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December 9, 2020

Introducing Sacramento Knoxx

By UMS Education

Scramento Knoxx

UMS is pleased to welcome Sacramento Knoxx as this season’s Education and Community Engagement Research Residency Artist. He is a founding member of the Aadizookaan, a dynamic collective of creatives who, guided by ancestral indigenous-based knowledge systems, tell uplifting cultural stories through multidisciplinary art and music.

In this residency, Knoxx will base his work on Anishinaabe teachings to explore themes of environmental justice, exploitation, and the connection between the spirit and the land. The winter solstice, December 21, marks the first performance of the residency, Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon), where Knoxx will invite audiences to meditate on the changing seasons over Zoom and be part of the creation of a new piece of music. Register for the event

UMS 21st Century Intern Catherine Moore recently sat down with Knoxx to talk about his artistic practice and hopes for the residency. Read the interview below:

What are you most looking forward to in this residency?

I’m most looking forward to the creative process. I want to bring Anishinaabe teachings into this phase of winter, as traditionally that’s when a lot of stories get told and shared. It’s in alignment with Anishinaabe cultural ways and lifestyles, and it feels amazing to share it with others. It’s all about creating the magic in the music, because sometimes when you’re in the studio by yourself, the magic stays there. This is a good opportunity to show the ingredients and to share the entire process, and uncover gems for everyone to share in.

The winter solstice is coming up, which is a ceremony time and seen as the final day to take care of one another. It’s the moment where the poles shift. To put this residency in the context of all this and sharing it with others as a young person with the grit of Detroit, it puts a lot of perspective on why these teachings are important and meaningful now.


The name of your organization you founded, Aadizookaan, means “the sacred spirit of the story.” Why do you think it’s important to share these sacred stories through this residency, and why is it a guiding principle of your organization?

I wanted to create something for myself that combined storytelling, language, spirit, art. I believe that I am assisting the telling of this sacred story, creating a framework for sharing these traditions. My ultimate goal is to keep the sacred spirit of the story going. I think of it as crowd-surfing – right now it’s my turn, and I have to pass it on. It’s a gift to be able to share my perspective and my understanding. I can provide these stories to others to interpret as they need, so they can continue to pass these teachings on.


In this year, there has been an increased reliance on nature and finding peace in change. Your UMS residency performances revolve around the Lunar Calendar, the first performance occurring on the evening of the Winter Solstice (Mon Dec 21). What do you think is the significance of reflecting on the lunar calendar and change of seasons, especially now?

This speaks to environmental justice and the sacredness of our land. We all do our efforts to take care of it, but we’re also all part of systems that exploit it. That is the essence of the effects of colonialism, that it’s a disconnect between the body, mind, and soul, from the land.

The land is our family member, we’re all connected to specific areas and we must respect the land that we live on because it supports us. Native folks were some of the first in this area to be stewards for the protection of land and work through social problems and exploitation because connecting with the earth is a part of our lifeway.

We have to ask ourselves, “What is my relationship with this land, my family member?” We need this connection with the land, and there is a grounding nature to being refreshed by taking a break from the monotony of looking at screens and working all the time. With COVID, I’ve noticed a new wave of people connecting with the universe and nature. I want to be able to provide these people with the Anishinaabe teachings to help guide these connections and push them toward justice.


Your recent album is called The Winter Tried To Kill Me: Sad nDn Love Songs. As you begin to craft another piece about winter and your relationship with it, what nuances are you bringing? How does this tie in with approaching the winter again, and creating your new piece for this residency?

That project was never planned. To me, it was just therapy. I have dealt with a lot of trauma in this time of winter; it always surfaces, and I never catch it. The project stemmed from needing to be raw and vulnerable and reconnect to these Anishinaabe teachings in a different way.

The Anishinaabe teachings tell us to prepare for the winter because the winter is a medicine. It’s going to calm everything down. There’s a teaching about the winter. It says that “the Winter tried to kill the Anishinaabe people because they were being greedy and wouldn’t slow down and follow the natural progression of life.” This story spoke to me because I was being hurt by not facing certain things in my life. This winter will be amazing because I used to keep all this hidden, but now I am comfortable with my struggles, and I feel a new wisdom.


What do you hope the audience gets out of these Anishinaabe stories and teachings?

The two important elements of Anishinaabe teachings are “being with nature” and “undoing and reclaiming.” With the history of colonization in this country, to practice “native” things and religion was illegal up until 1978. The Civil Rights movement, the efforts of different cultural groups, and the American Indian movement pushed for policies that helped these Native folks practice traditional lifeways. The older people before me reclaimed these practices and instilled it in me as a youth, and I grabbed it and continue to evolve and shape these teachings and ways of life.

What’s most critical in preserving these lifeways is showing people what native people look like in the future. Most depictions of Native American art and history are in a past context. I embrace the futurism of creating and portraying new traditions and new ceremonies that hold on to the things of the past. This residency is part performance, part recording and archiving, and part processing and planning. It’s the planning of future ceremonies that are representative of these Anishinaabe teachings.


Your work is grounded in indigenous knowledge systems and environmental justice. How do you act on that in your creative process, and in your everyday life? How do you want your audience to incorporate these teachings into their everyday lives?

When I see people that have no prior knowledge of indigenous knowledge systems, I have to ask, “how I can pull them in the conversation or the work in a way that’s genuine and fun?” With work surrounding social movements and justice, it becomes easy to get caught up in the excitement of the protest, but difficult to know what to do next. That’s where the Anishinaabe teachings come in. The Anishinaabe teach that people should “come as they are.” Then, through visits, you learn who this person is and see where they fit into systems.

When I rap, there’s a lot of concepts I realized I have to explain before or after the song. With visuals, I’m able to help decode these lyrics and create a dynamic story-telling experience. As I’m creating this residency work, I’m paying attention to who’s watching, and how they’re going to utilize it. But I want to bring more people in. I think backward a lot – I think of my end goal and what I want people to come away with, and I shape my creative process around that.


The root of your work and essence as an artist and Anishinaabe storyteller is engaging with your audience. How are you adapting to our new virtual performance world?

I’ve done a few virtual performances, and I’ve noticed that the pressure’s not there like it is when you’re about to go on stage. I think it’s because you don’t feel the spirits of the audience in the room. It’s almost beneficial for me, because whenever I perform, I get nervous, but you miss the magic of that pressure dissolving away when you connect with your audience.

I’m excited to be able to sample the textures of the Zoom call during the residency performance because that is totally unique to virtual performance. It’s experimentation in the limitation and exploring.


As you said earlier, reflecting on the winter is a highly vulnerable process for you, and is seen as very restorative in Anishinaabe teachings. What advice would you give to your audience on how to be vulnerable and engage with your work?

There are certain animal relatives that fought the winter for the Anishinaabe people. There is a cycle of life from being a baby, to growing old, to passing away, to returning to the earth. When you make your rounds, there’s this North-Winter spirit that is wise because it’s traveled through this entire circle.

I’m going to share this story with the audience. The story of these animals and plants that stood up and protected the Anishinaabe people when the winter said, “I’m going to kill everybody, I’m going to make everything cold.” Obviously now we can control the elements with electricity and heat. But through looking at the moon time and feeling the connection to the natural world and nature, I hope to create a feeling and appreciation for the spirits that surround us is important in this moment. The snow and the cold help us remember that we have to keep our lifeways grounded and remind us of the teaching of the North.


(This interview was edited for clarity)


The UMS Research Residency Program is made possible through generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation