Q: What’s a nice Native slash African American guy like you doing teaching yoga in Flint Michigan?
A: I started taking yoga in 1998. After a lady pulled her SUV across LaBrea Boulevard and stopped in my lane, I slammed on the brakes of my motorcycle. My front tire hit her tire. I braced my arms, so I didn’t get hurt. But I had a very stiff back.
As an actor, I had a commercial to do, but when I got up I couldn’t move from my waist to my shoulders. I put my chest on the gas tank, used my hands to pull my legs over, pushed myself upright and rode to the gig. I took yoga for relief.
Later, I met my wife-to-be who was into yoga. When she got pregnant, we went to prenatal yoga. Then, I started realizing that I was enhancing my spirituality through yoga. Yoga also made me aware of not abusing the body. I used to smoke so much pot that my gums started receding. All of a sudden, it didn’t make sense to do that to my body anymore.
A: My father is black, Cherokee and Blackfeet. My mother was black and Choctaw. They met in 1953 in West Texas. My mother married my father to get out of the house. My father’s father was Blackfeet and Cherokee, and abandoned by his father. He was raised in a black environment in the South with "yes, ma’m; no, ma’m", and stuff like that. His name was Chief.
My father’s father, my father, my oldest son and I all rode motorcycles.
Q: Your maternal grandmother was a big influence on you. Describe her.
A: She was full-blooded Choctaw and died of cancer in 1966 when I was 10. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1944, she went and got a case of beer to celebrate. She was anti-American because when she was a young girl, they put her in school and beat her whenever she spoke Choctaw. So, she made sure we learned Choctaw.
She was born in 1896 and married my grandfather in 1928. My grandfather who was born in 1894 had Chickasaw blood, too, but his parents died and by 1906, he was on his own.
My grandmother had my mother when she was in her 40’s. When I was born, she wanted to name me Hiawatha, but conceded to Boe. In the Choctaw language Chinchinabebo is the translation for Hiawatha, and the Muskogee word is the militant name Bvshgolawa. Many Knives refers to a tool, not a weapon.
My grandmother was very pro-Choctaw. Up until she died, she spoke the language. She used to tell me that her brother would take a knife and kill white people at picnic grounds in Okalahoma. She was very much full of hatred. But she liked black people. Her husband, Nelson, was black.
Our people were originally from Mississippi, but Andrew Jackson gathered Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw and put them on the Trail of Tears. We relocated in one of ten counties of Oklahoma of the Choctaw Nation.
Q: Did you go to powwows?
A: My grandmother didn’t like powwows. She said they were b.s.--that the federal government allowed us to ‘play Indian’. She thought we should get together whenever we want, not when the government said we could.
She was the Amistad of Native American culture--outspoken, radical and very much respected. Grandfather followed behind her. Everyone had this high level of awareness of her, except her daughter.
My grandmother didn’t like pets and said it was like black slavery. She thought that animals should not be sold because you cannot put a value on its spirit.
My father left when I was three because my grandmother stabbed him in the leg with a knife. I saw him again when I was 43 in 1999, and discovered that he was in Michigan.
Q: What was your mother like?
A: She was born in 1933 and never acclimated to the Chocktaw Nation so she did not get along with my grandmother. She was more integrated into the American way. She grew up in the Lucille Ball era and grew away from Indian things. She dressed and wore her hair like Lucille Ball.
Q: You’ve lived in Texas, Los Angeles, Mississippi and Michigan. You get around!
A: I was born in Midland Texas, about 18 miles from the biggest meteor crater to strike North America in 1/4 million years. Around 18, I left. My mother got me addicted to California because she would go out there. I went to Los Angeles in 1975 and stayed until 2002.
Texas was so racial. I got elected safety patrol, but the white kids didn’t like me crossing them. I grew up in the same city as George Bush. It was so biased, and my grandmother was so radical. I don’t how she picked that place.
I used to love to go to Oklahoma. We had relatives that didn’t speak English. They didn’t want to be assimilated by force and wanted to stay where they were. They were empathetic towards Latinos not speaking English.
I’m enrolled in the Choctaw Nation, and a card-carrying Indian. I have my CDIB--Certified Degree of Indian Blood. In 1900, at the turn of the century, the government rounded up Indians like cattle, sold their land and gave them CDIB’s. White Americans don’t have to carry a card saying that they have so much Irish blood, etc. But if you want benefits from the Red Nation, you have to have a CDIB card for free medical and dental.
In March 2003, I moved to Mississippi. The sign says, “Set your clock back 20 years.” I thought it was a joke. It should have said "25". The first interracial prom took place in 2005. The greatest thing that happened in Mississippi was rap music because it got black and white people united. It means white people finally got some good music to dance to.
I taught yoga classes in a Catholic church. I drove 56 miles one-way because it was the only place I could find liberal enough. By the time I left 2 1/2 years later, I was teaching yoga in a funeral home.
In Flint, it took about a month or two to open some doors. I started teaching freebies. The first time I tried to go into the real world, I didn’t know that black men didn’t teach white ladies. I had to break the door open. Now, I have my choice of where I can teach.
Q: What styles of yoga do you teach?
A: I’ve studied Kundalini, Hatha and Qigong, and have Pilates certification. Some days, I teach up to five classes. The thing is that people will pay to drink beer, but not to learn yoga. If you want to do it free, come by my house.
If you want to be babied, you came to the wrong place. I had a lady of 65 doing handstands. A black coach came to class and backed out because these old ladies were outdoing him. If you use props, you’re not working hard enough. I can tell if you don’t stretch at home. People love their comfort zone. I say, push yourself. Eventually, you’ll get flexible.
I bring my daughter, 11, and son, 8, to class. Since my wife Brenda’s father is black and Cherokee, my kids got that Native black thing goin’ on.
Q: How did you get into music?
A: Music was my total focus. I decided I would make it in rock-n-roll until later in my career I realized I was wasting my time. The truth was rock-n-roll is a very biased genre of music. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that I really saw the racism. Rock-n-roll was borrowed and re-labeled, and blacks had a hard time getting into something they started.
Eventually, I started seeing that it was not about being a good musician, but about being a white musician. Growing up, I was a little bit blinded to what was going on. We would jam our a** off, but we couldn’t get a show. It’s really a racist industry.
I had seen the racism but, once I really acknowledged it, my combative nature wanted to come forth. One thing about yoga, it took a lot of anger out of me. Now, I look for a higher consciousness and vibration.
Thank you Boe for sharing the history lessons.
On another note, here are some links sent by AllPeople Gifts. After viewing them, let me know what you think. I wasn’t entirely sure if they were for real.
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See you next week when I shall once again proclaim myself to be,
Your Hip Hapa,