[Writer’s note: I conducted this interview in person just after I started at New Age Retailer magazine in 1998. I was a big fan, and the marriage of my new role (as assistant editor) and a surprise opportunity (R. Carlos was touring with the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet and coming through Bellingham, Washington, just then) was too much to pass up. That synchronicity led to all the interviews I’ve done in the spiritual community in the dozen years since. I attended the concert and interviewed R. Carlos in his hotel room in Bellingham.]
Ray: Is your role to some extent that of a teacher, particularly in terms of sharing aspects of native culture with the mainstream?
R. Carlos: I’m not on a crusade of any kind to persuade people about one thing or another with regard to my culture or anyone else’s culture or about being in the world, because I feel like what I do serves me well, and I expect others to find those things in the world that serve them well from their own perspective.
And of course it’s all unqualified, because being schooled and having attended many universities I’ve found that having a personal philosophy is regarded as merely an opinion. So in order for me to become a philosopher I would have to get numerous doctoral degrees—in other words, complete a lot of paperwork to reiterate what’s been said already. And I’m not into that.
I’m more, let’s do this as a childlike adventure. Let’s just get out there and see the world and play to people and talk to them about how I feel and how we all feel about being here, now. That’s most important to me.
So I do that primarily. I don’t carry a torch for anyone. I don’t represent anyone besides myself. There are many who would like for me to be a role model for native culture and traditions, but I am not. I’m only one person.
And there are a number of us as individual native people who are all making an effort to allow people to understand we are still here and viable as cultural beings, and it’s all of us together, rather than just me or anyone else like me or any other well-known musician out there who is of native descent, you know, to say that I represent everyone.
I was admonished early on by an elder who said don’t you ever, ever go out there and say you’re going to help your people. Because, one, we don’t need your help, and two, don’t ever suppose that you know more than anyone else does. And if you begin saying you are the sum total of all native awareness at this point and you speak for all natives, then realize you’re being a fool. Which is all very true, so I speak only for myself.