Healing, positivity, a sense of community, and definitely jubilant laughter are currently on the road with Uncle Jody Gaskin, who will bring the good stuff to a Saturday workshop in Phoenix.
Raised in the Ojibway traditions, Gaskin grew up on the reservation in the Sault Ste. Marie Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario area, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which continues to be his home base when he’s not on the road. Surrounding him was a rich cultural heritage of music, and drumming and community, and today he spends his time teaching others through traditional dance, song and humor in the spirit of his experiences gained on Powwow Trail.
He’s a storyteller and flute player, yet even he laughs when he struggles to define in words just exactly what he does for others in his free workshops, like the one that takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4 at the Green Goddess House of Herbs, 3020 N. 16th St., in Phoenix.
“I give everyone permission to feel better. I share [positive healing] as best I can. I really am nothing, nobody. I’m just some loser from the Rez, man. Wandering,” he laughed Thursday, during a stopover in Glendale before he headed to Mesa for a workshop. “Wandering the world.”
He’s released albums with Sunshine Records, the world’s largest distributor of Native American music, to help spread his messages. One of his tunes, “Born on the Rez,” describes his life growing up as one of five kids with their mom “on an old dirt road all by herself,” where the kids bathed in an old washtub in a family where they never had a lot of money “but we had a lot of love.” He sums it all up by singing, “not a bad way to grow up, look at me now.”
Gaskin works with everybody who seeks healing, and among those receiving his gifts are those in recovery and many Native people. He doesn’t see what he brings to someone’s situation as “teaching,” however.
“I remind them of what they already know,” he said. “I bring everything, and when I find out what they need, what I feel that they need; sometimes they need to smoke pipe and pray and give thanks. And sometimes they need a good drum sound. They always need to laugh, and that’s the one thing I always bring. I make them laugh. A good belly laugh is really healing.”
Those who attend his workshops could be people who have gotten lost along the way, and in return his gatherings provide kind and grounding words, often through a kind of self-praise that may be in short supply.
“Let them know it’s OK to feel better. It’s OK to actually touch our body and say ‘Body I give you permission to feel better.’ And just voicing those words and vocalizing those phrases, it invokes an emotion. It invokes a healing process,” he described.
“When I’m front of crowds sometimes, thousands of young people, and say ‘Everyone say this — ‘I love me!’ And you hear all those young people, ‘I love me!’ Most of them have never said that to themselves. ‘I am healing.’ And you hear them all repeat after me, ‘I am healing.’ And you can feel a palpable energy. Usually people say ‘I suck, I’m not good enough.’”
Along with artist Tori Kristine on Saturday in Phoenix, they will present that immersion into sound story and ceremonial transformation to, in his words, “stir up some good medicine, build family and connections and have fun.”
The Saturday evening workshop is free, although donations are suggested.
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