In mid-July, a 40-foot solar powered boat named Solar Sal set off from Troy full of artists and environmental activists on a networking mission called the Sea Change Voyage. For 10 days, they shared protesting stories, collaborative artwork and recent investigations on the effects of climate change. Aboard this solar cruise was one Mistah Jayohcee. The Native American hip-hop artist had a slough of adventures in activism already, having spent several months in Oceti Sakowin/Oyate (Standing Rock, North Dakota) protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), taking the movement on the road and landing in Troy. Before heading home for some rest, Jayohcee sat down with The Alt at the Sanctuary for Independent Media to talk about the road that led him to Troy and his fight for environmental justice:
Mistah Jayohcee grew up in Akwesasne Territory, a small Mohawk reserve located between the United States and Canada.
“These borders are put around us and in between us, but we have the United States, Ontario and Quebec all within our reserve so we’ve got a lot of different jurisdictions as well as a lot of different schools in the different areas where the kids get split apart,” he said. After struggling with a few run-ins with the law and losing his cousin Matthew Montgomery, the young artist realized he needed a constructive outlet to help him through his period of grief. He found that in music–inspired at a young age by Tupac and Big Daddy Kane–and wrote his first song.
“It hit really hard to where I wanted to write right away, so I wrote a song for him that ended up on the radio, people actually really liked it and I realized I could actually do something–to have a way to release as well as be able to talk to the world. I’ve traveled all over this continent, hopefully the world next,” he said.
After being accepted to Metalworks Institute of Sound and Music in Toronto, Jayohcee dedicated his time and attention to organizing shows with hip-hop artists like Tech N9ne, Ritz and Slaughter House and running music workshops for kids on the reservation.
“Throughout, doing workshops as well as doing music and recording, I felt a passion for teaching the youth,” he said. “Now that I’m older, I realize the significance in helping the youth realize that they don’t have to go through the same struggles as us. Especially with the arts. A lot of the arts isn’t really acknowledged or taught or praised, so that’s where people like us come in to help show the kids that this is possible–regardless of your background or where you’re coming from, no matter your race or age. If you want something bad enough you can go and get those things.”
Soon, news of the turmoil at Standing Rock came pouring in.
“I had friends that were actually down there at the time but I was torn between staying in school and pursuing my career at that moment–I had already done a year and a half so I only had a couple semesters left, but everyday I was watching this online and seeing people get hurt. Friends calling me like, “This is happening, I need you here.” After that, it got to a point where none of the school, nothing material, none of that matters when I can go help my friends and family,” the artist explained.
He packed a bag of necessities, sold the rest of his belongings and quit school to stand on the front lines of the protest. From November to “raid day” on Feb. 22, Jayohcee ran water and stacks of firewood to fellow “water protectors,” helping people move and carry their belongings out of the camps in the last days before they were evicted. In those final hours, he was on morale duty,
“I only had a chance to write a couple songs there so it wasn’t really about the music, it was more about community and unity,” he explained. Every night we would be out on the front lines getting shot with rubber bullets. Your friends are getting arrested and you’re hoping that you don’t and you’re dealing with all of this, so when you go back [to camp] and all this action is done and the chaos is calmed–when you’re walking back but you’re still feeling a little hurt–here [are] your friends playing music and performing. Instead of having people just sitting in their tents, we would invite them to the dome or the kitchen and I’d throw a hip-hop show.”
For 10 shows in the last month at camp, Mistah Jayohcee performed a mixture of traditional Mohawk songs and modern hip-hop for the dwindling crowds. When raid day came, many of the water protectors realized they had nowhere to go. Like Jayohcee, they had given everything away with plans to occupy Standing Rock for as long as possible. About 30 of them got on a school bus headed for South Dakota where they were invited to speak and perform at a pow wow.
“That’s when we were like, ‘Hold up, there’s something here. People want to hear us,” he said, calling the trip a “beautiful journey.”
Now called The Rolling Resistance, the group took to the road to share their experiences. They drove to Denver, Washington D.C., New York City and the Akwesasne preserve. After stopping off the bus two months ago to catch up at home, Jayohcee regrouped with performers and musicians for another road trip. This time they traveling the southwestern U.S. for a tour called “Voices of the Water: Wake Up the World Tour,” before he headed to New York to attend the Sea Change Voyage with friends, stopping along the Hudson River in communities such as Troy to learn about the environmental struggles they face on a daily basis.
“We wanted to talk to them about what their ‘pipeline’ is,” he said. “When people feel like that was a loss, and that it’s over, it’s not over. It’s just getting started. That pipeline might have went through… but the point is, in our time now, we still have to find ways to protect that, maybe get rid of it, as well as stop these other ones and create awareness of the realities of what these pipelines and this fracking does to the environment–and then ultimately, us.”
Pictured above is the cover art for Jayohcee’s latest single “Real Still.” Check it out at jayohcee.com
Photo by Janet Murphy, graphic design by Mose Art