Two Hawks up for 2nd 'Nammy'

Wednesday, February 2, 2005
Two notes from one breath, John Two Hawks of Eureka Springs plays a double drone flute may by Odell Borg of the Ojibwa Nation. As he breathes through one side to play the flute, the second side automatically harmonizes with the notes. CCN/Angela Shafer

Recognition of a musical artist who isn't screaming his lyrics, pounding screeching tones from a guitar or blowing up the stage is hard to come by in today's supersonic world.

John Two Hawks of Eureka Springs is gaining a national reputation for his quiet, spiritual musical artistry.

His "War Eagle" DVD is nominated for a "Nammy," a Native American Grammy. It's his second nomination.

Awards will be made Feb. 10 in Hollywood, Fla.

Even if he doesn't win, he considers a nomination to be an award in itself.

"There are thousands of submissions. To be in the five nominees, that's winning," he said.

In addition, he has also contributed music to a History Channel documentary titled "Conquest," about the conquest of the United States. The documentary will air March 28.

The American Indian identity is as unique and varied as there are American Indians.

And, Two Hawks, there are a lot of Indians.

"I read that if an American citizen's ancestry goes back four or more generations in the United States, there's a 65 percent chance of that person having Indian blood," he said.

Through his music, Two Hawks, a Lakota Sioux, strives to educate non-Indians away from the stereotypical image and toward an understanding, and connection, of the true nature of American Indians.

"There are two sides to what I do. The first is a cultural awareness, a what and who we are. Not was, but are. Even more important than learning about the past is learning about the American Indian people as we are now.

"The second part, and I think this is more important, is the spiritual side. I don't know what it is, but there's something in that flute that's a healing balm," he says.

The instrument he refers to is the American Indian flute he plays on compact disk recordings and in concerts all over the world.

He says his music is his way of helping people who hear him play find commonality.

"One thing we all have in common is we've all felt pain. In that one commonality, we can find healing, and that's what my music is about."

The need to help bring about understanding and healing comes from Two Hawks' experience as a modern American Indian living in a country that sees Indians, he puts it, as "The Nobel Red Man stereotype: warriors, mystics, stoic -- that's what brings people into the box office."

He recounts, with humor, the times when people have approached him and said they were "part" Indian.

"People come up to me and say 'I'm part Indian,' and I say, 'is it your earlobe (that's part Indian)?'"

According to Two Hawks, the only way for the United States to be able to heal its cultural wounds is to realize that what is past directly affects the present.

He said past wounds are manifested in sports mascots and other images that portray American Indians as cartoons that mock Indian culture and ancestry.

"If a 12-year-old boy is sitting on a couch watching one of these ball games with his friends and he sees these mascots mocking Indians, it causes a problem with a young man identifying himself as an Indian," he said.

Two Hawks said the first response to mockery and prejudice is to strike back.

"If someone throws a rock, you wanna throw one back...but we have to deal with it gently. If we get angry and throw stones, they'll throw stones," he said.

He said his music is his way of teaching about American Indian culture in a gentle way that makes a strong statement about American Indians still being very much a part of today's society.

"My music contributes, I think, to the whole. We're here. We are the land. No piece of paper, no building, no block or steel will change that. That's what my music is about."

The American Indian flute, as Two Hawks recounts, came to the Lakota long ago as Elk, or "love" medicine, after a young man thought he had lost his beloved forever.

Heartbroken, he went out to the plains. While he was alone, he heard a whistling and found a hollow branch a woodpecker had knocked holes in. He learned to play that hollow branch as a flute.

A while later, he played while standing near a river. People were working on the other side.

The women, after hearing the flute, stopped. One of those women was his beloved. She rushed to him and told him he had never lost her.

"That is why," Two Hawks said, "the flute has a sad sound, because it was found by a young man who was heartbroken."

Two Hawks is currently working on a 2-CD set, scheduled to be released in April.

Disk one is a collection of cedar flute recordings with some strings and keyboards.

Disk two is, as he said, "a little of everything. I'm excited about it, let's put it that way."

He is also working with illustrator Joe Chamberlain, Dakota Sioux, of Tulsa, Okla., and author Joseph Marshall III, Lakota, of Santa Fe, N. M., for a children's book and CD titled "How Not to Catch a Fish and Other Trickster Tales."

It is a collection of Lakota trickster stories.

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