SouFy (Raymond Elwart Jr.)

Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation

About the Artist

Soufy’s roots are in Southwest Detroit. The grandson of a Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation grandmother, his music embodies the urban Native experience. Taking aim at the Flint water crisis, Soufy wrote the song, “Pay 2 Be Poisoned,” featured on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, CBC Canada, Indian Country Today Media Network, and Native Trailblazers, and cited in academic journals. He released his first official solo LP entitled, “The Ogichidaa Project” in 2017. In 2018, Soufy was nominated for “Best New Artist” at The Indigenous Music Awards in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In 2020, he launched Michigan’s first Indigenous Music Festival as a virtual show. In 2021, the first live show, “Vibes with The Tribes” was successfully launched in Southwest Detroit. Soufy is the creator, co-founder, and artist manager for the festival, and he is the project manager for “The Red Ghetto Project.”

About the Art

The Red Ghetto Project

“A place once forgotten in the Motor City, the Red Ghetto, otherwise known as the Cass Corridor of Detroit, was home to many Natives in the 1940-1970s. Two generations later, we pick up the pieces and oral stories left behind by those who lived here. ‘The Red Ghetto Project’ will be a music album, a documentary, and an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum. We are working closely with the Detroit Historical Society to create land markers across the city of notable Native history here in Detroit.” —Soufy

Watch Soufy’s video here.

Profile Q&A

What does the idea of “justice for Native communities” mean to you?

When I think of justice for Native communities, I must go back to when the injustice began, which was the theft of our land since the beginning of colonization. The term “land back” comes to mind and is popular amongst Natives, but how do we accomplish that? I believe we can start by reclaiming space for Native voices in our communities. Outside of the reservations, most Natives are spread out into urban areas, and we are left on our own to find each other and build community together. Solidarity is key, as we cannot achieve justice without it.

What do you think needs to happen in the world to achieve justice for Native communities?

I believe we can help get closer to justice for ourselves by being active in our spiritual and traditional ways. We must look backward to move forward. We are spiritual people first and sometimes that realization gets lost in modern society. Before any battle, our ancestors had a ceremony first and spoke to spirits to prepare. We should do the same. As long as we stay grounded in our traditions and spirituality, which has been taken from us, we can always be prepared to achieve justice for our communities. By staying rooted in our ancestral ways, which can only bring us closer as relatives and a people, we can find solutions to the injustices we face today as Native people.

How do you express justice through your artwork?

As a hip-hop artist, my voice is my weapon. I can speak on topics with no filter and express myself freely through a Native perspective. Music moves people, whether it’s modern or traditional, and with the technology we have access to, our music can reach Native communities far and wide. As Nina Simone said, “As artists, our job is to reflect the times.” We can highlight issues in our communities, such as MMIW, police brutality, and alcohol and substance abuse through songs and visuals. In collaboration with fellow Native hip-hop artist Stuart James from the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, our song “M.M.I.W.” has reached Native communities throughout the United States and Canada.

Is there anything else you would like to share about Native justice and your artwork?

Justice can mean many things for Natives in modern society. I believe being visible is the first step and we have done a great job of that in the past decade alone. With the rise of Native hip-hop artists, musicians, designers, painters, filmmakers, and visual artists, we have become a recognizable face and voice in the world today. Many white Americans have lived with an outdated view of us as living only on reservations, and of course the stereotypes of Natives being alcoholics and having “casino money.” As we continue to fill up these spaces and tell our own stories, we will continue to diminish these old-world stereotypes of Natives. Breaking family cycles and working through intergenerational trauma is something I also view as justice for ourselves, our families, and our people.