Sitting down with Frazer Sundown at the Spoke, he appears the same as any average Canadian. This is a central part of his message as a member of the Oneida Nation, specifically the Turtle Clan. Sundown works to promote awareness of Oneida culture without any of the broad stereotypes associated with First Nations. Sundown is also a musician, specializing in traditional First Nations powwow music.
He’s also a second-year Western student. "I transferred here from Fanshawe in First Nations studies,” he says. “And my goal is to be a language teacher.”
Sundown hopes to use his studies in such a way so he can teach the culture of the Oneida to others, like any other cultural education around the world.
Partnering with Western’s music faculty and in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Sundown will present a seminar on the transition from powwow music to powwow step today March 6.
A powwow is when a First Nations people gather together, usually to sing, dance, socialize and spread their culture and the culture of others. The music consists of drumming and singing, with different tones, rhythms and pitch. Sundown’s past powwow included a collaboration with his father, a solo album called Love is a War Dance, work with DJ Shub and cellist Cris Derksen and a feature on Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie’s album Round Dance and Beats. The album was nominated for Indigenous Album of the Year at the 2017 Junos.
Sundown, like many cultural teachers, wasn’t always so immersed in the Oneida Nation. “Growing up, up until grade three, I didn’t really know who I was. I just knew I was First Nations,” he explains. “I didn’t really have any ties to my roots.” Those ties began to develop once his father began exposing him to Oneida culture. With that exposure came knowledge of his real, Native name which he says is, “Lotyatakwetale, meaning, ‘he gives us a piece of himself.’”
While the event certainly acknowledges Western’s First Nations' past, it is also true that much more could be done. Sundown says that he has meetings with Western often, and recently learned that “there have only been two First Nations people hired by Western in its entire history. There were professors, but none on tenure,” Sundown says.
As for solutions, he says that more knowledge needs to be brought to the table. "Our elders, our knowledge keepers, to be recognized on the level of a professor. Instead they are just ‘special guests.’” These elders are the reason people like Sundown have gained the identity they now treasure. Without them, he says, “we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
As for his music, Sundown is happy and ready for more. “I have so many ideas to put out there to show people who we are,” he says.
The image of a tribe of Natives huddled in a teepee is outdated and plain wrong. “I live in London, but even if I lived in my territory I would still live in a house like any other person. On Monday, that’s the message I want to people to take home.”
That message is one that ties back to the heart of Sundown’s music: “When I perform, I like teaching people, that’s my goal.” Sundown’s message is an important one, and one that hopefully will not stop after today.
Sundown's performance and presentation will take place in Von Kuster Hall, Music Building March 6 at 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. followed by another performance and presentation on Dancers and DJ Classic Roots from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. in Talbot College, room 204.