A 27-year-old woman who has traveled the world bringing prayer, peaceful activism and love to humanity is making her way to Winona.
Lyla June Johnston, a Native American woman of Diné, Cheyenne and European descent, will be visiting the Winona Arts Center to perform and speak on Friday, Feb. 3. She’ll also be appearing at events in Lanesboro and Rochester.
Lyla June, as many know her, is the founder of the worldwide Regeneration Festival, which in response to teen suicide celebrates a week of fasting, praying, singing, and dancing in order to lift up youth in positivity. She’s traveled across the world to speak on nonviolence and many other peaceful topics and has been a supporter of the Standing Rock Tribe in North Dakota by organizing a well attended prayer march.
In a recent interview with the Daily News, Lyla June talked about her her work, her spirituality, and her dreams for the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself. You’re a singer, songwriter and rapper?
It’s always been very difficult for me to stick to one trade, or one art form, or one occupation. Perhaps for that reason I’m a professional graphic designer, a touring musician, an educator, substitute teacher, journalist, award-winning anthropologist, and a lot of things that seem to call me at the moment.
I’ve been writing songs since I was about 14. I really began as a poet. I’ve always had a burning desire to effect change in the world in a positive way. Poetry was one medium through which I could bring these messages to the people that were burning in my heart.
Do your songs have a similar theme?
Every song, the theme is Creator. Because Creator gave me my life. And Creator saved me when I was addicted to drugs and alcohol and in a lot of abusive situations. And after I broke my spine and my hip and everything seemed hopeless, Creator sent a lot of messengers and angels to help me.
Now that I’m sober, I feel like every song is owed to Creator in some form or another. Whether thanking Creator or conveying what I think Creator’s message might be.
Is it hard to put songs with a spiritual emphasis out there?
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The truth is the truth. And I am who I am. If I really am meant to be genuine and truthful, then I have to generate true reflections of my heart and that’s what my art inspires to be. I know I live in a very secular world that only trusts what it can see and feel and measure.
But I also know through the ceremonies of my people that there’s much more to life than what they teach at Stanford, which is where I went to school. You have to believe it before you can see it. Sort of what I aspire to do is to hold fast to the ceremonies and the songs and the spirits that I know through every fiber of my being.
As Ghandi once said, “I will not betray God even to please the whole world.”
What do you hope to accomplish with your travels and performances?
My mentors taught me that if you travel across the country and deliver a poem and you help one person, even just one person, it is so worth it to go. Because It’s not really about how many people you help, it’s about offering yourself to Creator as as an instrument to speak through.
Some days I write a song and only a few people hear it. Other days I write a song and millions of people hear it, through YouTube or Facebook, and I leave that up to Creator. But my main task is to hold the intention pure and to hold the message clear so that whether it reaches one person or a million people, the message is sound and the message is positive and clear and uplifting, and is a true reflection of the grace that Creator is.
Is Standing Rock a big focus for you?
I think there’s a more central goal of mine. Standing Rock is more of a symptom of that goal. The goal is to trust in Creation, and in Creator and what that means is that we reconcile not only our diverse cultures but we also reconcile humanity’s relationship with the earth. Our relationship to food. To water. To children. To elders. Our relationship to the spiritual world. Our relationship to the women, to the men.
Standing Rock is more for me, personally, a byproduct of this larger mission I have. To make all of my relationships reflect a deep trust in Creator’s way, in Creator’s creation. If Creator created a diversity of human beings and languages and cultures, then by saving those languages and saving those cultures and respecting them as equals then we are committing an act of trust in creation and the way it was made. If we leave oil in the earth because it was there when we found it and has a purpose under the earth or else it wouldn’t be there. And so keeping oil in the ground is really an act of trust.
What do you hope attendees take away?
I hope that the people who come to these events will walk away with tools, with wisdom, with information, with understanding, and with a framework of who we are as human beings, where we are on this mother earth, and how we can best move forward with the coming months and years.
A lot of us are uncertain of the future and what the planet holds. We need these teachings of the past — many of which have been obliterated from this continent — to be revived so that they can guide us forward in creating a livable society. So my goal is to provide this information through song, through hip-hop, through speech and throw the answers that your community already has to help lay the foundation for a sustainable and joyful and fulfilling life for our children — and the next seven generations to come.