ASU explores the history of Native American hymns

Native American Heritage Month continues with the screening of "This May Be the Last Time"

ASU continues its multi-campus celebration of Native American Heritage Month with an exploration of the history of Native American music. 

As the first American music in history, Native American hymns have been sung for centuries and up to the present. Some consider these songs to convey sadness but also have a hopeful connotation, according to the 2014 documentary “This May Be the Last Time," by comedian Sterlin Harjo.

The West campus hosted a screening of the documentary, which centers around the 1962 disappearance of the filmmaker's grandfather while exploring the Muscogee hymns the community would sing while looking for him and their context in history as potentially the first American music.

The film traces the history of these hymns back to the singing style brought to the southeastern United States by Scottish missionaries and also musical influences from Christian hymns and African American spirituals.

“This May Be the Last Time” also examines both the historical and modern context of these songs and the power of music in general.

Harjo is a member of the Native American sketch comedy group the 1491s, along with Bobby Wilson, who hosted the screening. 

Wilson said that as a good friend of Harjo’s he was able to watch the movie through its development and meet some of the people Harjo talked to in the film. 

He said that although Harjo is a comedian, the documentary takes a serious look and the Muscogee hymns and community.

“It’s a piece of art created by a close friend, so all I can do is boast,” Wilson said. “But it actually is an emotional movie.”

According to Wilson, events like the ones ASU is presenting during Native American Heritage Month create an opportunity for non-native individuals to learn about and experience Native American culture in a casual way.

“Not just with what’s being organized at ASU but nationally, there’s always concern that there’s not going to be a lot of non-native involvement...," Wilson said. "I want people to recognize, who are not Native, that ‘hey man, we are people too, come hang out with us.'"

Read More: Native American Heritage Month

Marissa Montano, a social work freshman who was at the screening, said her teacher encouraged her to go for extra credit but that she was also interested in attending because she is part Native American. 

“In my English class we’re talking about how everything is a remix, and it went along with that,” Montano said. “Everyone just goes off of what they heard before and just remixes it, and that’s what they did with the music.”

Jacob Meders, an associate professor at the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, said the film was a great precursor to the Native American Heritage Festival and Veterans Day Pow Wow that took place on Nov. 11, since it also includes stories from Native American veterans.

“The heart of the documentary is about hymns and songs,” Meders said. “It’s also a documentary about healing as well as the issues indigenous people face.”

Meders said music and comedy are a great way of connecting people, and he hopes this event will encourage people to attend more events during the month to help foster student and community engagement.

“We’re not just trying to get native people to go to these events, we’re trying to get non-natives to go too,” said Meders. “We want to build the gap between natives and the broader community.”

“This May Be the Last Time” is available for download on the website, Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.


Reach the reporter at abpotter@asu.edu and follow @abpotter4 on Twitter. 

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.