Paul LaRoche, founder and producer of the award-winning Native American music group, Brule, which merges cultural rock and theatrical instrumentations with the emotional impact of the American Indian culture, shares the remarkable story of how he learned about his true identity.
“I guess if I go kind of back to the beginning of the real story— there’s really a kind of a human interest background to this thing— I was one of the Native American children who was adopted at birth,” said LaRoche. “I was removed from South Dakota’s Indian reservation system, and I was raised by two wonderful adoptive parents. I grew up actually in southwestern Minnesota, small town called Worthington. But here’s this strange twist that really launched a lot of things for the group, for the Brule, a journey: I was never told of my true Native American heritage.”
Since Native American culture was so taboo during the 20th century, LaRoche’s adoptive parents kept his indigenous heritage from him, and instead told him he was French-Canadian.
“It never came up one time,” said LaRoche. “And it never really came up until I lost both of my parents in a short period of time. Over the course of several months, I lost both my mom and my dad. My wife, Cathy, while going through their personal items, discovered an envelope that contained some information about the adoption. And so, she had enough wherewithal to realize that she was going to search that out on her own before she told me anything about it, because she didn’t know where that was going to lead to. So, she began a search that started in 1987. It lasted for five years. So, for five years, she’s kind of worked behind the scenes. And lo and behold, one evening in 1993, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I got a phone call from our small apartment in Minneapolis, and on the other end of the line was a gentleman who introduced himself as my biological brother. And his first words to me were, ‘Hey, bro, you know, you’re a Lakota.’”
At the end of the conversation, LaRoche’s brother said something that would change both of their lives forever: “Come home.”
The brothers were reunited on Thanksgiving Day of 1993, on the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation of South Dakota, which is the smallest of the Sioux Indian reservations
As LaRoche spent more and more time on the reservation, it became clear that he could use his musical abilities, which were fostered by his adoptive parents, to represent the culture he recently re-discovered.
The idea for Brule came to LaRoche during his first ever powwow.
“I had never been to pow wow before, ever. So, our first time, I was kind of transformed artistically, musically, and as I kind of absorbed the tribal sounds and the drumbeats and the chants and everything that was going on— I always credit that first summer in 94, our first pow wow, when the idea for the Brule music was born. Because I heard the tribal beats, I heard the tribal sounds, and in my mind, I still heard the rock and roll music that I grew up with. So, there was a little fusion that took place in my head, there was a fusion of tribal beats and sounds and what today we would call classic rock. And I just I heard it in my head, and I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s the music that they will try to produce.’”