Native American Plains flute player David Inda from Bartlesville serenaded Hominy Gardeners’ Market customers as they shopped Saturday morning at the corner of Price and Main. Inda took time during quiet moments to share how he came to be a flute player and the history of the flute.
His late friend, Michael Joe “Mickey” Morrison,” who worked with him at Phillips Petroleum, encouraged him to learn the flute and play.
“About 15 years ago I had some life changes that caused me to turn to the flute as an outlet and it just kind of blossomed,” Inda said, noting he would play outside in downtown Bartlesville during his work breaks.
Over time, his friend Mike Elkins gave him several flutes as gifts.
Inda said, “The flute took me places I’d have never thought about. I thought I was healing myself, but I realized it touched so many people. At times I thought of stopping, but my friend said, ‘that’s a gift you don’t walk away from without consequences.’”
One day he played at the Washington Park Mall in Bartlesville; a man from Woolaroc heard him and asked him to play at the Mountain Man Camp there, which he did.
He has also played at Doenges Stadium entrance for the baseball series held there, at Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club functions, at the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show events and at Prairie Song in Dewey.
“The flute speaks volumes without me saying a word. It crosses all the barriers between people. Flute music soothes. It’s not about the money. It’s about blessing people,” he said.
One irony, according to Inda, is he doesn’t read music, so each time he plays the melody is unique — and he claims to be partially tone deaf.
“Because I play from the heart, it’s hard for me to promise to play something again,” he said.
Nonetheless, when he plays the flute, magic happens.
“You breathe into the flute whatever Creator gives you — part of the story of your life, the story of the flute-maker’s life and part of the story of the flute itself — the materials it’s made of combines and whatever comes out is mean to bless people. It’s not me. I’m just the vessel that Creator uses,” Inda said.
The Native American Plains flute is unique because it is a two-chamber instrument — a lot like a recorder — made to hand and arm measurements. One of the flutes he also plays is the river cane flute.
“There is a membrane inside and there’s a hole on either side. It acts like a fibble on a flute and causes it to vibrate,” Inda said.
“Historically, the flute was played by young men to win young women’s hearts,” Inda said. “The young men would stand by the creek where the women gathered water and play. Playing the flute was something to do. They’d sit outside the lodge and play. Women would come outside and talk, begin to get to know the men and plans to marry would result.”
In the early 20th century, the Native American Plains flute and the ceremonies at which it was played were frowned upon by white society and white boarding schools, Inda said.
“The culture was lost,” Inda said. “The resurgence of the Native American Plains flute happened right here in Oklahoma. In the 1960’s three men began bringing the flute back: Doc Tate Nevaquava, Tom Mauchahty-Ware and Woodrow Haney.
“Flute player Carlos Nakai is quoted as saying that when he started those three were the only ones playing. Doc Tate would trade flute playing for art. He has a son who still plays,” Inda said.
While not sure of his geneology, Inda has been accepted in Native American circles. He played at the Copan Pow Wow and at the Delaware, or Lenape, Pow Wows.
His playing has a spiritual component. As he plays, Inda watches a hawk circle or a butterfly move and this influences his music.
“All of that ends up in the music some way,” he said.“Each flute has a different story to tell and a difference voice. Like each of us, we have our own voice and our own story. If we use our voice and stories right, we bless Creator.”