“Tupac and Native American Studies: Creating Connections through Linguistics, Historical Activism, and Photography”
His name calls us to remember an endangered language. Tupac Amaru – Quechua words. Many people know what these words mean and who he is named after but do not understand that the use of the words is powerful. Indigenous communities continue to fight to keep their languages alive, to revitalize them, to wake them up from sleeping. When Afeni named her son Tupac Amaru, she taught us all Quechua.
His words are insightful. Creating provoking thoughts and ideas, sometimes violent but grounded in a history of resistance. This resistance didn’t begin when Tupac was born but grew throughout Afeni’s life and was transmitted to her children. Afeni’s thoughts and experience with resistance didn’t begin with the Black Panther Party but with witnessing the Lumbee defeat the KKK.
His image is penetrating. His eyes reach the widest of audiences. A viewer can’t help but feel his pain, passion, and commitment, never captured any more real than by Cree Photographer Ernie Paniccioli. Paniccioli created a small, but compelling archive of photographs of Tupac that deserve viewer appreciation. A Native American vision of Tupac Amaru Shakur.
This chapter intends to introduce the ways in which Tupac Amaru Shakur is connected to the interdisciplinary program of Native American Studies. It is my academic attempt to relate Tupac to indigenous epistemologies, historical frameworks, and visual archives. Tupac is/was not just a rapper who Native American youth could idolize or relate to but a person who exemplified decolonization through resistance, through a powerful voice, and through an image that is unforgettable. It will focus on the significance of his name (not just the translation but what it means to have an indigenous name), an event that marked a moment in Afeni’s life when she witnessed resistance for the first time and how that moment played out in Tupac’s life, and finally an introduction of the photographic archive of Tupac by Native American photographer Ernie Paniccioli.