Everything is Sacred in Boise Philharmonic's Sacred Land



Sacred Land: A Tribute to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, an orchestral and ballet piece, had its world premiere Nov. 16 in Nampa and a second showing at the Morrison Center Nov. 17. Composed by Jim Cockey, the piece tells the story of the native peoples who hail from the Boise Valley.

The performance opened with a creation story acted out by Ballet Idaho dancers in beige uniforms—the women with tassels about their waists—that blended the origins of flora, fauna and finally the humans who would come to inhabit southern Idaho, set to a throbbing drum beat and chorus accompaniment provided throughout by Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale. In the second act, the natives broke into groups and began to interact.

The third act described the forced relocation of native peoples by the U.S. Army to Fort Hall. A white sheet enveloped the dancers, becoming back-lit with red light to symbolize the violence of the forced march. The brief final movement, "To the Healing of All People," tied Sacred Land up with a bow.

This was the opening event of Boise 150, the celebration of the city's sesquicentennial, and Cockey wrote Sacred Land to commemorate Boise as a point of intersection for European and Native American cultures. As he explained at a panel discussion the morning of Nov. 17 at Boise Art Museum, composing music about that intersection required an open mind—and open ears.

"My major job in developing this piece is listening," Cockey said.

Cockey was writing about a subject that appears in few history books: the spiritual origin and physical displacement of southwestern Idaho's first inhabitants. For research, he traveled to Fort Hall, where he found a trove of recorded indigenous music that inspired his own composition.

His project was met with some skepticism. As Ted Howard of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe explained at the panel discussion, "One hundred and fifty years isn't a long time for our people and the events of those times are still fresh in our memories."

"We always feel like our culture is being commercialized. We always feel suspect," Howard added.

Despite its technical merits, Sacred Land offered no moral insights nor did it shock the audience with the violence and exploitation of the historical division between Native Americans and Europeans. But at least it told the story.

Ultimately, the collaboration will be judged on whether it did right by its subject—whether it's another song-and-dance routine by a pale face for other pale faces, or a step toward bridging the gap between Idaho's past and present.