2015 is quickly becoming the rise of the wrestling themed albums, and I will not complain. This year there were two wrestling albums included as part of Record Store Day, The Mountain Goats released Beat The Champ, and just last week A Tribe Called Red dropped a surprise wrestling themed EP called Suplex.
We watch our fandom move in and out of mainstream pop culture and every once in a while it catches the glimmer of the unsuspecting passerby drawing them in. Most of these times, unfortunately, what’s gaining steam is produced by and focused on white men. It shouldn’t feel like we’ve struck gold when diversity comes into the picture, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a great deal of satisfaction when that’s the case.
Here’s where A Tribe Called Red come into play. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a Native electronica group based out of Ottawa, ON comprised of DJ NDN, 2oolman and Bear Witness, who blend instrumental hip hop, reggaeton, dubstep with elements of First Nations music including chanting and drumming. This wrestling inspired EP is hard hitting and refreshing all in one. The single is titled Suplex, and the accompanying video begins with backyard wrestling on the reservation and centres a child’s passion and dedication to wrestling as he moves up the ranks in the wrestling world as a performer.
Bear witness states:
Growing up in a world where indigenous people are so under-represented in the media, you tend to identify with what’s available to you. The connection between the indigenous communities of the Americas, and professional wrestling, is really heavy. In North America we had pros like Chief Jay Youngblood and Wahoo McDaniel who were indigenous, but had to dress in headdress and tassels to compete. In my generation, we all loved the Ultimate Warrior and hated Tatanka. Even if nothing about the Warrior was indigenous, we made some kind of cultural connection to him. More recently, The Rock has shown us how a proud indigenous man can make it as a wrestler on his own terms. The idea of the video was to show that connection we made to these people beyond stereotypes, but also to see an indigenous character make it, without needing the stereotype.
Wrestling, and western pop culture, are not kind to indigenous people and rely on very dated, and oft offensive, stereotypes. Despite the rich Aboriginal history within the ring, we see a lot of grapplers forced to ‘play Indian’ in order to appease the white viewer. This sort of exploitation ends up with a lot of crossed lines, misinformation and leaves the onlooker between a rock and a hard place where you have to discern whether or the marketing of their ethnicity is damaging to the culture or a proud celebration of one’s heritage and Ancestral traditions. We’ve seen many a performer take on this gimmick from Cheyenne Cher in GLOW, to Tatanka, Wahoo McDaniel, Princess Tona Tomah, and the list goes on. They are all obviously very proud of their heritage, but this representation is something that we are seeing die out. We also had wrestlers such as Jack and Gerry Brisco, Native American brothers, who show their heritage but don’t portray it as a caricature of themselves in the ring. Then there’s the other problem of those like Chief Jay Strongbow – a Native war chief played by ITALIAN AMERICAN Joe Scarpa from Philadelphia. But as we well know, racism and cultural appropriation within the world of wrestling is a huge problem that’s shifting but not necessarily going away.
The stereotypes and storylines that we see played out by Natives in wrestling aren’t always centred around the narrative of victimhood, but the existence of these characters serves as a reminder that we exist and should take these opportunities in order to preserve our livelihood. A match between an Aboriginal wrestler and someone who isn’t a person of colour that doesn’t rely on any harmful preconceived notions is vital in order to move forward. As a fat, queer, Native woman it would overjoy me to see someone who doesn’t fit the societal norm, and can be a great representation for Native women everywhere, enter the ring.
You can get Suplex over at Pirates Blend, or listen to it on Spotify below: