Finding space in the world to flourish has been always been an ongoing focus for LGBTQ people of colour. Thankfully, we have NYC-based Mohawk/Cherokee MC Dio Ganhdih dominating the hip-hop game and blazing the trail for the Queer Indigenous MCs of the future. Dio talks to RPM about her heritage, inspirations, responsibility, and her new EP, Do It Ourselves.
You’re from NY, did you grow up there or in Akwesasne?
I say I’m from “New York” as a broader explanation of my roots. I’m from Haudenosaunee territory on Turtle Island. Or in today’s colonized terms, “New fuckin’ York.” My father grew up in Akwesasne. I was born on the Onondaga Nation, another Haudenosaunee territory in upstate New York, but I’m not Onondaga. I’m Cherokee through my mother and Mohawk through my father. Deer clan ’til the day I die.
You’re Mohawk and Cherokee – where is your Cherokee side from?
My Cherokee family stems from the Eastern band of Cherokees, located in the Smoky Mountains in modern day North Carolina. Our family was split up and largely displaced during the Trail of Tears, which forced Cherokees to walk from their homes in the South to modern day Oklahoma. My family hid in the hills and refused to leave, later settling in Virginia where my maternal Cherokee grandmother was born. She later migrated from the south to NYC where my mom was born.
The more native people I meet, the more I realize even knowing what my indigenous roots are is a privilege. Since so many of our indigenous ancestors were literally forced to assimilate and remove traditional ties, its no wonder so much of our culture has been lost. Our survival is a part of our resistance and how we fulfill our ancestors wishes.
As a queer Indigenous artist, did you find it challenging to find your voice growing up?
Of course there were difficulties understanding individuality and creative expression within a native community. Growing up, I used my voice in a practical sense. I was extroverted and opinionated, which allowed me work within the systems in place (high school) to champion for gender equality and cultural diversity. I was really vocal about social change, but on the other hand really out of touch with my own emotions. A large part of me finding my artistic voice came in adulthood once I stopped drinking. I started gravitating toward communities that didn’t alienate me because of my indigeneity or queerness. I started building with folks who understood my intersections and eventually found communities that could hold the complexities of my identity as a queer Indigenous person.
When did you decide that hip-hop was how you wanted to express yourself?
In college. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a realization that freestyling was drudging up some beautiful dark twisted fantasies, and I was good at it. It was fun, and I didn’t want to stop. So I found a little crew to rap with and kept it moving.
Who or what are some of the biggest influencers to your music?
Mother Earth, decolonization, reclamation of Indigenous culture, taking up space, non-binary queerness, trappin and the hustle, capitalism and its woes, rezbians, ciphers, Indigenous and Black solidarity, the Haudenosaunee, longhouse, Notorious B.I.G., Kendrick Lamar, Nas, A Tribe Called Red, Chhoti Maa, Sim Seezy, and Derp Frat.
You just finished your west coast Indigenous Medicina Tour with Chhoti Maa. How did you two link up and what do you have planned next?
Chhoti Maa is my ride or die, and vice versa. We met a year ago in Oakland at her performance with her collective BrujaLyfe. I was hi-key blown away by Chhoti’s delivery and her style and knew we had to work together. Chhoti’s one of the best rappers out there, so it seemed only natural that we join forces on a collaborative tour. We are both healers, teachers, artists, poets, lyricists, and community builders, and that’s what we wanted to attract when we named our tour Indigneous Medicina. What came back to us, the people we met, the welcomes we received, the gifts we were given, the space made for our voices, it was so beautiful. We decided to start work on a collaborative EP and are planning another Indigenous Medicina tour on the east coast in October.
Your fb page says you’re open to collaboration. How do you know when you’ve met someone you want to collaborate with?
I get hit up all the time and it can be hard to know who to take seriously and who to follow up on. I prefer to work with people of colour and/or queers whenever possible. I also love when ideas are fleshed out and brought to me because I need to fill a roll in an already existing project, and there’s a link or a draft of the progress.
Do It Ourselves is the title of your upcoming and first EP release. How did you come up with the title and when can we expect a drop?
Do it Ourselves is a mentality-turned-anthem. It’s about being tired of waiting and watching your career stall because of lack of initiative and mismatched work ethics. It’s about taking matters into your own hands and getting shit done. Even as simple as sending that email, following up with a call, a reminder text, whatever. Some things you gotta take charge. Maybe I gotta work on my patience, but in the meantime we gonna Do It Ourselves. I co-produced the album with Sim Seezy, wrapping up the final touches now, and am hoping to drop the 5 track EP in mid-September.
Dio dropped her first music video for her single “Pussy Vortex”in March 2016. It’s a track about “the obsessive all-consuming state when we justify letting everything slide so we can satisfy our unquenchable thirst for a lover.”