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Inside a recital hall on the Austin Community College (ACC) Highland Campus, the sound of Dr. Aaron Ishcomer Pyle’s flute echoed from the stage, surrounding the honored guests with music both beautiful and powerful.

Pyle performed at ACC on Wednesday, November 16 in the Highland Campus Recital Hall. His presentation, ”Walking a Long Road: From Colonization to Reclamation in Native American Music, Culture and Community” interweaved personal stories, music, and lecture to form a tapestry of Native American identity, history, and culture.

Pyle, a Native American flute player, and storyteller, shared his story of growing up on a Choctaw Reservation in Oklahoma, in a family with a long history of involvement in Native issues. He explains:

“Coming from that part of the world, Native American culture is just interwoven into everyday life. Our mountains, our cities, even our street names are named after Choctaw words. Many of the teachers that taught me in the local school were Choctaw.”

He discussed moving to Central Texas at thirteen and being abruptly disconnected from his Choctaw community. Then, as an undergrad at Texas State University, he happened upon a powwow on campus. Pyle described the memory:

“I was walking across campus, and I began to hear drums echoing off the buildings. Walking towards the student center and seeing feathers and colors and all this great stuff I recognized from my childhood. It was the campus powwow being put on.”

The Powwow drew him back into a Native community, specifically the Native American Student organization of Texas State University. For Pyle, reconnecting with the local Native population changed his life. He also pointed out how important it is to have representation in higher education spaces.

After describing this impactful experience, Dr. Pyle again raises the flute to his lips, playing a melody while his story sinks in.

Pyle’s Biography

Dr. Pyle is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and an active contributor to the Central Texas Intertribal community. He is a member of the Four Winds Intertribal Society, serves as Co-Chair of the Sacred Springs Powwow, and is a member of the Indigenous Cultures Institute’s Board of Elders.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Anthropology from Texas State University, a Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on Native American experiences in higher education.

As a Native American flute player, Pyle has performed at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival, and numerous educational and cultural institutions across the state.

This is Pyle’s first performance at ACC.

Point of Departure

In the introduction of his lecture, Pyle discussed the legacy of settler colonialism and the process of destruction of Native people and culture. While incredibly important to acknowledge, Pyle asserts this as a ‘point of departure’ that is frequently the only story told of Native people. He pointed out, “Too often the only stories that get told about Native people are stories of damage, of pain and oppression.”

When these are the only stories told about Native people, Pyle explained, “All it does is make it more and more challenging for us to escape those narratives.”

He continuously reiterated the great successes of Indian Country in the realm of healthcare, economics, education, and music and those stories also need to be heard. He reminded us that many Native tribes have federally recognized governments, court systems, police departments, and schools.

Pyle also discussed the modern Urban Indian community – 50 percent of Natives live in cities. Native city life is vibrant and brings together a cacophony of different Native cultures. The most prominent example of this intertribal community coming to life is the yearly Powwow.

The Power of the Powwow

For those of us who have never been to a Powwow, Pyle attempts to describe the magnificence and beauty of the scene. The Powwow is a festival that brings together many different tribes and all kinds of cultural activities. According to Pyle, the Powwow is, “One of our most powerful ways of connecting and building community not only with ourselves, but with the outside public.”

At the heart of the Powwow is the drum: around the drum brings a sacred space where Natives from many different cultures come together in dance, prayer, and joyful celebration. In addition to the music, he describes the various types of dress, food, storytelling, and crafts throughout the event.

Pyle is co-chair of the Sacred Springs Powwow in San Marcos.  The Sacred Springs Powwow happens on the shores of Spring Lake, the longest continually inhabited location in North America and home to the Coahuiltecan people.  In addition to the Sacred Springs Powwow, there are dozens of Powwows in Texas over the course of the year, including the Austin Powwow which is the largest single-day Powwow in the nation and brings dancers and vendors from all over the country.

Music History, Two Ways

To close out the presentation Pyle brought us back to the music.  He shared some of the history of Native instruments, including the drum and the flute, referencing the vast diversity within music throughout Native cultures.  He discussed various types of drums across cultures and the immense significance of the drum in most Native tribes. He showcased a traditional hand drum that is most often attributed to traditions of the Great Plains. According to Pyle, Native music, much like music in any culture, continues to evolve and grow.

Pyle ended the presentation with a story of “how the flute came to the people.”

The story is one that is passed down through generations and bestows wonder and spirituality to the flute through storytelling. It involves a young man who loved music but did not feel as though he had found his own voice or instrument.  He went into the woods to find his song, hiking for weeks, finally dreaming of a red-headed woodpecker who eventually led him to the flute.

The story, told in between Pyle’s own flute playing, was a beautiful end to the evening.

Native American Heritage Celebration at ACC

Dr. Aaron’s Pyle lecture was made possible through a collaboration between the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division (TLED) and the ACC Music Department.

To learn more about Pyle, visit the Indigenous Cultures Institute website or read his dissertation about Native Americans in Higher Education.

The lecture was part of the ACC Cultural Mosaic Project:  Native American Heritage Celebration.  To  learn more about this celebration visit:

You can watch the recording of Pyle’s performance here.

Written by: Kameko Jacobs, Instructional Communications Specialist

Edited by Rachel Barrera, Interim Director, Faculty Communications