Opening Speech at the Media Launch of 'Hiawatha' August 2008

Good evening members of the Media
Specially invited guests
Lydians and members of the Lydian Steel Orchestra
All artistic collaborators
Friends and Well Wishers,

By now you are probably wondering what exactly is this ‘Hiawatha’ business? Who is Minnehaha and the old Nokomis? Who are the handsome Yenadizze and the boastful Iagoo, old and ugly? How does one play Koomtassoo, the game of Plum-stones? Or dance the Beggar’s Dance or smoke the red stone pipes with tobacco from the South-land?

Well, in this story…

You shall hear of Pau-Puk-Keewis and his merry dancing. You shall hear of Chibiabos, the sweetest of all musicians and all about the lives of the peaceful people who live deep within the village of the eastern woodlands, on the shores of the rushing river. More importantly, you shall hear a Love story of the leader of the people, the mighty Hiawatha and his beautiful bride, Minnehaha, Laughing Water.

You will hear songs of the wedding feast, heralded by wands of willow which invited all the villagers dressed in their richest raiment to the central longhouse. You will hear of the dancing, the singing, laughter and the mischief-making. storytelling that was shared joyously among the people.

You shall hear of the sudden plague of the famine and the fever and how the hardship of the seasons took its toll on the village. You will learn of the anguish of the people as their grief was mercilessly heightened by the passing of Minnehaha, the love of Hiawatha. “Wahonomin!” the old Nokomis cried at the death bed of Minnehaha, a cry of lamentation that rang throughout the woodlands. “Farewell, Minnehaha! Farewell, Oh my Laughing Water. Come not back to suffer, soon my footsteps shall follow, to the land of the hereafter.”

You shall hear even more of how a great leader tried to change the course of the lives of his people. How he reasoned, and how he warned.

Here we sing of Hiawatha,
We sing of his wondrous story,
Of his lovely Laughing Water
And the careful Old Nokomis
How he prayed to the Great Spirit,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!"

Listen to these wild traditions,
You who love a nation's legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause, and listen,

Listen to this Indian Legend,
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!

Thank you.