Confronting racism, poverty and pollution, Sioux rapper Frank Waln finds hope for the indigenous identity.

By Beth Schatz Kaylor
Frank Waln performance

Born This Way

Socioeconomic struggle defined much of Frank Waln's childhood on South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux Reservation. His music plunges beneath that narrative, exploring its historical context of genocide and colonization. He layers self-produced beats over lyrics of resilience that resonate with Native youth. It's a mission written into his ceremonial name. Oyate Teca Obmani means "walks with young people," he says. "I'm doing what I was born to do." At age 20, he became the youngest winner of a Native American Music Award for best producer.

Photo courtesy of Melinda Myers

Action Figure


Frank's hip-hop mixes Native drums and cartoon samples, while naming injustice wherever he sees it. "Tell me why you think the red man is dead / With a fake headdress on your head," he calls out in his single "What Makes the Red Man Red." Tackling environmental issues like the Keystone Pipeline has earned Frank the title "activist." He simply calls it the Lakota way: "Our community, the land, water-these are things Lakota people talk about."

Photo courtesy of Sokz Photography

Making Change


Frank travels the world with indigenous artists, connecting with young audiences at concert halls, music fests and school gymnasiums. "The one thing that gives me hope?" Frank muses. "I get to see change in my lifetime, with young, indigenous people connected to culture and language, and strongly rooted in who they are."

Building Bridges

Frank calls his latest album, The Bridge, "a story of healing." It was released last fall with the single "Good Way" celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day. frankwaln.com

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