Native American Rap Artist Gabe Night Shield.

Posted: March 12, 2022 in Memoirs/A Teacher's Life
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This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

Saint Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota was where my teaching career began. After graduating from college in my home state of Pennsylvania, I made the long drive to the rural community of Rosebud. Here, driving 30 minutes to the grocery store or the bank is perfectly normal. Needless to say, there’s not much to do outside of a few local taverns, but at that age I was a strict nondrinker due to alcoholism in my family. Between the remoteness of the area and the fact that I didn’t go to bars, social life was going to be a challenge. Fortunately, I was lucky to meet Gabriel Night Shield, who went on to become my best friend in South Dakota and a pioneer in Native Hip Hop.  

Gabe graduated from Saint Francis a few years prior. His mother used to be the Elementary Principal at Saint Francis and was still living in teacher housing; a series of homes/trailers right by the school. Gabe came back to the rez after college to help her out as she was having some health issues. 

I also lived in teacher housing, and Gabe and his mom lived right down the street. We met up and got talking and started hanging out. One weekend we took a ride to Rapid City, which was about three hours away in Western South Dakota. Gabe was a fellow comic book nerd and die-hard Spiderman fan, so we became fast friends. Arriving in Rapid City, he showed me Storytellers, the local comic book store where we picked up a few issues. We also hit the Rushmore Mall, made a few other stops, and then made the long drive back home.

For this journey Gabe brought along some Nirvana and other rock CDs to play in his car. Gabe brought these as a courtesy to me. While he liked these albums, it wasn’t what he normally listened to. He grew up listening to rap, a contrast to my metal-headed youth. Hip Hop had just gone through its East Coast/West Coast rivalry, and while riding through the rolling prairies of South Dakota, Gabe explained to me how he saw the plain states as open territory. Gabe graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle with a degree in Audio Production, and his dream was to start his own record label and put the Midwest on the map.

As we became friends, we’d make the 30 plus mile drive to Valentine Nebraska to catch a movie. Other Saturdays we’d drive an hour to Winner SD to eat at Pizza Hut, then go bowling, followed by the hour drive back. Other times we’d watch X-Files together, and just hang out and shoot the breeze. More importantly, Gabe was a guy my age that I could hang with, which helped me cope with the isolation of that part of the country.

My second year in South Dakota, Gabe moved to Sioux Falls, which was about four hours away in eastern part of the state. So, occasionally when I needed to get out of town, I would visit him there. When I decided to leave Saint Francis after that second year, I spent my last weekend in South Dakota with Gabe, who by then just had his first album pressed. ‘The Nation’ was a compilation of various Native American rappers and other rappers he knew, including a few tracks where he rapped himself. It was so cool to see him finally accomplish his goal and I was real proud of him. With that first CD he started something special, and since then has had a lot of success in the world of Native Hip Hop. I always remembered that first conversation with him telling me how he was thinking about starting a record label and how the Midwest was open territory. He set his mind to it, and he did it.  

Soon that weekend was over. Before driving away, presumably never to come back, I thanked him for being my friend and helping me get through that whole experience. Then I got in my car and rode off.

Years later, when I realized I shouldn’t have left South Dakota, and then actually managed to get my old job back at Saint Francis (which is pretty much the main topic of my book), Night Shield was still in Sioux Falls. By now he was an established artist. At the time of this writing, Night Shield Entertainment released twenty-four albums, including eight solo albums of Gabe’s. VIBE Magazine listed him as one of the top fifty unsigned artists in the nation. His albums ‘Total Package’ and “The Addiction’ won Best Hip Hop Album at the Native American Music Awards, where he also won Best Single for ‘Broken Dreams.’ DC Comics referenced him in their series ‘Scalped’, a crime drama about Native Americans. In one issue, Gabe’s CDs are on someone’s car seat, and some of the characters are dressed in Rez’d Out & Famous gear, which was a clothing label Gabe briefly had.

Coming back for a second round, it was always a good time watching Gabe perform at shows, and I even got to appear as an extra in two of his music videos. Whenever I’d visit, we’d hit the local comic book store, Rainbow Comics, where I once did a signing for Free Comic Book Day selling some books I wrote. At one point we planned a book about Gabe’s life. We held a few sessions where I interviewed him and recorded it and I completed a first draft. At the time of this writing, we decided to put that project on hold.

When I was back east, in between my two stints in South Dakota, I’d talk about Gabe and people were surprised to hear that a Native American would be a rapper. Some would even laugh; “I didn’t think Indians could be rappers.” Admittedly, I myself had an overly academic curiosity about why Native Americans listened to rap. To be so overly analytical about it is to forget that they’re people just like anyone else, never mind the fact that anyone just a few years younger than me was raised on hip hop. It’s huge on the reservation, among many reasons because they relate to it. When rappers talk about the hood, Native kids relate to those same issues they see on the reservation. “From the rez to the ghetto.” as Night Shield’s lyrics go. Gabe told me it was a really big deal on the rez when Tupac Shakur died back in 96. My first time at Saint Francis, many of my students never read books, but would have photo books about Tupac. If I were smarter back then, I would have found a way to incorporate that into class, for example have the students make a map about East Coast and West Coast Rap.

It was amusing how people thought Gabe should rap a certain way because he’s Native. Gabe was a young guy rapping about partying and girls, but some people thought because of his skin color that he should be rapping about spirituality and politics. Like maybe the Lakota people would get the Black Hills back if Gabe Night Shield made a song about it.

One of my favorite stories was when he spoke at a school, and afterwards hit the local bar. Some parents of the kids he saw that day were there in the bar boozing with him and were all like “Gee, you’re supposed to be a role model for our kids. What are you doing here drinking?” 

He answered back, “Well they’re your kids, what are you doing here?”

In time, I felt I did what I needed to with my job at Saint Francis, more so than I did that first time around. There was one more last weekend in Sioux Falls, where I got to be a guest on Gabe’s podcast Urban Indians. Once again, we wished each other well as I again drove away. I don’t know when I’ll ever get back to the South Dak, but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to be chillin with the illest Native spittin.

Night Shield’s new album Winyans and Mazaska is available on all streaming services.

Stay tuned for more Night Shield shenanigans in an upcoming post regarding a cross country road trip I did just before returning to work at Saint Francis.

Below are the two videos I appeared in.

This is my favorite Night Shield track.

Maniac the Sioux-pernatural is another Night Shield Entertainment artist.

Comments
  1. Darren Mullins says:

    Great article. I hope you can get back to SD soon. As for me, the only heavy metal I have listened to in my life has been Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way, Hungry, Instruments Of Destruction and Transformers (Theme)-all four from a certain movie from 1986.

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