A case-study of Tom LaBlanc, a peace activist, in pursuit of “Oneness”By Hiroko Akiba - Spring 2005
His oldest memory as a three-year-old child is that a white guy tied him up and beat him because he looked Indian/Japanese.
He felt that he “did not fit anywhere and had no reason to live”.Like his mother who lost her son at birth, he was also desperate and had lost the meaning to live. This emptiness led him to join the war in Vietnam in his mid-twenties. He had nothing to lose. He was not afraid to die. He had no desire to live.
There in Vietnam, Tom LaBlanc, with no desire to live, saw many people killing each other, and saw many Vietnamese children looking for food. He then thought, “They do not even have enough food. At least I had food”. In addition, he did not want Vietnamese children to suffer as an orphan like he had because of the war.
Although he was ready in Vietnam to end his life, he eventually found a reason to live on by looking at the cruelty of war. He started to think about the meaning of his life for the first time, asking himself, “Who am I? What brought me here on earth?” It was this time that he was inspired to start writing poetry.
Peace must be shared, Peace is stronger than war. Peace must be taught, Peace must be the law for all.
(cited from Peace prayer, Tom LaBlanc)
When he came back from Vietnam to Minnesota in 1970 looking for his family root for the first time, he was asked by an American Indian woman to join a meeting where he found thousands of American Indians flocking together for the American Indian Movement (AIM). Since then, he has realized he is proud to be an American Indian and to devote his life to American Indians. Through AIM, he was able to learn in depth about his root culture of Dakota Sioux Indians.
It was in the year 1978 that he participated in the Longest Walk with other American Indians. This follows the 1972 Trials of Broken Treaties, which aimed to raise awareness about the mistreatments of indigenous people. The 1972 trails took the same route that indigenous people were forced to take in 1838 as they gave away their land in the East to white settlers (RedHawk, n.d.). The 1978 Longest Walk was a spiritual walk from San Francisco and Washington, D.C. to raise the awareness of American Indians. This 3,600 mile Longest Walk was successful in gathering sufficient support to halt proposed legislation abrogating Indian treaties with the U.S. government (Banks, D. &Co., n.d.). When they got to Washington D.C., they occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and took away official documents from the Bureau. The Longest Walk played an important role in letting these suppressed voices be heard and in raising their identity as American Indians.
He was then asked to work for the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), a non-governmental organization comprised of 100 indigenous groups from North, Central, South America, and the Pacific region. He worked there collecting data and documents of indigenous people from different regions. Through this work, he found out that all the indigenous groups were discriminated against by their governments and had a miserable life. He listened to tapes by various indigenous people about massacre and torture. Through the dialogues with other indigenous people, he recognized the importance of letting their voice be heard and raising the awareness of uniting people of different colors for peace. He was also assigned to coordinate the Indigenous Uranium Forum, an international network for indigenous people affected by the nuclear cycle. This led to the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg, Austria, where over one hundred indigenous representatives around the world came to give testimony. At the same time, he was also in charge of helping to build the NGO to represent indigenous groups at the United Nations. It was his work at the IITC that brought him to Japan later on.
His first visit to Japan was in 1986 to help the Ainu, the indigenous people in Hokkaido of northern Japan, to set up a NGO to represent them at the United Nations. Since then, he has visited Japan several times to join the anti-nuclear movement and the peace run while visiting other countries around the world. It was during this period that he devoted more time to writing and reading poetry at different occasions, which was eventually leading him to quite his work at the ITTC.
His last visit to Japan was in 2002 to have poetry readings with various local artists across the nation. Two Japanese artists, Hiroshi Yamaguchi and Hosomi Sakana, inspired by his poetry, immediately asked him to put his poetry into music. A three-day session for recording in Tokyo turned out to be a CD, Eagle Talk, comprised of his poems that are both political and personal. He recalled his last visit to Japan by saying that the collaboration with various Japanese artists has inspired him to sing and dance with his spoken words.
Tom LaBlanc has a power to reach a number of people to make a gradual change to the world of peace, which Laura LaBlanc calls “Tom’s magic”. Like these two Japanese artists, his voice has been reaching all the way to a musician, Åsmund Gylder, in Norway. Åsmund Gylder was fascinated by his poetry book, Dakota (1995), and wrote a letter to him, which resulted in releasing a single in Norway. Åsmund Gylder and Tom LaBlanc continue to work together to promote Oneness through music and other forms of arts, which is stated later in the next section.
His life and peace work for the last decade has been inspired greatly by his youngest daughter, Isabella Star. She was born when he was fifty years old. Although he has many children through his past marriages, she has brought another meaning to his life as being a father again in his later life. He describes her birth into his life as follows,
“I have developed a philosophy that allows me to be more at peace with others and myself. I look at my daughter and know that I am her link and her children’s link to creating a world where we use options other than war, racism, and classism to solve the problems.”
Her inspiration to the joy of his life is also found in his poetry.She soars around down here
(cited from Isabella Star, Tom LaBlanc)
lifts me above it all please, my little one Go to sleep, rest well this very night and many more to come, May the warm winds always surround you with happiness and may God always give you Good Health. I love you, Your Daddy
His life started by being separated from his mother at birth, and this has affected his family life by being without a parent role model around him. He went through several divorces, and suffered a great deal. However, such personal anger and pain as a person have given him more power to creating a world of peace through the arts, which “provide more insight into root of pain and suffering”.
Creating a world of peace through the arts
“Art is another key since it provides a way to communicate that often cannot convey with words.” “Do something better in indigenous way.” “Nurture the spirit, in the ‘Dakota’ way of education.
While the nation is regarded as having a leading role in creating a world of peace, it is not the only player in this responsibility. Each of us is responsible for creating a world of peace in our daily lives, and transmitting it into the different forms of action, as Tom LaBlanc might say, into Oneness. I believe that it is the individuals, rather than the nation, that are central and crucial actors for creating a world of peace. His work through the arts will give us some insight about how the individual can contribute to creating a world of peace. His work through the arts is primarily based on poetry, music, and plays.
As a poet
As stated above, he started writing poetry when he was in Vietnam. The poems were so personal that he did not intend to share them with others. When he was at college, his female classmate disclosed his poetry from his notebook to others. Although he was upset with her, he has since then decided to write poetry to share with others. His poetry is both personal and political, conveying the life power of words that gives the act of communication a sacred dimension, which is a part of the oral tradition of American Indians. His words have spread around the world, and have been translated in other 17 languages and published internationally including Norway, Germany, and Japan. One of his poems, “Songs of the Revolutions,” also touched the hearts of indigenous people in Bolivia, and was used by a labor union of 70,000 indigenous people as a rallying cry.
Some of his poems show anger, hatred, and frustration towards the world, but his poetry inherits the way in which the “indigenous way of creating a peace of world would heal the world better”. His poetry, 911, appeals to us to live in and believe Oneness rather than creating more terror.
(911, Tom LaBlanc)
911 Terror Lives in us all. Wake at this moment of time When it’s up all to us. We can heal ourselves. Save the world For, Oneness is a daily manifestation of natural prayer. Living in balance with the original songs of Harmony. One ocean One land One people Oneness In one life.
“Tom’s magic” is not confined to the publication of his poetry books and poetry reading: his words have been also spreading to other fields of arts, music and play, to create a world of peace, Oneness.
As a musician
Music plays a central role in the life of American Indian cultures. Music, being basic to human nature, comes from the center of the heart. American Indians believe that music convey the “power to heal pain, sustain the spirit, and heal individual and societal maladies” (Einhorn, 2001).
The most frequently used beat in the music of American Indians, according to Einhorn, is a four-beat sound that symbolizes the synchronicity of the rhythms of the Earth. Among various musical instruments for American Indian ceremonies, the drum plays an important role in American Indian spiritual life as the drumming, like the sound of our heartbeat, is believed to connect us to the Mother Earth. They believe drums, like pipes and all other things, have a spirit, through which they are able to communicate with the Creator (Robertson & Gunderson, 2003) and “to become one” .
It was in his forties that Tom LaBlanc started to play the American Indian drum. Music is also a part of his work, “more the spiritual waves passed on from the past singing today, the turning of the wheel”. He currently performs in the group, Red, Black, and Blue, in New Orleans. Along with this band, he beats the drum for spiritual ceremonies, such as wiping off the ceremony. This is a Dakota Indian ceremony to cease the violence and embrace all the life (“No more tears,” 2004). During these ceremonies, he beats the drum for world peace.
What he is most excited about right now is the release of a new CD, One People, with his Norwegian friend, Åsmund Gylder. This CD is for peace and harmony in the world in collaboration with artists around the world. This is to be released in Norway in 2006 and then hopefully in the United States. All the lyrics come from LaBlanc’s poems about Oneness and peace. They are also planning to have a trip to Senegal during the summer of 2006 to record the CD with local musicians. One People will be a series of five CDs from around the world to promote peace. Åsmund Gylder has kept this idea for the last decade, and it has finally come true to move towards Oneness through the music of peace and harmony.
What is common between Eagle Talk, released in Japan, and One People, to be released in Norway, is that they both use Tom LaBlanc’s poem, Oneness. These musicians in the different cultures are inspired by Oneness, and have been working together to let his Oneness spread around the world. A visionary lyric of Oneness reminds us about the critical importance of core human feelings such as peace and love. Oneness is such a poem that “reaches beneath the conceptual level, to the heart level, where it touched emotions and values, and energizes solidarity for action” (Ungerleider, 1999).
(Oneness, Tom LaBlanc)
The old ones fear that soon there will be No more Indian Language. The old ones fear that soon there will be No more Indian Songs. The old ones fear that soon there will be No more Indian Prayers. The End of the world! Because being Indian is a daily manifestation of natural prayer living in balance with the original songs of harmony. If this we cannot recognize, then we all will have No more language, only noise, No more songs, only sounds, No more prayers, only fears. ONE OCEAN, ONE LAND, ONE PEOPLE, ONENESS IN ONE LIFE. This we all must put into our languages. This we all must put into our songs. This we all must put into our prayers. ONE OCEAN, ONE LAND, ONE PEOPLE, ONENESS IN ONE LIFE.
As an anti-racism workshop facilitator and player
Since he moved down to New Orleans in 2002, Tom LaBlanc has worked as a resource trainer of “undoing racism workshops” at the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. His official affiliation is DOTCOM comprising of three local resource trainers. The objective of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, since its establishment in 1980, is to build a movement for social justice and equity by undoing racism that has been systematically inherited in the society (the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, 2003).
He recently worked with the Institute to perform the play, the Motherland: Before they came. This was performed at the Institute’s 25th anniversary celebration. It was a powerful play written and directed by a local organizer, Parnell (Herb) Herbert, to trace back the history of the lives of Africans before their capture, and their life in the United States. In the motherland, Africa and the United States, they were passionate to live. They were trying to find a reason to live. It was such a powerful story. This play does not merely intend to show the anger and sorrow of the Africans taken to the United States against their will. It is used as an effective way for us to learn from history that the current racism can be traced back to or linked to a period of genocidal enslavement and racial inequalities that is still prevailing in our society. Although the story of the play itself is powerful and deep in insights, the play captures the importance of creating harmony and peace in our generation by using different forms of arts throughout the play, such as music, singing, and dance. Such combination of the arts helps keep the vision of peace alive and deeply felt. As Tom LaBlanc said, “the United States is the land of racial experiment where people are living together”, this play and the Institute also play a crucial role in enhancing harmony and peace in such a land of racial experiment, which is eventually leading to Oneness.
Oneness for the harmony and peace
As the world becomes increasingly chaotic, losing the value and reason to live in harmony, each of us must be more aware of the true value of peace. I believe that peace is not a goal, but a process for us to live in harmony with everyone and everything around us. Peace must not be convenient in favor of some people. Peace needs to be achieved through the daily contribution of our deeds to the present moment of life and also on-going life for our children.
The “Oneness” that transcends in Tom LaBlanc’s poetry, music, and plays provides a message for living in a world where people love, respect, accept, and forgive. In this way we are all united and interconnected to creating a world of peace. Despite his hard life experiences, he has transformed his pain into the power to create Oneness in the world. Some might be overwhelmed by his life experience and various work towards peace. He is an ordinary man like us. He is a father and grandfather in a big family like us. He also has problems to consider like us. He gets angry and frustrated like us. However, he has found his own way to contribute to creating the world of peace. His work has been slowly spread around the world, and the project of Oneness has just started in Norway.
It is said that storytelling in American Indian culture plays an important role in encouraging readers or listeners to convey meaning in their lives. I am hoping that this story of Tom LaBlanc will provide some meanings to the reader to find a way to contribute to creating a world of peace as Oneness.
In developing the paper, I would like to express appreciation to Tom LaBlanc, Laura LaBlanc, Isabella Star, William Lewin, Parnell (Herb) Herbert, Åsmund Gylder, and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond for their support and encouragement. I have encountered more unnamed people through this paper. I also thank these kindred souls for their support. They are all inspiration to this paper, and my appreciation to you is not enough to say much in words. I again appreciate Tom LaBlanc for letting me visit him in New Orleans to share his personal talks, notes, and files, and for inviting me to his family gathering in Minnesota during May 2005. I am hoping that this paper will play a part in bringing people into Oneness by letting his voice reach as many people as possible in the world.