Hundreds filled the main gymnasium at Billy Mills Middle School on Monday morning for a message of positivity and resilience from Indigenous rapper and fancy dancer Supaman.
Christian Parrish Takes Gun, a member of the Apsáalooke Nation who’s also known by his professional monikers “Supaman” and “Billy ills,” kicked off the school week with an interactive assembly Monday morning.
Backed by DJ Element (Logan Howard, Pima from the Salt River Indian Reservation), Parrish Takes Gun offered lessons for more than an hour on Native American history, regalia, culture and dance, as well as the benefits of sobriety and love.
He mixed those messages with hip-hop and humor. Together, Parrish Takes Gun and Howard have accumulated more than 50 years of experience performing hip-hop music.
“Respect, honor, kindness, love,” Parrish Takes Gun said over and over to the crowd of BMMS staff and students, in addition to 50 community members and Indigenous students from intertribal clubs across Lawrence schools.
Before saying a prayer in his native Apsáalooke language, Parrish Takes Gun shared a simple analogy about a coin.
“If I had a coin in my pocket and I said, ‘This coin is a thousand years old,’ some of us would be like, ‘Wow! That’s amazing. That’s worth something, you know,’” Parrish Takes Gun said. “And that’s how we need to look at our own Indigenous cultures, languages and customs — in the same perspective as having great value.”
The event was part of Supaman’s multi-state tour and in coordination with the Lawrence school district’s office of Native American Student Services.
NASS Coordinator Kenneth St. Pierre (Ihanktonwan/Yankton Sioux) credited Eva McCrary, BMMS student support facilitator, with inviting Parrish Takes Gun to visit during Native American Heritage Month. Both belong to the Crow Agency tribe.
“His message is amazing,” St. Pierre said. “He links the past to the present, and I think he does a really good job of incorporating everybody, not just Native people but non-Natives as well. So he just does a really good job, and I love his message.”
St. Pierre said the assembly would provide an opportunity for cultural exchange and bring community together.
“We’re working with each other, not against each other,” St. Pierre said.
NASS student-dancers represented their tribes in dress and dance alongside Parrish Takes Gun. But first, the crowd received a primer in powwow culture and a few dance styles — women’s fancy shawl, men’s fancy war, jingle, grass and woodland. Parrish Takes Gun reminded the crowd of the diversity among the 600 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes living in the United States.
“Each one is different. Different languages, customs, dances, songs, spiritualities. They’re all different,” Parrish Takes Gun said. “So when I get on this mic and I’m talking, I’m talking from Apsáalooke perspective from Montana. A lot of Northern Plains tribes are similar, but I only can speak for my own tribe.”
The dance circle also brought attention to the 4,200 missing and murdered Indigenous persons whose cases are unsolved, according to estimates by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“And I’d like to dedicate this dance to all the missing and murdered Indigenous women, Indigenous people all over the lands,” Parrish Takes Gun said. “And if you good people would help me honor them in a good way by just standing to your feet, I appreciate your respect. And maybe as you’re standing there, say a little prayer in your heart, send some good vibes their way for their safe return and the comfort of their families.”
Parrish Takes Gun told the crowd the United States “was founded on the attempted genocide of its Indigenous inhabitants, policies and organized ways, to eradicate them off the face of the earth.”
He recognized all Indigenous people in attendance, and the crowd honored them with a round of applause.
“Every breath that they take is in defiance to a system that didn’t want them here to carry on the legacy of this very land,” he said.
Parrish Takes Gun has amassed 106,000 followers on Instagram and received a 2017 MTV VMA award for “Best Fight Against the System” for the bridge he contributed to the music video “Stand Up/Stand N Rock #NoDAPL” in collaboration with the rapper Taboo, of the Black Eyed Peas, and other artists. He said the VMA ceremony allowed him to represent his people on the red carpet and mingle with successful artists such as Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Khaled, Katy Perry, Drake and Nicki Minaj.
Parrish Takes Gun explained how, years before as a child, he lived “in terror” while his parents struggled with addiction. He ended up in foster care.
He encouraged students to live positively, make good choices, keep reading and stay sober.
“So what am I saying? No matter where you come from, what you’ve been through in life, you can do amazing things, man,” Parrish Takes Gun said. “It’s up to you. Nobody can stop you. Not that hater online talking smack. Not that negative family member. They can’t stop you. Only you for what you believe in your life. It’s up to you to believe that you can achieve in life.”
Growing up on the reservation in Montana, Parrish Takes Gun had a hero: Billy Mills, the school’s namesake. He said he cried when he finally met the Olympic gold medalist.
“He’s my hero today. We saw what he was doing and we believed we could do it too,” he said. “It’s possible. Anything’s possible. If I believe, you know, if I believe in it. And so I believed I could be a rapper from Montana.”
Complimentary copies of Supaman’s 2021 CD, “Medicine Bundle,” flew through the crowd amid the chant, “It ain’t nothin’ like hip-hop music.” Hundreds of hands kept the beat with DJ Element as Supaman rapped lines like, “Tryin’ to get these kids to focus and let ‘em know it’s not hopeless.”
Students were wired for sound by the time BMMS educators lined up to perform an individual dance move. Students also collaborated with Supaman and DJ Element to compile a mix of their own.
After the assembly, the crowd had an opportunity to pose for photos and selfies with the artists. The duo’s next stop is Phoenix, where they’ll perform during halftime of the Suns’ Wednesday NBA game against Minnesota.
Eighth grader Emma Beerbower (Northern Cheyenne) said the assembly made her feel inspired, positive and ready to start the week.
BMMS teacher Jason Moore said he viewed the assembly as “a wonderful way” to show students aspects of Native American culture and how it connects with the school and the land on which it stands.
The Lawrence school board voted unanimously in 2018 to change the school’s name from South to Billy Mills Middle School, which made it the first public school in the United States to be named after a Native American public figure and served as an acknowledgment of Haskell Indian Nations University’s land gift of the campus to the Lawrence school district.
Sunflower Elementary third grader and NASS student-dancer Kira McCrary (Crow Agency) smiled while reflecting on the experience of dancing with Supaman and hearing his music.
“It was good medicine,” Kira said.
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.