Writing music brought Geneviève Salamone catharsis. Now, she guides other Indigenous Iowa artists through their own ‘journey of self-discovery’

Genevieve Salamone wears a cape designed by Sky-Eagle Collection. Red is symbolic, said to be a color the spirits can see, and has become the color of the MMIW movement. — Jovisuals

In the front room of her West Des Moines home, violinist and composer Geneviève Salamone writes, produces, records, mixes and masters original music. And while the space looks almost like an ordinary front room, it’s far from it. The space has been fitted by Salamone and her husband with soundproofing drywall. There are microphones and acoustic panels lining the walls. There are no stray instruments, but Salamone assures me she can do almost everything she needs to with her violin and an impressive MIDI keyboard. And although it’s small, it’s easy to tell that some seriously cool stuff happens here. This room, and some could argue Salamone herself, is Wendat Records.

The studio’s name comes from Salamone’s Indigenous heritage, just one of the many things she works to reclaim with her compositions.

“So the word Huron is actually derived from what Europeans called us. That’s not actually what we call ourselves. We call ourselves the Wendat,” Salamone says. “(Huron) actually translates to brute or ruffian. It’s actually really offensive.”

Beyond the name of the studio, Salamone incorporates her Wendat roots into her own original music. After receiving an Iowa Arts Council Resilience Grant last year, Salamone has taken on a massive project to create art around her Indigenous roots in the forms of music videos, social media awareness content and original compositions.

“It really speaks to me to use my platform to raise awareness on important issues. Particularly the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Movement,” Salamone says. “But also the Indian residential schools.”

Headlines of unmarked graves encasing the bodies of Indigenous children at Canadian and U.S. Indian residential schools went viral in the fall of 2021, bringing to the mainstream what folks like Salamone had long been aware of. Obviously, mistreatment of Indigenous peoples at residential schools had been an issue long, long before. And got much closer to home than most Iowans would like to believe.

“There was one only an hour away from here in Tama. An hour away,” Salamone says. “Essentially, kids were forced from their homes, and their heads were shaven, and their skin was bleached. They were forced to be white. My own family went to them in Canada. But what’s crazy is we’ve all known that there were massive death rates at these schools because of malnutrition. And just so many other issues, mostly because the church was getting paid for the amount of kids they had. So they had too many kids. It was basically just a prison for these kids. And lots of kids died. And they never reported the deaths. Their bodies were thrown into mass graves.”

Moccasins representing Indigenous children who lost their lives in the Indian residential schools program. — Jenni Machir, courtesy of Genevieve Salmone

One of the centerpieces of her grant project is a composition entitled “Les Petits Mocs,” a tribute to the children who lost their lives at residential schools.

“’Les Petits Mocs’ means the little moccasins,” Salamone says. “(The piece) is supposed to follow baby moccasins because they were finding bodies of 3-year-olds in this grave. So that really puts it into perspective. Like, these kids walked in the snow barefoot sometimes to escape these places, you know?”

According to the Washington Post, the last Canadian Residential School closed in the 1990s.

“Les Petits Mocs” will be featured at an event celebrating Salamone’s grant project and the one year anniversary of her debut solo album, Catharsis, at xBk Live on May 21. “A Night Of Resilience” touts an eclectic lineup of artists across multiple disciplines including singer/songwriters, instrumentalists, dancers, multimedia artists and even an aerialist.

Among the many performers scheduled for the event is Ralph Moisa Jr., a songwriter, instrumentalist, author and member of the Yaqui Nation in California who records his work alongside his wife, Carol, at Wendat Studios.

“I write in the traditions of my ancestors with the drum and the flute,” Moisa Jr. says. “So I have several songs that cross languages. I just want to communicate. I think that if we learn to understand each other, then we won’t have the problems we have today.”

Genevieve Salamone plays in Jester Park for the “Les Petit Mocs” video. — courtesy of Genevieve Salamone

The couple’s awareness efforts reach further than just their recorded music. The Moisas also host the White Eagle Multicultural Pow Wow each fall to celebrate the life of their late son, Ralph Moisa III.

While many of the topics Salamone and Moisa Jr. discuss in their work are rightfully heavy, they both acknowledge the importance of humor in their respective traditions.

“Comedy is kind of a part of our culture because passing on knowledge, storytelling is an oral tradition. So in order for someone to remember it, you have to make it interesting, right? He’s really good at that portion of it,” Salamone says of Moisa Jr.

While Salamone keeps herself busy recording, producing and mixing the work of others, she doesn’t let it deter her from creating art of her own. She released Catharsis in May of 2021. Over 16 epic and heart-wrenching compositions, Salamone addresses the sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her dad and the process of coming to terms with it.

Catharsis was my grand leap into the world of composing, and it was also my trauma narrative,” says Salamone. “For most of my life, I couldn’t even talk about the abuse without crying. But for me, writing music and using that form of creative expression was a way of healing. So I decided to make this album because I wanted to put the story out there. I felt like I had been living a lie for so long. I just wanted to put it all out there.”

Catharsis gave Salamone an avenue to acknowledge the trauma she had experienced in her own life. But by naming it, she has helped many come to terms with the abuse they’ve faced in their lives as well.

“I wrote ‘Rage’ after I came out to my family about the abuse. We found out that six of my family members had also been abused by my dad,” Salamone says. “The whole messed up part of that situation is that we were all so ashamed that none of us wanted to talk about it, and we didn’t realize all of us were suffering. That, to me, is why I’m so outspoken.”

“A Night Of Resilience” promises to be a celebratory night of beautiful music, but attendees should be aware that sensitive material will be discussed. Specifically, Salamone and xBk have issued a trigger warning for topics of childhood sexual abuse, Indian residential schools, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Salamone says that sensitive sections of the event will be accompanied by resources for education and aid.

“A lot of Indigenous people go on this journey of self-discovery for the same reasons that I am,” Salamone tells me. “We lost so much. Our people, every person must take responsibility to keep the culture alive.”

Lily DeTaeye is a Des Moines native who is passionate about music, reading, wine and dogs. In addition to writing for Little Village, she is a singer-songwriter and touring Americana musician. DeTaeye received a BA from the University of Iowa in Creative Writing. And she truly can’t stress enough how passionate she is about wine and dogs. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 002.