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By Ed Moreth 

MUSIC for the HEART

Trout Creek woman promotes Indian heritage

 

December 6, 2018

Ed Moreth

WHITE BIRD DANCING – Chilaili Wachiwi shows one of her many flutes and Native American outfits that she wears during her performances.

One Trout Creek woman has traveled the world as an ambassador of the United States, first as a member of the Air Force, then for the U.S. State Department. Now that she's retired, it's time for her to devote her energies full time to promote her own Native American heritage and she's doing it with music.

"I want to help people be more at peace with themselves and with each other," said Chilaili Wachiwi, who moved to Trout Creek in June and has already performed with her flute in Plains, Noxon and Thompson Falls. Her name means "White Bird Dancing," but she often just goes by Chili to her friends and relatives. Chili is part Apsaroke Ashalaho, one of three bands of Crow, and part Niitsiotopi Slksika Blackfoot, and hopes to dedicate much of her time playing her music throughout Montana.

"This music is for the heart. I'd like to see that it reaches as many people as possible with its message of joy and peace," added Chili, who has been a flautist for some 60 years. "My father stuck a flute in my mouth when I was 3, so I grew up playing it," said Chili. She also plays drums, tambourine and keyboard, but the flute is her passion. She has more than 30 wooden, bamboo and clay hand-carved flutes from North and South America. Her flutes range from A-G keys and are from about nine inches long to one that is four feet in length. She might go through 10-12 flutes during a one-hour performance. They were all specially designed for her and some are meticulously ornate. One of her favorites is a 26-inch Golden Eagle flute that was created for her in October.

Her father, Thomas Standing Bear, and grandfather, James Standing Bear, taught her how to play. She has played at a variety of events, such as anniversaries, birthday parties, religious gatherings, cultural centers, and universities and foreign government embassies.

"What I like most about my music is that it has no borders or restrictions. It is free and wild and doesn't have any specific tangents that seem so prevalent in music today," said the 65-year-old. "It speaks only of nature and its environs."

During her performances, she often wears handmade Native American outfits. Where ever she traveled, whether it was with the Air Force or State Department, she used her free time to play, whether it was in an auditorium, a studio, on the street, or in the park.

One time while performing in a park in Egypt, which was her last duty station with the State Department, she had an unpleasant encounter with local authorities. "I almost got arrested for wearing feathers because they thought I was a protester," said Chili. "There were a lot of radical Islamists. The minister of culture goons didn't like my outfits. They said it was too strange." However, she said many people there liked her clothing and were curious about her music, which gave her the opportunity to again talk about her Native American traditions, customs and history.

She has four Native American outfits, one that's reversible, and is working on another one. Some of them are elaborate and colorful with animal bone and turkey feathers and are blessed by a medicine man.

Chili has played in everything from powwows in Montana to a military forward operating base in Afghanistan. Once in a tent in an Afghan warzone, while bombs were going off nearby, she played her flute to help her and other staff members calm. "The flutes there helped keep my sanity over there," she said.

She plays music of the Crow, Sioux, Blackfoot, as well as Indians of South America, such as the Inca and Aymara. But she also plays other types of music – jazz, religious, pop, rock, and country – and was part of a band, called "The Foreign Exchange" during her time in Egypt.

It was in Egypt that she had her first CD produced. Called "Bird in the Sun," it has just over a dozen songs on it, many that she wrote, along with a taste of Egyptian music. "It started out as a vision. I wanted to record some of my music and suddenly people were asking to be part of it," she said, adding that most of the musicians that accompanied her on her CD are Egyptian.

Some of the 50 songs she's written will be on her second CD, which she hopes to have out early in 2019. She said she likes to include nature sounds, such as the wind, waterfalls, and animal sounds as background. Some of her background music includes verses of the Native American languages. She's also made two music videos; one, "Asefir," can be found on her Facebook page. Even now, after playing for some 60 years, she practices for about two hours a day at her farm in Trout Creek, and even more just before a performance.

But it isn't just that she's performing that gives her satisfaction. It gives her the opportunity to promote her heritage and perhaps through her music she can show people a way to get along together. "I want to really get people to think about where they are and where they are going to become more in tune with themselves and to become as they should be ... people loving other peoples and helping other peoples."

 

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