Music as Medicine

The Medicine


Music in the American Indian community has historically been used as a source for healing, in collaboration with ceremonies and also in the form of prayer. Healing ceremonies, in conjunction with prayer, are mostly accompanied with movement and dancing. Instruments also play a large symbolic role in healing ceremonies- viewing the drums as a heartbeat and the shape of that of a healing wheel.


From birth to death, all occasions, sacred and secular, personal and tribal, in the life of the American Indian are inextricably intertwined with musical performance.

Preservation of History

Instruments, languages, and type of music vary across tribes-but all are used for storytelling and preserving their history. “Not only is their music a major part of most tribes’ ceremonies and celebrations, it’s often a large part of their method of passing down oral traditions and history. These songs ranged from public songs, sometimes historical and often retold, to private pieces that were to be kept unchanged throughout history as part of the effort to keep their culture and history intact forever.”


“Our people’s’ history is still something of a myth in American..we were divided and conquered and isolated, and never allowed to unify to keep our culture alive. Music is unifying and a good way to tell what we’re all about.” – Tom Bee

The Music

Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq is a Canadian Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada. She has released half a dozen albums, published one book, produced visual art, and been named a member of the Order of Canada.

Her vocal technique is a combination of wordless sounds. She produces howls, grunts, wails, and whispers- from the rhythmic throat singing practised by the Inuit.

“All those elements (and more) are present in Qiksaaktuq, a partly improvised composition that includes a stunning lament for the lost lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, written by Tagaq as a commission for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2017. This February, she revisits the work (the title of which translates to “grief” in Inuktitut) with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Prepare yourself: Watching Tagaq onstage—a compact lightning bolt of a woman weaving uncanny melodies from noises that seem connected to the tectonic forces of the earth—is a wholly transformative experience.”

As you can see, in the background of her performance four red dressing are hanging, representing the Red Dress Movement.

Also attached is an additional performance.


iskwē is an Indigenous singer-songwriter and activist of Cree, Dené and Irish heritage. She has released three albums. In the song above, Tanya Tagaq is also featured.

‘The Unforgotten’ is a community song, meant to be shared by all people. It’s what is called a round dance. With each person holding the hand of the person next to them, the round dance forms a circle, connecting us with our ancestors, as one. In the wake of the 150yrs celebrations, I felt it was important to remind everyone that while celebrating each of the wonderful things that make Canada a beautiful and unique place to live, it’s important we remember, honour and acknowledge our darker corners as well.

I’m proud of who we are, as Indigenous people. I’m proud of what we’ve fought for, and how we continue to fight for our culture, our languages, our children, our women, our men, our earth and our water. But I’m also proud of all my non-indigenous family and friends who continue to fight along with us. This song is for all of us. Let’s all dance together!”


We are the war that’s forgotten
We stand up tall against the other side
We are the nation of tomorrow
We are the children who were not afraid to dieSinging
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, ohWe are the ones, the unforgotten
We’re the acquaintance that the stories told you died
But we are here for all tomorrow
We are the keepers to forever hold up highSinging
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, ohWii do kaaw way AnishinaabeSinging
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

“Unsettling and layered with symbolism – everything from the video’s red sky, which forewarns a storm on the horizon, to iskwē’s red dress that unfurls into the streets like waves of blood – Little Star is set to the drum beat of an Anishinaabe honour song and sees iskwē “digging deeper into the astrology teachings of [her] Cree ancestors.” It’s an ode to young, Indigenous lives lost, a recrimination of a callous society that has repeatedly turned a blind eye to tragedies, and a strike at complicit, victim-shaming media, too often trading in racist, biased headlines and coverage.”


Have you seen the news today
Did you hear what they had to say
About our lost star
They take in ways I can’t understand
Place the blame on her like she was nobody’s child. Now all I see today is how they wash away
Our little star

You see the way they play
Say they’ll be a part of change
But I think they lie
Happens time and time and time again
Place the blame on him like he was nobody’s child

And all I see today is how they wash away
Our little star

Fire down, fire down, fire
Fire down fire down, down, down
Fire down

Now all I see today is how they wash away
Our little star

Nahko and Medicine for the People

Nahko and Medicine for the People is a six-member band, headed by Nahko Bear. Nahko, “an Oregon-native born a mix of Puerto Rican, Native American, and Filipino bloodlines considers himself a citizen in service to the planet.” His music often focuses on healing people and the planet.

Lyrics(referenced specifically regarding MMIW):
Red hands red land red worship
Red hands red land red worship
Just then I heard bush mama crying in the chasms
For the stolen generation
And the children who haven’t
Come home
Come home stay home
Come home
Come home stay home
My bullets are my words
And my words are my weapons
So chain me to the pipeline
For our rivers and mountains we sing