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A Cherokee in search of his roots

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27 August 2011
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Pow wow Cherokee

Story of a musician on the path of his traditions


My name is Ruben Pandy, but my traditional name is A-yo-li Yona (standing for "Young Bear" in English) It was given to me by a Lakota elder I know personally as a friend to the family.

My mom and grandmother have already lived by the traditional ways of life. I never really paid attention to what heritage I was or whatever while growing up, I just wanted to be me, just a kid. Since I was born I believed to have a spiritual connection to the four-legged ones (animals), specially bears. My animal spirit is an all-in-one bear (mixed with all breeds of bears, from grizzly-panda); but he's mostly brown bear. My spirit is strong because he's Mother Earth's warrior and the forests’ guardian/protector.

I'd do anything for animals, I'll give up my life for a four legged bro and sister. Humans care for their own kind or pets, but everyone else disregards wildlife. There should be equal rights for ALL species, two or four legged.


Ruben Pandy

I was born on February 17, 1991 in Jacksonville, FL. I grew up on the tough streets in the Moncrief and I didn't know much (or anything at all) about my heritage or what races I was mixed with. I never knew that I was a mixed blood native until I was age 10. I always knew I was different from the other children but I never known why until my aunt and grandmother were going through some things in the attic and found a lot of traditional Cherokee stuff from chokers and drums, etc. and from there they told me many stories about my ancestory and shown me photos of my cousins, uncles, and aunties all of them are which still alive today as full blood Cherokees or half Cherokees or mixed with other tribes. Of course at the time I was just a child so I didn't know how important and rich my culture was.

I was always an outspoken and brutally honest “from-the-heart” spirit but what made me into the "don't give a crap" spoken heart that I am today was something that happened in 1999. My older brother, Corey "Outlaw a.k.a. Joker" Pandy, former CEO/founder of southern gangster rap label Top Gun Records, was living in a small area in the Paxon neighborhood with my uncle on a street filled with racist white people... as for why in the name of the great spirit my uncle chose to live there, I don't know.

The racism there got so bad that it made local news after they sprayed painted "KKK" initials on the side of my uncle's home. They all appeared on WJXT channel 4 news at 11pm, they were a CBS affiliate at the time before they're now independent station.

From that day on, me and my brother had to get payback so we began recording music and songs about the racist idiots and we called the album "The Redneck-Killer Show" because it as if we were fighting against racist Rednecks and stuff. Hahaha, it was so funny. But it got us into a lot of trouble. I was only 8 yrs old and my bro was only 15, so it made local news that these kids were saying racist remarks to white people and it only became a problem because we published copies of our albums and sold it on the streets and at schools for cash. They were being haunted by our tracks because almost everyone had copies of it. We later grew up and kept going on recording music, working with our cousins who were rappers like my full blood Cherokee cousin Big Cheif, who released his hit 1999 album, and my other black-Cherokee cousins in the rap group Strike 9ine, released their single in 2001.


Cherokee leaders at the Pow wow ceremony

By age 17, in 2008, I got more into my heritage and began reconnecting with tribal elders. I wanted to be active in the native community. The mixed blood members in my family don't really claim their native blood for some reason, but I'm too proud to carry the shed blood of my ancestors to not want to announce it.

I still remember visiting my cousins' rez (Reserve) a few times because my grandmother, mother, aunt, and everyone lived in the city. We would have these gatherings, ate dinner of tasty food like frybread and other types of food, and have these ceremonies. My grandfather would tell legendary Cherokee folk stories, myths, and history lessons about the treaties and such.

My favorite story that I heard growing up out of all those he and my grandmother bear ever told, was about the Bear Warrior. This Cherokee man, who was the most handsome warrior, and his family were blessed with riches. He wanted to find a woman that would love him for who he was, not just for his good looks or riches.


The Bear, animal spirit of A-yo-li Yona, aka Ruben Pandy

The Creator heard him and sent spirits to change him into a bear. He wondered why was he changed into a bear and even thought of it as punishment by the Creator. The spirit of this deer came to speak to him and said "you wanted to find someone who would fall in love with for who you are, then this way, you will find that one." The young warrior was worried that he'd be killed if he went back to his people in bear form but the deer said that he wouldn't be killed and told him to stay in a safe cave. The right one would see his true form, not that of a bear.

Hours later, an elder from his tribe came to him with a young female and she screamed in fear when seeing him. The bear shook his head to let the elder know this wasn't the right one and to take her back.

A day later, the elder brought another young woman to the bear, she smiled and said "hello”; but she didn't see the form of a bear, she saw him for who he really was inside. The bear was changed back into his human form; and he explained his story to her, later marrying the young woman.


Ruben Pandy’s Grandmother

My grandmother bear has always taught me to respect Mother Earth, plants, trees, and the four-legged ones (animals.) while growing up. I stand up and fight against those who harm nature and the four-legged ones, especially bears, which are the dearest and hold personal intimacy to me because I carry the totem and spirit of the bear inside of me and in my heart.

In most tribes, bear medicine is the most sacred because throughout history bear spirits have known to have sacred healing powers and other spiritual abilities.

Bear Medicine is power specifically associated with the spirit of the bear, particularly the ability to heal.

The bear is also known in many cultures as a great healer, since it seeks out plants for its own healing. North American brown bears and Kodiak bears are known to dig up Ligusticum porteri (also known, not surprisingly, as "bear root") and chew on it and then rub it on their fur; the plant is known to have antibiotic properties, and is good for stomachaches and insect repellant.

While growing up, I always heard family sing songs, seen them do pow-wow dances, and perform ceremonies like our most famous "Morning Song”, which is what some of us would sing to the Creator just as or before the sun rose. It was our prayer to him.

I've released music since I was 4 and have converted to many different genres of music. Doing music that uses the language of my people would a big transition over all other career choices I've made because this would mean so much more. I'm currently going to college, attending FSC-J (Florida State College at Jacksonville) and am still getting my GED. I plan to study tech or music.

I practice singing and speaking in our language for my music because I want to open the doors for all Nations and Tribes to have the rights and freedom to practice their ceremonies and speak their languages worldwide.

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