaking career.

Winder defines Heartwork as one’s life path and the essence of one’s spirit, gifts, and passion. “It is hard work, but you always follow your heart to the work you were born for. It’s the work of your spirit, what you’ve been put here for, it doesn’t feel like “work” because it’s your purpose.”

Frank Waln

Frank Waln Photo: Melinda Jane Myers

Frank Waln became Winder’s first artist for Dream Warriors. The two had performed with each other at various events over the years. When Winder brought up the idea about representing him, Waln had already been thinking about it, too. The idea progressed from there. “We both prayed and smudged about it, and kept it quiet at first,” Winder said. “But it felt like it was meant to be, opportunities opened up.”

Waln is Sicangu Lakota from South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation. He is a prolific hip hop artist and performer with several awards including three Native American Music Awards.

Mic Jordan

Mic Jordan, courtesy photo

Mic Jordan, from Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation and who lives with his family in Fargo, came on board Dream Warriors shortly after Waln. “I’d been looking for a manager, someone to hold it down for me,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s music and lyrics talk about personal struggles. “Music has been medicine for me, it saved my life.” Jordan hopes to represent a positive model of indigenous masculinity for Native youth. “I didn’t have a male caretaker growing up, I was raised by women my whole life, my father was non-existent. My mom, aunties, grandma made me who I am. Now I have a 3-year old daughter who is teaching me what no male role model could have.”

When Jordan gives talks to young people he stresses the importance of women, that women are matriarchs and are sacred.

Tall Paul

Tall Paul, courtesy photo

One of the biggest things that drew hip hop artist Tall Paul to Dream Warriors was the opportunity to share his personal journey with other Indigenous people and especially Indigenous youth.

Tall Paul is Anishinaabe and Oneida, is enrolled with Leech Lake and grew up in Minneapolis where he currently lives. His music addresses his personal experiences, his path to sobriety, and expresses his thoughts and feelings about being a father. “Being a father is the thing, the biggest thing.” Tall Paul is motivated to inspire people in a positive way and hopes to bring audiences to a place of awareness about ways of giving to the world as opposed to taking.

Lyla June

Lyla June, courtesy photo

Of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages, Lyla June uses her gifts as a poet, public speaker, and hip/hop artist to create spaces for inspiring youth, healing, and social activism. June is a co-founder of The Taos Peace and Reconciliation Council, an organization working to restore spirit from intergenerational trauma. June ascribes to the Diné view of how music and song brings healing and teaches that “song” and “prayer” in the Diné language is the same word. In addition to June’s engagement with Dream Warriors, she also leads the Black Hills Unity Concert, a gathering of musicians, both Native and non-Native, for the purpose of collective prayer for the return of the Sacred Black Hills. In addition June participates in the Nihigaal Bee Iiná Movement, a 1,000-mile prayer walk through Diné Tah (the Navajo homeland) and the Regeneration Festival, a global celebration of children, of which she is the founder. June holds a degree in Environmental Anthropology from Stanford University and a master’s degree in American Indian Education from University of New Mexico.

According to Winder, “If we can help the youth find healing pathways by sharing out journeys, we can help heal our people across generations and heal the wounds of our ancestors, creating a better future for our Nations.”

The “Heal It Tour” -- sponsored by the First Peoples Fund: Our Nation’s Spaces grant -- kicked off the first week of September at Arizona State University and was sponsored by Poetry Across Nations (from the Poetry Foundation) in an initiative run by Natalie Diaz. The tour continued in Oklahoma with presentations at the Potawatomi Nation Heritage Center on September 19th, and the University of Oklahoma on September 20th.

Look for more tour information, photos, and more on the Dream Warrior’s Facebook page.

And check out their new song: History of Hearts Breaking, which is number 15 on the Indigenous Music Countdown.

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