What We’re Listening toBlack Belt Eagle Scout Champions Indigenous Resilience

photo of Black Belt Eagle Scout artist KP, a Portland–based Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter with bangs and long dark hair, wearing a black knit top and silver turquoise jewelry as they stand outside in front of a green marsh and forest

Photo credit: Sarah Cass

Legacy issue cover featuring Nailah Howze, a Black woman styled with a sculptural, braided hairdo, wearing a pleated gold top, adorned with a sparkling headpiece and nail decor
This article was published in Legacy Issue #90 | Spring 2021

Black Belt Eagle Scout is KP, a Portland, Oregon–based Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter who creates haunting, intimate music. She released her self-titled ep, Black Belt Eagle Scout, in 2014, and their debut album, Mother of My Children, in 2017. “Soft Stud,” which surpassed 2.7 million listens on Spotify, introduces the artist to queer people of color who see themselves reflected in the song’s openhearted yearning. Bitch interviewed KP about the musical legacy they’re building in real time.

How has your songwriting process changed since releasing Black Belt Eagle Scout in 2014?

At first, I felt nervous. It’s a self-confidence thing. But I’ve definitely grown as a person. I’ve gained more life experience, and I have more comfort in songwriting, taking risks, and experimenting [with] new sounds.

You play a ton of instruments. Which instrument do you feel most connected to?

I go back and forth between guitar and drums. Seasonally, I like one more than the other. Right now, I feel more in touch with guitar. I’ve always just loved the idea of trying to express oneself through sound. I’ll pick up an instrument and see what sort of sound I can put through it. I’ve always wanted to learn the violin and the cello, and I plan to pursue it in the future. It’s really beautiful to pick up an instrument and put your intention to it. It might sound funny, but it’s meant to sound funny; it’s what you’re putting into it.

You released “Indians Never Die” in 2018 in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock and the ongoing gentrification happening in Portland. Tell us more about this song’s origins.

A lot of people came together in that moment—especially within Indigenous communities—to support our access and our responsibility to take care of the land. I was feeling a lot of grief, especially because our struggle to have sovereignty was so public. I come from a family and a tribe that really respects our land and our water. I wasn’t seeing that respect from capitalists, the [Obama] administration, and this very colonial [system]. I don’t say “Indians never die” in the song, but that name came to me when I wrote it. I want us to feel resilient.

I like your magazine, but I’m also thinking about representation and if there are Indigenous people reading the magazine, scrolling through the pages, or looking online and reading about these people.

You’ve called yourself a “radical Indigenous queer feminist.” How do you live out that phrase?

When I discovered that phrase, my friend was talking about what it meant to be radical, Indigenous, queer, and a feminist. A lot of that had to do with speaking up for yourself in this way that’s rooted in trying to find liberation and sovereignty as Indigenous people while also centering women and two-spirit, trans, and nonbinary LGBTQ people. I still feel that. Maybe I’m not as in-your-face about it, but it’s definitely still inside me.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

Representation is a really big part of my ethos. [Take] this conversation: I like your magazine, but I’m also thinking about representation and if there are Indigenous people reading the magazine, scrolling through the pages, or looking online and reading about these people. I’m thinking, Who are they seeing within this magazine? How can I use these opportunities to open doors for people like me?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

 

Rachel Charlene Lewis, who has light brown skin and dark brown curly hair, wears a white button up and gold jewelry and gold glasses.
by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Greatist, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.