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The Organic Globalizer
The Organic Globalizer

Christopher Malone

Christopher Malone is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Pace University, USA. He is the author of Between Freedom and Bondage (2007) and co-editor of Occupying Political Science (2013). Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and George Martinez Jr.

George Martinez Jr. is Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Pace University, USA, and is founder/CEO of the Global Block Foundation. He serves as Cultural Envoy and Hip-Hop Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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(eds)

Bloomsbury Academic, 2015

Subjects

Content Type:

Scholarly Books

Music Genres:

Hip-Hop, Rap

Periods:

1980s, 1990s

Place:

Australia

Related Content

Asserting identity through music: Indigenous hip hop and self-empowerment

DOI: 10.5040/9781501302299.ch-008
Page Range: 129–148

Editors’ note

From Palestine in Chapter 7, we now move to Australia with Anne Flaherty’s work on the ways in which hip hop has been used by indigenous and marginalized peoples in developing alternative institutions in support of social and economic justice and political participation. We could not think of a more ideal example of the organic globalizer than the Indigenous Hip Hop Projects that Flaherty analyzes here. Her chapter calls to mind the distinct similarities between the Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP) and Project HIP HOP described by Kuttner and White-Hammond in Chapter 3.

As Flaherty explains, “hip hop represents a medium through which they can express their culture and voices in a revolutionary way.” The connection between hip hop and the social, economic, and political marginalization of certain groups is crystallized by Flaherty: “Hip hop has offered a tool for expressing indigenous peoples’ world views as well as promoting positive messages for the communities in which it develops.” Flaherty concludes that IHHP in Australia is a template for other marginalized indigenous communities. The message of education, healing, and empowerment is both localized and universal. In the context of the organic globalizer, they are also the building blocks for cultural awareness, social creation and institution building, and political participation—in the indigenous populations of Australia or, indeed, anywhere.

***

Introduction

Indigenous peoples around the world have embraced hip hop as a mechanism for asserting their own cultural voice and seeking empowerment. Indigenous hip hop artists in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia (among many other countries) have taken part in this movement to adapt and create hip hop to meet their own particular needs and purposes. Hip hop, developed initially among African Americans and immigrant populations in the urban United States, has offered a voice for the marginalized and institutionally excluded. Indigenous peoples are among the most socially, economically, and politically marginalized groups around the world, often struggling to maintain connections to their own culture and history while being pushed by governments and dominant societies to assimilate. Hip hop as an art form offers many salient opportunities and has served as a tool for expressing indigenous people’s world-views as well as promoting positive messages for the communities in which it develops. This chapter focuses on hip hop as a mechanism for expression, community building, and social awareness in Australia. In particular, the research will highlight the work of Indigenous Hip Hop Projects, an organization that uses hip hop in workshops that promote social awareness and expression, community building, and positive social and health behavior.

Indigenous peoples and hip hop

Hip hop is well suited as a means of expression and empowerment for indigenous peoples. The word “indigenous” has many levels of meaning, and it is explicitly used in this chapter in its political sense. Around the world, there are thousands of groups that identify as indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples:

are indigenous because their ancestral roots are embedded in the lands in which they live, or would like to live, much more deeply than the roots of more powerful sectors of society living on the same lands or in close proximity. Furthermore, they are peoples to the extent they comprise distinct communities with a continuity of existence and identity that links them to the communities, tribes, or nations of their ancestral past.

 --(Anaya 2004: 3)

A long-fought emphasis in international discussions has been the “s” at the end of “peoples,” which emphasizes the distinct nature of each of these entities even as they may share common experiences and goals. While each distinct community is unique, often they have been subject to similar histories of dispossession and exploitation by a (now) dominant settler population. In fact, many commonly invoked definitions of indigenous identity actually require this, including such language as “conquered” or “non-dominant” to define the population (Coates 1999).

Malone and Martinez’s contention in Chapter 1 is that hip hop is a “global organizer,” a global phenomenon that is rooted in the context of the community in which it is developed. For marginalized peoples, hip hop represents a medium through which they can express their culture and voices in a revolutionary way. Artists and organizers have also used hip hop as part of mechanisms to develop alternative institutions to support social and economic justice, as well as to encourage political participation. For indigenous peoples, hip hop has been primarily utilized as a means of expression and self-assertion. In some cases, hip hop art and music are also being used in innovative, creative, and inspiring ways to educate and encourage social justice.

The idea that hip hop is a grassroots medium of expression is particularly suited to indigenous peoples, whose identities are so intimately centered in culture that is connected to a particular geographic and spiritual place. There is also a common experience in asserting a larger political identity as part of the indigenous population of a specific state. In other words, an indigenous artist may identify as part of a specific local community, a larger cultural group, and as part of all of the indigenous peoples within a specific state. There are also growing connections with indigenous peoples and minority populations globally. Many indigenous artists assert and utilize these multiple layers of identity in their work. Malone and Martinez assert that: “Hip-hop possesses an organic quality which creates a space for addressing social and political issues at the local level. On the other hand, hip-hop’s global appeal presents interesting possibilities that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries” (2010: 532; see also Chapter 1). This is a natural match for indigenous peoples, which are local in nearly every possible sense (culturally, historically, spiritually, linguistically, politically, etc.) but are also part of national movements and a global indigenous movement. Further, hip hop has served as a means of expression primarily for groups that are historically marginalized and outside of traditional political, institutional access to power. Indigenous peoples have historically suffered extreme marginalization, and in many cases still do.

Indigenous peoples the world over have proven to be resilient and positive, despite this history. The attempts of settler and conquering populations seeking to assimilate or eradicate indigenous people largely did not succeed, and indigenous identities, cultures, and traditions persist. As part of this survival, indigenous peoples have used many different means of asserting their identity and promoting self-empowerment on their own terms. Today, some indigenous peoples and activists are using various art forms, such as hip hop, to develop organizations and activities to support positive community goals. This chapter explores the role of hip hop as a means of “social creation and institutionalization…marked by the development of independent alternative institutions and non-profit organizations in civil society geared toward social and economic justice” (Malone and Martinez 2010: 532; see also Chapter 1). The chapter offers specific examples of how indigenous peoples and activists have incorporated hip hop in the pursuit of social justice.

Hip hop for indigenous justice

Indigenous peoples around the world often face high rates of poverty, unemployment, and accompanying problems such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and incarceration. The same concerns that faced African Americans and immigrants in New York at the birth of hip hop are very familiar to indigenous peoples. Hip hop has been utilized as a mechanism for expression, as an attempt to spread knowledge and information about the situation that confronts many indigenous peoples. This reflects, in part, Malone and Martinez’s assertion that “Through the four elements of hip-hop (breakin’, graffiti, DJ’in’ and MC’in’), young people found vehicles to create a reference point of knowledge…” (2010: 536; see also Chapter 1). By expressing a particular indigenous reality, indigenous hip hop asserts identity and survival through self-expression. It also rejects the idea that this expression of indigenous ideas and experience has to come in certain, sanctioned, or traditional ways. Indigenous hip hop can reflect both modern realities and traditional values and has served as a mechanism for youth in particular to offer their perspectives and voices on their experiences.

By the 1980s and early 1990s indigenous peoples, particularly in former British colonies with close ties to the United States (such as Native Americans, Canadian First Nations, Australian Aborigines, and Maori in New Zealand), began to experiment with hip hop as music, an art form, and a lifestyle (see, for example, Ignace 2011; Maxwell 2003; Mitchell 2001a; Ullestad 1999). This incorporation of hip hop became part of a long history of music as a means of expression of protest in the face of injustice. Just as hip hop was taken and organically altered to reflect indigenous culture, other forms of music have also been adapted by indigenous artists. In the 1960s era of protest and folk music in the United States, for example, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Floyd Red Crow Westerman created new expressions of indigenous protest music (Vosen 2013).

Just as all hip hop artists and/or music in any cultural or geographical space are not necessarily positive in their assorted messages, the same is true of indigenous people’s use of hip hop. Significant numbers of artists generate hip hop that glorifies the very things that plague their communities, such as sexism, substance abuse, and crime. Others focus on anger, rage, and real or imagined revenge on those perceived as enemies. This is indeed a reflection of their reality, and an argument could be made for this music as a form of self-empowerment, but it would be challenging to argue that this sort of work is part of promoting social justice. Instead, this chapter focuses on the subset of indigenous hip hop that is focused on social justice and empowerment in a positive sense. Readers interested in seeing some of the range of indigenous hip hop (with a focus on North America) might be interested in Native Hip-Hop (www.nativehiphop.net), a video depository that is regularly updated. To get a sense of the breadth of indigenous music culture, including and beyond hip hop, readers can also visit the website for Revolutions Per Minute (rpm.fm), which offers a very wide range of music and commentary.

Hip hop artists and groups have used their music and art in many ways to promote indigenous expression and healing. Hip hop can be used as a mechanism for education and community building as well as being seen as a product of these activities with a value of its own (in all of its four classic dimensions—break dancing, graffiti, DJ-ing, and MC-ing). Social activists have created workshops and teaching activities where participants—often youth—create and practice hip hop to encourage social ties, positive behaviors, and empowerment in terms of building their skills of self-expression. Many communities have used hip hop as a means of therapy and to promote positive messages and behaviors. There is a body of literature looking at the broader possibilities for hip hop as supporting social and economic justice, particularly for youth. Tyson (2002) proposed that the popularity and familiarity of rap and hip hop meant that it could be used—in certain conditions—as therapy to promote better outcomes. Other researchers, such as Wilkins (1999), argue that the use of hip hop allows youth to express and understand experiences that are reflective of their own lives.

These propositions have been borne out by various activities of indigenous artists, educators, and activists who have used hip hop as a tool to promote self-expression, self-empowerment, and better health (for individuals and the community) in a variety of ways. In a beautiful academic and personal reflection on the positive role that hip hop as art can take on in an indigenous community in Canada, Marianne Ignace discusses how graffiti art has helped youth from a rural reserve work through their grief and anger at several deaths, including that of another young person. Ignace writes that:

In recent years, numerous ethnographers have shown the increasing ways in which hip-hop graffiti art and music as contemporary phenomenon of globalized yet local cultural markets have been appropriated by young people from multiple ethnic backgrounds on different continents. These studies show how artists weave the functions and messages of hip-hop music as art of resistance into very localized messages shaped by their particular histories meanings, languages and experiences.

 --(Ignace 2011: 204)

Another example of the intersection of art, education, and social justice is the Canadian hip hop artist Shibastik (Chris Sutherland), who uses hip hop music and art to explore and promote traditional values and ideas as a member of the Moose Cree First Nation and the Bear Clan. He has been extensively involved in working with at-risk youth, particularly in detention centers. He has also developed workshops specifically to support healing through hip hop (Shibastik (Facebook)). His song and video “Hand Drum” (which can be found on YouTube) provide an excellent example of how traditional sounds, images, and ideas can be incorporated into a positive message expressed via hip hop.

The remainder of the chapter first offers a brief overview of the history of indigenous peoples in Australia and then turns to a consideration of a particular organization, Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP), which has been working with indigenous communities in Australia for many years. IHHP uses hip hop to promote expression, self-empowerment, and positive health outcomes among aboriginal youth. The workshops run by IHHP and their outcomes have been studied and showcased by researchers and media, offering some evidence and a broader perspective on how hip hop can have lasting effects in promoting positive social outcomes and contributing to social justice. The chapter first looks specifically at the experience of Australia’s indigenous population, commonly known as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (shortened to “Aborigines” and “aboriginal” in this work), before turning to a more detailed assessment of IHHP.

A very brief history of indigenous Australia

Indigenous peoples around the world often face both modern discrimination and histories of dispossession and disempowerment, and continue to seek respect, recognition, and the ability to control their own lives and communities. This has been a particularly poignant struggle in Australia, where the various indigenous peoples faced a brutal history of dispossession and attempted extermination by colonial and settler societies.

Indigenous people’s history in colonial and post-colonial Australia has been shadowed by the British doctrine of terra nullius, established in the eighteenth century, which declared the land formally uninhabited and denied the basic personhood—much less the rights or equality—of the indigenous population (Reynolds 1999). This approach, which would have profound implications for the future of the aboriginal population, was very different from that in other British colonies such as the United States. In “conquered” countries where the British recognized pre-existing sovereign entities, the native title of indigenous inhabitants was recognized and British law had to be explicitly introduced by either the Crown or legislative action (Brookfield 1999: 50).

Early explorers and settlers did encounter some indigenous peoples when they first arrived in Australia. Even on the fertile east coast of the largely arid continent, however, European settlers encountered an indigenous population that was widely scattered, mobile, and did not have formal political institutions or boundaries. Rather than attempting to develop a formal political or treaty relationship with this native population, the British government found it more politically expedient to ignore them. Early information on the indigenous populations at the time of European settlement is therefore scarce and highly uncertain. While there are varying estimates of how many indigenous peoples were in Australia at the time of British contact and settlement after 1788, the range converges somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000.[1] This population was made up of a variety of linguistically and culturally distinct groups, with somewhere between 500 and 900 separate groups, each having territories and specific use rights (Hinchman and Hinchman 1998; Jones 1970).

Regardless of the accepted number for the aboriginal population, there is little doubt that it was more than decimated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by disease, loss of resources, and violence from the colonial power. It is estimated that the lowest point of population was around 73,000 in the mid-1930s (Vamplew 1987). The range of estimates (and ongoing lack of certainty in estimates of the indigenous population in Australia) can be partially attributed to the delayed lack of contact in some regions combined with the fact that the British and later Australian governments did not consider aboriginal people as “people” and often did not officially count them. Even when a head count was conducted, the government had a strong incentive to under represent any indigenous population until their declaration as citizens in 1967.

In 1887 Australia was declared a Crown Colony, and in 1901 granted independence as a separate Commonwealth country. Neither of these transitions brought any changes in the treatment of indigenous peoples. The wording of the 1887 declaration reasserted terra nullius. The declaration officially stated that the colony was “practically unoccupied without settled inhabitants or settled law” (Hinchman and Hinchman 1998: 29–30). The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were characterized by policies that included forced removals, state education programs, and ongoing attempts at the extermination of aboriginal existence.

The Australian government had no formal legal or political obligations to provide any services for the aboriginal people. The earliest social reforms came from (white) social activists who were focused on assimilation—they felt that if aboriginal people could become more “white” and leave behind their traditional culture, they could be accorded basic rights. Native welfare boards were established between 1900 and the 1920s to “help” the Aborigines through the distribution of food and social services. The boards were also responsible for programs that forcibly removed “half-caste” children (those of mixed ancestry) from their homes in order to re-educate them and take them away from the influence of aboriginal group life and society. The process continued even into the 1960s and early 1970s (Havemann 1999; Short 2003). Recent government inquiries estimate that about 30,000 children were taken from their families, although other sources put the number far higher. These social programs totally rejected the value (or existence) of aboriginal culture or traditions. After decades of denial, the Australian government finally acknowledged and apologized for the treatment of the lost generation in February 2008, when a public apology was one of the first acts of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Welch 2008).

The international conflict of World War II raised the awareness of elites to the rights of minority groups internationally. As global concern with respect for sovereignty and self-determination grew, the Australian government sought to distinguish itself and distance its treatment of the aboriginal population from the Nazi regime’s abuse of Jewish and other European minorities. This potential comparison led to the concern of Australian officials that the lack of rights, extreme poverty, failure of assimilation, and isolation of its aboriginal population could become an international embarrassment (Short 2003). Small steps, such as allowing veterans (1949) and those with less than one quarter indigenous blood to vote (in 1954), came in this era (Australian Electoral Commission 2006; Havemann 1999). Still, the clear message was that those who were “least” indigenous and “most” (white) Australian in blood or behavior were the ones deserving of basic recognition.

Aboriginal peoples began to organize and protest against the lack of recognition during the same time period. Actions were generally localized, given groups’ isolation. Strikes and protests, such as a 1946 strike in Pilbara and a 1951 strike in Darwin, sought to bring attention to poor working conditions and other concerns. These actions only had limited results, as the lack of inclusion on most dimensions of basic legal and political rights offered the Australian government little incentive to respond (Scholtz 2006). Urban migrations throughout the twentieth century began to bring together a sense of pan-aboriginality and connections that would later aid indigenous peoples in their political activism.

The growth of urban pan- aboriginal connections and activism, increasing media coverage of issues of minority rights (both nationally and internationally), the inspiration and support of other civil rights efforts throughout the world, and an increase in attention from established political parties and actors created an environment of change beginning in the 1960s. In 1961 the federal government created a Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee to research indigenous voting rights. It recommended that all Aborigines be extended the right to vote in federal elections and the 1962 Commonwealth Electoral Act did so. State voting rights also quickly caught up with federal voting rights; Queensland was the last to extend the vote to the indigenous in 1965 (Australian Electoral Commission 2006). The changes in electoral rights were accompanied by a shift in terms of other citizenship rights. A 1967 referendum passed by over 90 percent of the voting population supported the inclusion of aboriginal peoples in the census, which would allow them full access to citizenship rights such as federal support and services (Reilly 2000). The referendum guaranteed equal treatment under all state and federal laws and allowed for federal oversight of indigenous peoples and programs. Unfortunately, as has been the case for many minority populations around the world, legal equality did not quickly translate into political, social, or economic equality for most indigenous peoples in Australia.

Spurred in part by the national trends signaled by the support of indigenous people’s citizenship status in the 1967 referendum, the Australian Labor Party adopted progressive policies in support of aboriginal rights beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1972 a widely publicized “Tent Embassy” was set up in Canberra as a protest against the lack of recognition of aboriginal rights, particularly rights to traditional lands (Short 2003). A key event for indigenous activism was the Embassy’s recognition by the head of the opposition (Labor) party, Gough Whitlam, who promised to support aboriginal land rights (Chesterman and Galligan 1997: 195). Tied to this promise, Labor’s 1972 election platform specifically addressed and supported aboriginal self-determination. When the Labor Party won the majority, the new government under Whitlam established the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission to investigate indigenous needs. While the Labor Party lost power in 1975 to a Liberal coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser, the new government followed through with some of the Commission’s recommendations and passed weak versions of the (Labor-sponsored) Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and Aboriginal Land Rights Act (1976) (Franklin 2007; Reynolds 1999).

The Labor Party came back to power for an extended period from 1983 to 1996 with the governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. A commitment to indigenous people’s rights remained a part of Labor’s platform. Several major events in support of indigenous rights and in moving toward a reconciliation process took place during their combined administrations. Toward the end of his Administration Hawke did scale back the commitment to indigenous rights, arguing that public sentiment had become less sympathetic toward aboriginal affairs than in the late 1960s and 1970s (Magallanes 1999: 247). State government reluctance to support indigenous rights was another factor, and the party abandoned a plan for a national land rights policy during the late 1980s (Havemann 1999). When the Labor Party returned to power under Keating’s leadership (1991–6), there was renewed attention to indigenous issues.

Changing administrations in Australia have continued to bring national policy “mood swings” toward indigenous rights based on administration and party preferences (Fletcher 1999: 336–7). Key statements of leaders illustrate this. In a 1992 address in Redfern (an aboriginal neighborhood in Sydney), Labor Party leader Paul Keating expressed great remorse for the treatment of the indigenous population, stating, “it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders” (Fletcher 1999: 336). This stands in stark contrast to a statement of Keating’s successor, Liberal-National leader John Howard in 1996:

Now, of course, we treated Aborigines very, very badly in the past—very, very badly—but to tell children whose parents were no part of that maltreatment, to tell children who themselves had been no part of it, that we’re all part of a, sort of, a racist bigoted history, is something that Australians reject.

 --(Fletcher 1999: 336)

Political stands and “swings” aside, overall statistics show many enduring effects of the history of discrimination on the aboriginal population. Median household incomes for indigenous households are 65 percent of non-indigenous households (Australian Council of Social Service 2013). Generally speaking, Aborigines face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, and many other social problems. The fact that many Aborigines live in remote, very isolated rural areas also means that their access to health services is limited. Combined with the myriad other problems, this created a situation where even some very basic statistics reveal a startling distinction between aboriginal and white populations. “The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life-expectancy at birth is 12 years for males and 10 years for females. Mortality rates for Indigenous infants and young children remain 2–3 times higher than for all infants and young children” in Australia (Australian Council of Social Service 2013). Aboriginal communities are today still facing the effects of a history of inequality and discrimination and are seeking ways both to improve their health and future and to maintain connections to their culture and traditions.

The history offered above, while brief, reflects some of the realities of aboriginal political, social, and economic dynamics in Australia. There are many culturally distinct groups of aboriginal peoples in Australia with strong traditions and identities, although they are connected by a common history and political treatment by the colonial and Australian governments. There are far-flung indigenous communities and urban populations. Individuals and groups face different challenges, but from a distance the average statistics are stark and show a disadvantaged, still marginalized population. Indigenous Australians have been resilient and creative in asserting and maintaining their identity/identities and pressing for social justice. The growth of hip hop as a form of art and expression offered a natural opportunity for aboriginal Australian artists and activists to incorporate a new art form.

Hip hop in Australia and the indigenous hip hop projects

Hip hop came to Australia during the early 1980s and emerged as a form of music and ultimately a way of life for those who felt themselves to be outsiders and in a similar situation to African Americans in the urban United States—marginalized and outside of the mainstream. Ian Maxwell’s work explores how hip hop grew through immigrant and working-class populations living in the western suburbs of Sydney. Maxwell’s work is focused on the growth and meaning of the broad (non-indigenous) hip hop movement in Australia, and only offers a brief mention of two female aboriginal groups that began to perform hip hop early in the 1990s (Maxwell 2003).

Tony Mitchell, a scholar of hip hop, does call Maxwell to task for his failure to address aboriginal hip hop outside of this brief example (in which he reportedly spelled the groups’ names improperly) (2006: 124). In his own work, Mitchell cites the significance of aboriginal artists in Redfern (an aboriginal neighborhood in Sydney) and offers interviews and commentary that connect the origins of hip hop in Australia in the aboriginal community to the very early 1980s (2006: 125). Mitchell is emphatic that aboriginal hip hop came with an uplifting message and purpose. He argues that aboriginal hip hop and artists have been a strong positive force in Australia, providing “important voices and vehicles of self-expression for disenfranchised and disadvantaged young people...” as well as “a means of retrieving and giving public voice to indigenous languages, history and cultural forms” (2006: 127). As an example, he discusses a group of early artists (MunkiMark, Brotha Black, and Morganics) who organized a three-week “Desert Rap” workshop in Alice Springs in 1999. This initial workshop led to further workshops, all with the purpose of encouraging aboriginal youth to find their own voices and expression through rap and hip hop (Mitchell 2006: 127).

Other (non-indigenous) groups have also experimented with hip hop as an educational and motivational tool in Australia. Recognizing that hip hop is engaging, fun, and appealing to youth, an initiative in Queensland sought to engage disadvantaged youth in an after-school hip hop program to promote better social outcomes, healthy activities, and stronger social ties. The results of the four-year project, Hip-Hop=Healthy (HYPE), in Logan, Queensland offered strong evidence that an ongoing break dancing workshop helped promote positive behaviors, better health outcomes, more social capacity, and resilience among disadvantaged youth (Harris et al. 2011). There is the recognition among a variety of educators and organizations of the potential of hip hop to reach youth and support self-empowerment.

The Desert Rap workshop was likely the first to use hip hop to promote self-expression and positive outcomes specifically for aboriginal youth. As hip hop’s reach grew, more organizations using the art of hip hop as a means of promoting social justice and healthy behaviors in aboriginal communities developed. Indigenous IHHP was created in 2007 by hip hop artists who had begun working in aboriginal communities in 2005. IHHP “works on the principal [sic] of using the ‘arts for change’, focusing on Indigenous young people’s strengths, developing their skills and attitudes and working closely with partners to support community development.” Further, IHHP specifically recognizes that “programs need to support the development of physical, social and emotional wellbeing” (Indigenous Hip Hop Projects; Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (Facebook)). IHHP artists “use traditional indigenous culture fused with hip-hop, rap, beat boxing and break dancing to foster positive thinking and leadership skills in remote Australian communities. They promote self-expression through movement, music and art, boosting morale and confidence” (Katitjin 2009: 6).

IHHP is very active as an organization. According to their website, as of January 2014, they have worked in every state and territory, with over 200,000 participants. There are over 45 professional artists employed by IHHP from a range of cultural backgrounds. On average “IHHP delivers over 55 week-long projects, performs at over 30 festivals, conferences and events and facilitates at least 1 National Youth Leadership Camp and 1 Artists’ Camp” annually (Indigenous Hip Hop Projects). This extensive work allows IHHP to reach many indigenous people and communities. Each workshop is tailored specifically to the needs of the community involved. Generally, IHHP makes an arrangement with a community based on their specific interests in a program. Team sizes vary depending on the project, but are generally three to five members. Each team always includes at least one indigenous member and at least one female member (Katitjin 2009: 5).

The goal of IHHP is to address the disadvantages faced by indigenous youth through supporting social and emotional well-being, and using hip hop to give “young Indigenous people and their communities a voice to not only let their issues be heard but” also to empower “them to find their own solutions” (Indigenous Hip Hop Projects). The projects seek to contribute to the well-being of the whole community by supporting individuals and giving them tools of empowerment and expression, and also by seeking to build morale and connections among the community as a whole (Katitjin 2009: 6). IHHP projects work on multiple levels to promote social justice: they seek to empower individuals to make healthier and more informed choices; they offer a means of strengthening self-esteem and offering means of self-empowerment and expression; the projects seek to improve community health and outcomes via individual education and discussion; and they promote stronger community ties and communication.

The IHHP website (http://indigenoushiphop.com) and their YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/indhiphop?feature=watch) might offer the best way to experience and appreciate some of the work that they do, and readers are highly encouraged to visit, listen, and explore. Visitors to the website can navigate among the different tabs to get a sense of the mission of the organization and how it is put into action. Videos produced through IHHP projects showcase the quality of the organization’s work, the integration of many different art forms and styles, and the joy and engagement of the youth participating in them. Not only does IHHP offer mechanisms for better social and economic outcomes, it also allows indigenous youth to create impressive music and art and share it with others.

Research projects have documented the effectiveness of IHHP. Kurongkurl Katitjin conducted a research study on a joint initiative between IHHP and beyondblue, an organization devoted to researching and raising awareness about depression, anxiety, and related mental health issues. IHHP conducted a series of projects in Western Australia to promote active, healthy lifestyles and offer education on depression and anxiety (Katitjin 2009: 5). Mental health has been a particular area of concern for the indigenous population in Western Australia. Aboriginal youth face particularly dire statistics and problems in their daily life; more than 30 percent are reported to be at high risk of significant conduct problems and hyperactivity (compared to 16 percent of non-aboriginal); around 15 percent of children ages 4–17 are reported to be in households in which overuse of alcohol caused problems; 41 percent of indigenous households in remote areas reported violence in the home; and 17 percent of individuals reported some form of sexual assault (Katitjin 2009: 20–1). These dynamics, combined with a lack of social services and potentially poor access to health care, contribute to high rates of depression and high rates of self-harm and suicide in aboriginal communities (Katitjin 2009: 23).

Katitjin’s research, supported by a grant from beyondblue, tracked the success of the IHHP workshops in conveying information and offering a positive experience. Results were assessed through questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. The research found that, generally, many youth who participated were able to recall the workshop messages (related to depression and self-respect, signs of depression in others, and how to seek help) six months after the workshops (Katitjin 2009: 8). Further, the research found that there was evidence that the workshops had promoted self-esteem and positive feelings. Youth felt positive attention and self-worth through community recognition of their music, which included airtime on the radio, the use of music as ringtones, and general awareness (Katitjin 2009: 12). The workshops promoted social justice by promoting better mental health and outcomes for all, as well as offering tools to build self-empowerment and self-expression.

It is worth noting that the research makes note that the use of non-traditional music and art (hip hop) being used to support traditional values and communities can sometimes cause concern. Katitjin writes:

In some areas, mention was made of some parents and Elders having some concern over the use of “Hip Hop” as a medium. Where this was raised, it was noted as a question generally rather than being specific to IHHP. Additionally, field observations and responses in the interviews and questionnaires suggest that IHHP provides a positive experience for young people, and importantly a medium that allows young people to express themselves.

 --(Katitjin 2009: 11)

IHHP develops each project based on the needs and interests of the community they are working with. This allows them to meet the local needs of each population, even as it is part of a larger effort to promote indigenous well-being and outcomes in Australia as a whole. This specialization can be seen in another research study done on an IHHP project. This follow-up research study was conducted after the Torres Indigenous Hip Hop Project in the northern part of Queensland. This workshop, conducted in 2010, was aimed at sexual health and well-being. The researchers found that the workshop was successful at engaging the community on the issue, and helped raise awareness of sexual health problems and related disadvantages (McEwan et al. 2013). Again, these workshops offer better outcomes for the health of the community, in terms of reducing and managing sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, as well as for individuals. Positive impacts would include better education, better health, and better social and economic situations—for individuals, households, and the entire community.

IHHP’s work continues to support better physical, mental, and communal health in indigenous communities across a broad range of issues. They have raised awareness of issues not only within indigenous communities but also across Australia as a whole. IHHP has gotten media attention in local as well as mainstream and nationwide press. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation news, for example, has offered several stories on IHHP projects and events (Fletcher 2009; Gibson 2013; Hague 2011). The promotion of social justice and positive outcomes spreads in this way, and reflects the idea that hip hop, while reflecting and rooted in local reality, can tie into broader movements and change.

The future of indigenous hip hop

Indigenous hip hop, like many genres of indigenous music, can serve a range of functions and uses, including as a “statement of identity” and a marker of physical, cultural, and spiritual survival (Dunbar-Hall 2006: 120–1). Hip hop has also become an important mechanism for promoting better social and economic outcomes and connecting to youth. This chapter offers the work of IHHP and aboriginal hip hop as an example of the phase of hip hop defined by Malone and Martinez as “social creation and institutionalization” and the promotion of social justice (Malone and Martinez 2010: 532; see also Chapter 1). In fact, indigenous hip hop may be particularly well suited to this work. “Unique to indigenous protest music—throughout the world—is the intensity of the drive toward protecting and strengthening young people” (Vosen 2013: 272). This is readily apparent in the work of IHHP.

Just as African American hip hop was initially outside of the mainstream and unrecognized, most indigenous hip hop goes largely unrecognized outside of its own community or local area. In this sense, indigenous music and indigenous hip hop has been limited as “social realism in a local media environment that lacks public space to assert numerous perspectives” (Teves 2011: 75). Limited airtime and market pressures make it hard to reach a mainstream (non-indigenous) audience (Dunbar-Hall 2006; Mitchell 2001a). There is some evidence that IHHP’s work and the hip hop songs and videos produced have the potential for broader exposure through at least limited attention in the mainstream press. The growth of more open technologies, such as internet-based resources like YouTube, may also advantage IHHP and the work of their participants. Of course, if the goal is to promote social justice, education, and better individual community and health outcomes, broader playtime and press is far from the primary objective of the projects supported by IHHP. While wider press and playtime might support the goals of IHHP, the lack does not appear to hinder its success at all.

An interesting development in Australia is the growth of formal support for aboriginal artists. In December 2013, for example, the Australia Council for the Arts celebrated its 6th Annual Indigenous Arts Awards in Sydney, which recognizes a range of artists (from musicians to writers) with cash awards and fellowships. There are also organizations such as the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, which specifically seek to support and produce work by indigenous artists that supports positive and educational messages, native languages, and traditional cultural practice (Dunbar-Hall 2006: 128). Financial and technical support from formal bodies such as these can augment the ability of aboriginal artists to create and disseminate music as a tool for better physical and psychological health and community wellness and resilience (Barney and Solomon 2011). This has the potential to give aboriginal hip hop more support as a community building and valuable tool, even if it is not commercially viable. Many other countries also have groups that specifically recognize indigenous artists, whether through government-based or community-based programs. Many of these have specific categories or supports for hip hop, recognizing the value and validity of the genre of indigenous hip hop.

At its core, indigenous hip hop is a form of self-expression and authenticity. It is the assertion that indigenous artists and indigenous peoples exist, and that they can adapt to new tools and expressions while maintaining their own identity, culture, and tradition—all on their own terms. The value of using hip hop for positive social outcomes is illustrated by organizations such as IHHP and their work. The use of indigenous hip hop to promote positive social and economic outcomes, as well as serving as a means of self-expression and empowerment (both individual and community), is beginning to get broader attention. There is potential for indigenous hip hop to move out of the localized context and bring greater recognition and respect from those outside of indigenous communities. As the discussion presented in this chapter shows, indigenous hip hop is a powerful and effective way to bring education, healing, and empowerment to indigenous communities.

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[1] Estimates for the numbers of indigenous peoples in Australia at the time of contact vary from 250,000 (Jones 1970) to 350,000 (Vamplew 1987) to 500,000 (Hinchman and Hinchman 1998).