”If we turn to our culture, we can rise above drug addiction.”
Rapper and filmmaker Thomas X (aka Thomas Barrett) gave an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation of his new short film December 6 at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).
Thomas, a Red Lake Band member, was contacted by the DHS after staff saw a video of his song ”The Crow,” which tells the story about addiction in Native communities.
They were seeking a filmmaker to produce a video on how culture can assist in recovery.
Thomas and his team, including producer/videographer Alex Aman (who joined Thomas at Mille Lacs) went to work, finished the project, and have been showing and discussing the film around the state.
Thomas talked about growing up at Red Lake, experiencing the school shooting there in 2005, and using poetry to express his feelings. As time went on, he transformed from poet to rapper.
Thomas also told about the origin of his ”rap name.” He said he often debated with a conservative high school teacher, who said Thomas was ”like the Native Malcolm X.”
Thomas first appeared on a CD by another rapper, Baby Shel, who gave him the name T. Bizzle.
”That’s the worst rap name in the history of rap names,” Thomas told him. ”Bro, my rap name can’t be T. Bizzle” — and Thomas X was born.
Thomas showed three videos to the crowd of DNR employees, District I residents, and Four Winds Lodge treatment center clients.
The first was ”Rezolution” featuring Brendan Strong, the lead singer of the Little Bear drum group, who plays hand drum and sings on the video. The video includes a passage in the Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin, spoken by Dr. Anton Treuer, along with images of powwow dancers on the frozen ice and snow of Red Lake, as well as Band members holding placards with strong messages like ”Abolish Columbus Day,” ”Love Water Not Oil,” ”Sobriety is Tradition,” ”No More Drugs,” and ”Not Your Mascot.”
Thomas’s first experiment with rapping over a hand drum led him to produce another video based loosely on his favorite movie, ”The Crow,” and set to a crow hop beat. Like ”Rezolution,” the video includes a passage in Anishinaabemowin and images of dancers, but it also shows the harsh reality of drug addiction. Thomas also raps in Ojibwe about the Seven Values.
After showing ”The Crow,” Thomas introduced the new film, Hopioid, which is not a rap video but more like a short story told through images rather than words.
The video tells the story of a Native woman who experiences an overdose, using flashbacks to show the influences that led to her addiction.
Thomas said he wanted to use the film to challenge the stigma that those who suffer from addiction are bad people. ”As a former addict and someone who works in the chemical dependency field, I know that’s just not true,” said Thomas. ”It’s something that happens because of your environment, your surroundings, but you’ve still got that Manidoo inside you, that good spirit.”
Most of all, he said, the film intends to show that there is always hope.
Thomas followed the video with a story about learning the Seven Values from the late Gichi Ma’iingan, Larry Stillday. The experience was an epiphany for Thomas, who quoted Larry’s observation that ”the medicine is inside you.”
”What Gichi Ma’iingan meant is that we are already equipped with everything we need to overcome any obstacle in life,” Thomas said.
Thomas concluded by reciting a poem/rap about the Seven Values. Audience members, clearly moved by the presentation, were eager to pose for photos with Thomas and buy his CDs.
The new film can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8UyL8gpqw8&feature=youtu.be. The full director’s cut can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEbcZacpsGI&t=645s.
You can find other videos, including ”Rezolution” and ”The Crow,” by searching for Thomas X or Rez Rap Records on YouTube.
Above: Thomas X visited with Nay Ah Shing student Shakoka Smith after his presentation in District I on December 6. Below: An image from the video of ”The Crow,” a rap song about the role of culture in overcoming addiction.