Protecting Tribal Elders With Music

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes launch a COVID-19 Youth Awareness Campaign, gaining nationwide attention on social media

By Maggie Dresser
Shadow Devereaux is a Salish and Blackfeet hip-hop artist from the Flathead Indian Reservation. He recently released a music video for a song called, "Protect Your People.” which is a part of the CSKT COVID Youth Community Care and Awareness Campaign. Courtesy photo

In an effort to reach teenagers on the Flathead Indian Reservation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Shadow Devereaux recently made a hip-hop and tribal music video equipped with the flute, rhymes, the Salish language and a simple message in the song title: “Protect Your People.”

Devereaux, who goes by the stage name “Foreshadow,” made the video as part of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) COVID Youth Community Care and Awareness Campaign, which is using social media platforms to reach teenage audiences on the reservation to stress the importance of preventing the spread of coronavirus.

“I just know how fragile our elders are and how important they are to our culture,” Devereaux said. “I just thought that was a good thing that I could touch on, and I know that some of the youth don’t take it seriously when respecting our elders. I was in their shoes at one point.”

After the Flathead Indian Reservation began sheltering in place this spring, CSKT councilmembers met to talk about COVID-19 precautions. That conversation led to the formation of a committee aimed at educating teens on social distancing, hand washing and mask promotion.

“The kids between 12 and 18 are doing exactly, developmentally, what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Michelle Mitchell, the CSKT Education Department Head. “(It’s) figuring out who they are as people. It’s not to guilt or shame anybody.”

The committee launched a social media challenge featuring local tribal musicians on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tik Tok, and asked youth challengers to respond with their own videos and include hashtags #ProtectOurElders, #fixyourmask, #csktcovidchallenge, #csktchallenge, and #walktogetherwell to become eligible for a $100 gift card.

Mitchell says the committee’s main goal is to teach the younger generation the importance of taking COVID-19 precautions to protect tribal elders, who may not rebound from the coronavirus.

“The messaging is that we really wanted to get was that even though you might not be sick from this, you’re still carrying it to the elders and that’s a very valuable resource to us,” Mitchell said. “We lose our elders and we lose who we are as tribal people because we lose our language, we lose our culture, we lose all that’s been passed down through generations.”

Committee members reached out to Artie Mendoza III for the first awareness video, and within a few days Mendoza made “C-19,” emphasizing the importance of taking COVID-19 safety precautions.

Shortly after Mendoza’s video took off on social media, Devereaux launched his “Protect Your People” video on platforms, which reached beyond the reservation and has received 150,000 views.

“A lot of people were reaching out and basically telling me that my message was super powerful and they look up to me, so hopefully that message got through,” Devereaux said.

Following Deveraux’s video, Vincent Bird-Webster, otherwise known as Yvng Vin, released a hip-hop video, “Stronger Together,” on July 10. Mitchell says that after the first three hip-hop videos, the campaign will branch into other genres of music, with the Pete Sisters and Chief Cliff Drum Group in the next month, followed by a collaboration of all the artists.

Noting what’s happening on the Navajo Nation in the Southwest, whose tribe is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, Devereaux says it’s important to protect elders on the Flathead Indian Reservation to prevent a similar event.

Lake County, where much of the Flathead Indian Reservation is located, has recently seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, with 40 total cases as of July 10.

“It’s really starting to spread right now on the reservation and I think people are getting scared,” Devereaux said. “My main message is just to take it seriously and wear your mask for courtesy and stay away from public gatherings.”

To watch the videos by Mendoza, Devereaux and Bird-Webster, search for the artists on YouTube and Facebook.

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