We recently talked with April Matson (They/Them), Executive Director of Rock the Rez (Member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate and the Athabaskan Tribe of Alaska), about their organization.
The Northern Mirror: Hello! Tell me a bit about Rock the Rez, and its mission statement.
April: Rock the Rez’s mission is to empower Indigenous girls, transgender, Two Spirit, and gender diverse youth to build self-esteem and find their voices through unique programming. Our week-long summer music camp teaches youth how to play an instrument (i.e. drums, guitar, bass, vocals), and as they become more knowledgeable we start to see them getting more confident. I often see our campers becoming more confident in how to hold themselves and their instrument, but also how they interact with one another and volunteers. Towards the end of the week they begin to open up and ask more questions about culture, gender, rock n’ roll, and we love to see that!
TNM: When did it start, where is it based out of?
April: We started in 2016 in Pine Ridge, SD and now we host camp at The Girls School in Porcupine, SD which allows youth from Pine Ridge, Kyle, and Porcupine to attend camp. We want to reach as many kids and families as possible which is why our big goal this year is to purchase a 12-passenger van so that we are able to transport campers! The biggest obstacle that we have come across for families has been getting their campers to camp. Whether it’s too far, they don’t have time before work, they don’t have reliable transportation, or having other kids at home, we want to help and make it as easy and accessible as possible to get to camp!
TNM: Who is eligible to participate?
April: We invite youth ages 8-17 who identify as girls, Two Spirit, gender diverse, or transgender to come to camp.We invite volunteers who identify in the same way, and have many positions open each year! We also have a board with open positions as well!
TNM: How does Rock the Rez differ from other music camps? How does teaching/learning through the Indigenous lens enhance the camper’s experience?
April: Rock the Rez works under the umbrella of a network called ‘Girls Rock,’ these camps are hosted all over the globe. However, we understand and take great pride and responsibility in the fact that our camp and our campers will face barriers that other camps will not. And on the flip side of the same token, our camp has the opportunity to teach cultural knowledge and practices. We are living a colonized world, and it’s important to empower Indigenous youth, to tell them that although they may feel on the outside sometimes, or they may not see themselves reflected in leadership positions, but that does not mean that they can’t be leaders. We as Indigenous people face erasure, and Indigenous people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community face another level of erasure. Rock the Rez feels that by putting an instrument into kids’ hands, teaching them how to play it and how to stand up and be a rockstar, we are breaking down barriers.
April cont.: We can all be leaders in these small ways or larger more obtuse ways. We bring in local culture keepers to teach about the herbs that are healing to our people, sage, sweetgrass, cedar; and about beading and sewing; storytelling through art. We also talk about patriarchy and colonization and how we don’t have to assimilate. Historical trauma has been a part of us for a long time and we see that manifesting in a myriad of ways from how we care for our children to showing up to work. Our historical trauma is used against us all the time, it’s in stereotypes of Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people, but the truth is that colonization is the root cause. We talk about that with the campers, and I tell them that “if you feel like some things are harder for you than they are for others who aren’t Lakota, that’s because they are. And it’s not your fault.”
TNM: How would someone engage your organization to help volunteer or to make a donation?
April: If you would like to volunteer or make a donation please visit our website!https://www.rocktherez.com/
TNM: If people would like to know more about Rock the Rez, how can they find out more?
April: Website, Facebook, Instagram, Newsletter
Rock The Rez @rocktherez