Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, October 5, 2001

Liz and Troy De Roche will be among the performers at
the 27th American Indian Pow Wow over the weekend
and Native American flute and storytelling concert Monday.

Native spirit drew
performers to Big Isle

By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

The feeling is not something they can pinpoint with great accuracy, but when Native American traditionalists Troy and Liz De Roche set foot on Big Island soil -- each on separate occasions -- they felt an immediate and indescribable sense of peace and familiarity.

"I first came here over 20 years ago," recalls Liz, who along with her husband and touring partner Troy, occasionally shares stories and songs of their respective cultures with audiences around the world. They will be performing at free events in Honolulu Saturday through Monday.

"And I remember that as I stepped off the plane, I felt at home. What's funny about that is years later, Troy visited for the first time, and as soon as he hit the tarmac, he turned to me and said, 'You know, this feels like home'."

Last year, the De Roches moved to Hawaii from Washington State and discovered remarkable similarities between the lifestyle of islanders and the traditions and values of their Blackfeet and Metis cultures back home.

"Native Americans and Native Hawaiians are very similar in their ways and spiritual beliefs," she explains. "Hawaiians have their aumakua, Native Americans have their totems, their guardians and spirit-animals. I see a similar respect for land and nature. There's the presence of the extended family, the ohana, the community living together. Also, one of the first things that blew me away was how respectful of elders the kids were."

These are beliefs the de Roches hold close to their hearts. As Liz explains, Troy was brought up on the proud traditions of the Blackfeet on the Blackfeet Reservation in Heart Butte, Mont., in a family of artisans and musicians.

"He has the most amazing family I've ever seen," Liz says. "Troy was raised on a ranch by grandparents who played the fiddle and mandolin. He was always raised around music and learned to make flutes from the elders."

27th American Indian Pow Wow

With emcee John Dawson, Apache, of San Carlos Reservation; head dancer Peter Joe Olney Jr. (Yakama) and head female dancer Rose Sampson (Yakama). Enjoy crafts, food, dance and competitions.

Where: Thomas Square
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday
Admission: Free
Call: 734-5171
Flute & Storytelling Concert
Featuring Andrew Thomas, Troy & Liz De Roche, Shane Ridley-Stevens
Where: Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, 2645 Dole St.
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Admission: Free
Call: 734-8018

While growing up in the Seattle area, Liz, being the oldest grandchild by 13 years, often took on the role of storyteller and developed an appreciation for the lost art of the oral narrative. "I think it's very important for families to keep that tradition," she says. "Every family's got a funny aunt or a grandpa with big adventures."

It was at a Montana art exhibit more than a decade ago that the pair first met; Troy was there to showcase his handcrafted flutes and Liz had set up a booth nearby to display her beadwork. "I met Troy, we talked, and the next day he came by and gave me a greasy bag of cheeseburger and fries," she recalls. "I knew then he was the man for me."

Although the De Roches often perform together these days, Liz and Troy have also been recognized individually by a number of institutions for their cultural contributions. As a vital torchbearer of indigenous American music, Troy has been a featured performer at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Ind., the Museum of Man in San Diego, Calif., and the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, and has released a number of albums. Liz was recently selected by BBC World Service to share her stories with a global audience in a 1999 broadcast. Last year, the De Roche's "First Mother" album, garnered a NAMMY (Native American Music Awards) nomination.

It was also the year they found a new home in the artists' town of Hawi on the Big Island. "I still can't say exactly what it was that brought us here," she says. "And I don't want to sound new-agey about it, but maybe someone guided us. I do know I love the people and their ways here and I know it sounds like an old cliche, but we were definitely drawn to the aloha spirit. It exists."

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