Home National museum Max Hiroshi Yamane: Building Indigenous Relationships | Smithsonian Voices

Max Hiroshi Yamane: Building Indigenous Relationships | Smithsonian Voices


Max Yamane in his fancy dance regalia and Virginia Richard are Head Man Dancer and Head Lady Dancer where they were responsible for leading the dances at the annual Tunica Biloxi Powwow in Marksville, Louisiana.
Photo courtesy of Max Yamane

Max Hiroshi Yamane was named after his grandfather Yamane Hiroshi, who was Nisei (second-generation Japanese American), meaning his parents immigrated to America and Hiroshi was born in America. Max’s grandfather, Hiroshi, owned a farm in King County, Washington, near Seattle. His grandfather Hiroshi’s family was from Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, hostility toward Japanese Americans escalated. As a direct result, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing his grandfather, his family, and more than 120,000 people of Japanese (Nikkei) ancestry living on the West Coast from their homes, jobs, and homes. life and force them to 10 prison camps across the United States. Minidoka, also known as Hunt Camp, was one such internment camp where Hiroshi and his family were sent. During his internment, the King County farm his grandfather Hiroshi owned was seized by the US government and is now Boeing Airfield. After the internment and the end of the war, his grandfather worked for the United States Postal Service.


1942.This photo was intended to be “like” a yearbook at a school, but was created for incarcerated Japanese Americans. The name of this book is the Minidota Interlude. Max’s grandfather, Hiroshi, is under the green arrow. Hiroshi’s mother is under the aqua arrow. Hiroshi’s younger sister is under the dark blue arrow.

Photo and text courtesy of Max Yamane

Max’s grandmother, Ogawa Tsuruyo, grew up in the town of Shiyogama, near Sendai, Japan. She lived in Tokyo during World War II. After the war, she left Japan to help care for her niece’s children in Moses Lake, Washington in the mid-1950s. It was her intention to return to Japan until she met the grand- Max’s father, Hiroshi. Together they moved to Seattle.


Grover and Max Yamane pose for a photo after graduating from James Mason University in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Photo courtesy of Max Yamane

Their son, Max’s father, Grover Kunihero Yamane, joined the United States Air Force and was stationed in Panama City, Panama, where he met Max’s mother, Jill, originally from German, Scottish, British and Dutch. While in the Air Force, his parents were stationed around the world. Max was born in Florsheim am Main, Germany and has a brother Miles Kunihero Yamane. When asked what his father taught him about his Japanese heritage, he replied, “I begged him to teach me things when I was a kid. But he never said anything. I only learned things when I visited my grandmother in Seattle, which unfortunately wasn’t often. Max added, “I learned a simple Japanese language, some mannerisms, and her experience of living in Japan during World War II from her.”

Due to Air Force postings, Max’s father moved his wife and two sons to San Antonio in 1997, then to Florida in 2001, then back to San Antonio in 2003. While in college circa 2007, Max attended the Crossroads Powwow in San Antonio. and became interested in native culture. The more Native people saw him at different social events, the more he was accepted by members of the local Native community. He found the native community of San Antonio very friendly and started asking questions about the art of fancy dancing. With the encouragement and support of his new Aboriginal friends, Max began dancing, a move that would change his life.

After graduating from high school in 2012, Max moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia to attend James Madison University and major in sociocultural anthropology. At JMU, he became involved in the Native student community and spent most of his free time with his new Native friends. He also began to continue dancing at events throughout the mid-Atlantic region and became interested in a new passion: Indigenous music.


Max (far right) leads the Baltimore Round Dance with members Zotigh Singers and Uptown Boys. This event was sponsored by Native American Lifelines/Urban Indian Health Services of Baltimore.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Zotigh

Max earned a BA from JMU, then enrolled at the University of Maryland at College Park to pursue a master’s degree in ethnomusicology. In his new location, he began singing with local drumming groups at powwows, political protests, and community events. He coordinated the University of Maryland Pow Wow which had not been held for many years. Seeing his potential and honest respect for native culture, he became like family to many natives in the DC, Maryland and Virginia area.

At the University of Maryland, Max began his master’s thesis titled “Songs to Soothe a Mother: Intertextuality and Inter Tribalism in Kiowa War Mother Songs,” which focused on how the intertextuality of Kiowa War Mother songs connects the Ethos and Martial Practices of Kiowa. reservation time to war in the 20th century. To do this, he moved to Oklahoma for the summer to research and learn directly from Kiowa Tribal Elders and Knowledge Holders. In Oklahoma, he stayed with natives who treated him like family and trusted him to record their cultural knowledge. Max’s new native parents approved of him and introduced him to important tribal elders to interview.

Kiowa Elder Delores Toyebo Harragarra shared her experience working with Max. “Our family met Max Yamane in the summer of 2017 at the Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program community outreach event in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” she said. “Max was interested in Kiowa songs. We invited him to our home in Carnegie, Oklahoma for a visit and a discussion about his study of various Kiowa songs. Max is a very engaging young man, very respectful of Native American culture. Our family is very lucky to have met Max, he has endeared himself not only to our family but also to the other members of the Kiowa tribe.


Max Yamane (far left) in the winner’s circle after competing with other champion costume dancers at the annual Otoe-Missouria Camp Pow Wow in Red Rock, Oklahoma

Photo courtesy of Max Yamane

During his first summer in Oklahoma, Max went to powwows and competed in the Men’s Fancy Dance category. At powwows, he was invited to sit in various powwow drums by other southern plains singers. He quickly picked up songs from different tribes and learned to lead them. Over time, Max also started composing powwow songs. His talents were discovered by the singer of the famous powwow group Otter Trail. He was invited by the lead singer to travel with them for singing engagements all over Indian Country. After several summers of traveling, the Otter Trail singer gave Max one of Indian Country’s most prestigious gifts, his own personal song.

“My adopted son, Max, has already been asked to serve as the principal dancer for the Tunica Biloxi Powwow in Louisiana,” said Alexander Santos, lead singer of the Otter Trail Singers. “The greatest gift an individual can receive is their own personal song. So, I composed one for them to use for such an occasion. This song was made even more special with the lyrics added by Mr. Ralph Zotigh It’s a sign of someone who is loved and admired and that makes this song even more special.

The lyrics of this song are truly unique as they blend Max’s Japanese heritage including the Japanese language directly into a song that is sung at Native powwows. Part of the Japanese language in the song describes Max’s surname, when translated means “root of the mountain” or “foot/base of the mountain”.

Through his work on his master’s thesis, Max developed an interest in learning the Kiowa language. To acquire this knowledge, Max attends the Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program twice a week. In this program, Max and Kiowa educators virtually meet with Kiowa elders to learn about language, customs and history. Max actively practices the Kiowa language while participating in this program and with his Kiowa family.

Beyond powwows and educational efforts, Max also works to assist tribes, tribal programs, and tribal organizations with special project grant opportunities as a contractor with Tribal Tech, LLC and their parent agency. , the Association for Native Americans (ANA) in Washington, D.C.

Young Brinson, Team Lead Program Specialist for Tribal Tech, LLC, had this to say about Max: “Max Yamane is a sought-after Program Specialist here at ANA. He is dedicated to serving his beneficiaries at all levels. and has been instrumental in various high-profile projects.” He is one of our Language Think Tank team members and always provides excellent insight into language resources and pedagogies. Max is what I’d like to call a recipient’s best friend considering everything he brings to the table. ”

Max has completed his M.A. and is currently a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland with research interests in American Indian Southern Plains music and dance, powwow, Native protest music and language revitalization and music. Like other respected non-Indigenous researchers and scholars before him, Max’s curiosity, openness to learning, and deferential approach to relationship building allowed him to learn and record information directly from respected indigenous peoples.