MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS is a new work for brass band celebrating the prominence of our Indigenous People on the founding and sustaining of America. After hearing of the wonderful success of Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” a work commissioned and performed by a large consortium of orchestras around the country, it became apparent that a similar work might be created specifically for American Indians. The title of Tower’s work is a clever play on words describing at once the vision of the work as being an outgrowth of American sentiment, but also alluding to the tactile label of things manufactured in America. Both the inspirational idea of Tower’s work and the final work itself effectuate this dual meaning exactly.
America was founded on a framework literally borrowed from the Iroquois confederacy, founded on Native soil, founded with Native resources, and even founded with Native assistance in many cases. MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS honors the unsung contributions and extreme sacrifices of the American Indians to America. Benjamin Franklin championed the Iroquois “Great Law of Peace” as the illustrious model for creating the Constitution of the United States. Franklin recognized that the Iroquois constitution guaranteed both rights of freedom and rights of expression within a unified nation state unlike any European model.
The Great Law specifically outlined the concept of a two-house legislature within a national government, combined with a union of individual states each operating independently. The Iroquois model specified a commander-in-chief who delivers a ‘state of the union’ address, and fellow legislators are implored to remain quiet while specific legislators are addressing the chamber, unlike the practice in Britain. One significant difference from the US Constitution however is that the Great Law included women as governors and legislators, as the indigenous nations were matriarchal.
The Iroquois met with the founding fathers in 1744, where Canassatego, an Iroquois sachem, encouraged the founders to adopt a similar organization modeled on the Iroquois confederacy. The oration was later published by Franklin:
“Our wise forefathers established a union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another” (Canassatego, 1744).
While MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS does not quote Iroquois songs nor any American Indian songs directly, it does present an original and overarching Native theme that is developed for brass band. As a soaring melody, the theme proudly rides atop brass and percussion; but as an undercurrent, the theme appears and reappears in fragments all along the way. MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS portrays the emotions and sensibilities of contemporary American Indians in both rural and urban settings. One can readily hear the resounding complexity of the “City Indian” as well as the more pastoral life of the reservation.
There were early American Indian brass bands dating back as far as the Carlisle Indian School, and much American music has been performed by these Indian bands. A continuation of this legacy, MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS was composed with the intent of bringing an American Indian perspective to schools and audiences across the United States.
Finally, in comparison to Joan Tower’s achievement, MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS incorporates a similar play on words, as there exists a bona fide certification for marketing artwork and objects created by America’s Indigenous citizens: “Made by American Indians.” It’s even an official trademark of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, under the U.S. Department of the Interior. This new work for concert band also fulfills the dual meaning of MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS, in both idea and actuality. The idea of the work celebrates America’s birth from the seeds of American Indian thought exemplified in the Great Law of Peace, and is, in the same breath, the literal work of an American Indian composer.