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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 20, 2001 - Issue 47


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 Storm Bird Proud of His Roots


 by Ray Kisonas-Monroe Evening News-October 10, 2001


Evening News photo by Nancy Chorzempa

Joe Nielsen might have saved his life the day he discovered his Native American roots.

He grew up on the south side of Detroit near Ecorse and was involved with gangs. He lived a life of violence and drugs were all around. Finally, he just had enough.

"I got tired watching my friends die around me," Mr. Nielsen said. "I was tired of the life I was involved with. I just got tired."

He knew he had American Indian blood, but his life was not exposed to its culture until one day when he walked into the American Indian Service in Lincoln Park. It changed everything.

"It was the first time I ever saw peace," he said. "I could feel the medicine in there. I could feel the calming. It was like it lunged at me."

He embraced his past and decided to change his future. He discovered his roots are with the Tuscarora Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, one of six nations of Iroquois.

Today, he goes by the name of Storm Bird. At 28, he speaks of religion, of medicine and of finding balance in life. He spends hours at the River Raisin Battlefield on E. Elm Ave.

"I feel medicine there," he said. "I can feel the presence of those before me."

Storm Bird often tries to teach American Indian heritage to young children so they can understand his people's ways better. He proudly wears necklaces made of black bear claws, corn beads, abalone shells and buffalo bone. The lightning bolt tattoos on his arm signify the storm in his name and the teardrops falling from the bear paw signify his lost friends.

On a rainy day at St. Mary's Park in Monroe, Storm Bird brought his 4-year-old son, Lakota. Both had their hair cut in a traditional Native American style with a ponytail pulled back.

He speaks of his people's tradition at his children's school in Monroe so they can better understand the heritage.

"All they're going to learn from books is defeat," he said without bitterness. "I try to give them a different look."

Storm Bird also is trying to generate interest about traditions among young adult Native Americans through music. He is a self-proclaimed native rapper who has performed with the group the Red Riders. He also is about to release his first of four compact discs in the next month.

"I'd like to bring people together and get them back into our ways," he said. "It's what we aim to do."

Storm Bird and his wife, Richelle, have three children, Angelique, Trinitee and Lakota. They moved to Monroe about two years ago because they wanted to raise them in a safe and comfortable community with good schools.

As he spoke, the statue of Custer loomed in the background and was easily within eyesight. Asked how he felt about the famous general, Storm Bird just shrugged. He said during the war, Geronimo killed many white men.

"They both fought for their people," he said quietly. "I don't agree with Custer, but whatever."

He said one of his goals in life is to get more Native Americans his age interested in their past. He also is hoping that people in the community understand more about his culture.

"We're not all on reservations," he said. "We're still around and we're still here. We're not America's ghosts."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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