The Historic County Building isn’t known for its acoustics, but yesterday the song of eight young men from a Cree unit in Montana resonated in the space with gripping intensity.
The unit, which performed at the weekend’s Pow Wow event, was recognized by the County Council before committee meetings got underway. The young men, ranging in age from 18 to 24, have used their Native American culture as a vehicle for an anti-drug message.
“These kids have always been role models for other students,” Peggy Riotutar-Aquino, the group’s cultural advisor and chaperone, said. “They’ve seen a lot of good and a lot of bad with drugs and alcohol.”
Many of the boys started performing at a young age, learning the songs and dances of their elders.
Tina Sakamoto, a Kaua‘i resident and Riotutar-Aquino’s sister, said the group travels to show youth that they are living their life and preserving their culture in a safe, healthy way.
“I’ve been dancing ever since I can remember, I stopped dancing about four years ago. I picked up a drum stick and never looked back,” said Kessly Standing Rock, 24.
Councilman Mel Rapozo, who helped facilitate the trip, said the anti-drug message has a greater impact for young people when coming from peers.
“This is what fights a war on drugs,” Rapozo said.
The trip to Hawai‘i was a first shared by all and followed by many more — the first time swimming in the ocean, flying on a plane, leaving the Mainland.
On Kaua‘i, the young men sang and drummed for schools, libraries and community groups.
At the county building yesterday, the piercing cry of their song accompanied by the hypnotic drum beat captivated the audience of council members, county employees and residents in attendance.
The song was an original from Chippewa Cree Tribe chief, Rocky Boy, for whom their reservation is named.
“This is a very powerful message, a strong message that needs to be heard by everybody,” Councilman Ron Kouchi said.
Before leaving, the group offered tobacco to the council members. The gift is sacred and cannot be refused, according to Standing Rock.
“You can offer it to the ocean. You can offer it to your waterfalls,” he said.