Photo Cred: Blacklisted
Meet bassist and singer Elizabeth McKenzie, guitarist Rebecca Jones, and drummer Lisa Lorenzo. These three Navajo musicians make up Nizhóní Girls, an indigenous surf band hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The “Nizhóní Girls,” which means “beautiful girls” in the Diné language, met in high school and started playing together in 2015. Since then, the group has grown more skilled; defying classic stereotypes of their gender. Each member is active in their local music scene, separately playing in different bands. They help run an all-ages DIY space and craft costumes and artwork for small venues and for other musicians.
As Nizhóní Girls, the three create surf rock born from jam sessions. “We sit around a fire and sing. Nayye!” Jones shares. The band offers a positive message and refreshing take on rock ’n’ roll. “We are close friends, and we all have a passion for preserving our culture, bringing awareness to indigenous struggles, and inspiring indigenous youth to discover their own healthy ways of self-expression,” the band says. “Our lyrics come from things we love about our indigenous culture.” A couple of subjects they explore are love, inside jokes, and advocating for decolonization.
“That colonist idea of manifest destiny, which has led to the genocide and destruction of indigenous folx and the land as well as black slaves brought over by tradesmen,” McKenzie says about the colonization of the Americas. “It’s the idea that indigenous tribes didn’t know how to handle the land, so they took it away, that we were merciless savages.” She relates that attitude to present day conflicts like the Dakota Access Pipeline, fracking in Oklahoma or uranium mining on Diné land. “And there’s the ongoing tragedy that is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic, where we’re considered such lesser people that our deaths and abductions are tossed aside easily. So,” she continues, “we’re continuously advocating against that belief through community work, amplifying indigenous womxn’s voices and supporting two spirit/LGBTQ advocates.”
For Nizhóní Girls, creating music goes hand in hand with advocating for the justice and proper treatment of indigenous people and their land. “It’s a lot of work,” Jones admits, “because trying to break down hundreds of years of colonization and heteropatriarchy that is normalized in our country is not going to happen overnight. Using music and other forms of creative art for expression is a healthy outlet and definitely helped me get through some tough times. I also use my platform with Nizhóní Girls and my other bands to spread advocacy around issues such as sex trafficking, fracking, domestic violence, and sexual violence.”
“…we all have a passion for preserving our culture, bringing awareness to indigenous struggles, and inspiring indigenous youth to discover their own healthy ways of self-expression.”
Jones also wants to see more positive femme representation in the native DIY scene. “Representation is important to us as a band and empowering indigenous folx to start bands,” she says. “I feel that it’s still difficult for bands of people of color to find venues and spaces, or to simply feel comfortable playing in certain spaces, because it’s still dominated by a predominantly white scene.”
In that vein, the three musicians also organized and raised money for the Asdzáá Warrior Fest this past June at K’É Info Shop in Window Rock, Arizona. The goal of the festival was to create a safe space for others to express themselves. “The idea for the fest was developed by our queer-identified friend Brad Charles. As indigenous self-identified womxn, we took it upon ourselves to take rein and make the fest a reality,” the group explains. “In addition to musical acts and community presenters, we invited organizations to table about environmental racism, sexual and domestic violence, sex education, [we had] on-site HIV testing, and more. Asdzáá Warrior Fest is about empowerment through bringing back our matriarch and smashing hetero-patriarchy!”
Perhaps this band is just what America needs right now—a dedicated group reclaiming the narrative on the indigenous experience in its own words and through the powerful channel of music.
This article was featured in the Outlaw issue of Tom Tom. Purchase it online.