When he was growing up in Lapwai, Idaho, Rickey “Deekon” Jones remembers regularly leaving school
at the end of the day to head for the elders’ center on the Nez Perce Reservation where he lived. There,
he would hang out for hours while the women weaved and the men told stories and joked in the
Nimiipuu’s traditional language.
“It was a comfortable place for me to be,” Deekon says. “And outside of that, I managed to stay clear of
substance use, and I credit that a lot to the elders there. They would always tell me stories and tell me
how to act, how to carry myself and everything.”
Even as a young boy, though, Deekon was aware that many of his friends weren’t so fortunate.
“A lot of my friends experienced substances, and they were abusing substances and getting into a lot of
trouble, and they kind of pushed me to see what I could do to change this outcome. I always wanted to
find a way to help them and their families,” he says. “So I think that’s what pushed me, more than
anything, was growing up in that environment.”
Fast forward a few years, and Deekon was on only the second airplane ride of his life, headed to Eastern
Arizona College on a basketball scholarship. His time there lasted less than a year.
“It was culture shock more than anything,” he says. “They didn’t understand my brand of humor as
much. There wasn’t really community. Everybody was there for themselves, and I thought I’d be okay
with that, and then I just started feeling more and more out of place as time went on.”
In his tribe, he says, it’s common to “joke 24/7,” and having to explain himself left him feeling isolated.
“And I’m like, now I’m just sitting around here even more quiet than I already am, and not joking, and I
need to go home.”
He ended up enrolling at North Idaho College in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, which was only a two-hour drive
from Lapwai, and there he found enough Indigenous students to feel like he had a community again. But
it wasn’t long before he left school and moved to Spokane. “I was finished with basketball,” he says. “I
didn’t love it anymore, and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
In Spokane, he lived in his car for six months, parked outside a recording studio. “I had to see if there
was something else I loved,” he says.
He started showing up at the studio every day before most everyone else was there and spent his days
watching the audio engineer work and taking mental notes. “And then one day, he wasn’t available but
he had clients, and I just told them I could do it. And that’s what kind of got me off the street and into
building everything I have music related now,” he says.
A love of music is nurtured
Deekon knew he loved music. His love of music, he says, came from the Motown he used to listen to
with both his father and mother. “My dad had vinyl and eight tracks and my mom, she would always, no
matter what she did, have music playing and it was always Motown, and so every day my life was just
Motown. And so I’m a little kid singing all these Motown songs, and I’ve loved it ever since then.”
Eventually, he started writing his own songs at the studio. At the same time, there were people his own
age and younger coming to the studio to record, and he started writing and selling beats to them. “And
nine out of 10 times, it was something really sad, like minor key beats that were just really good for
storytelling because that’s what I like to do. And they were like whoa, that’s deep, you know, I’ll write
something to it.
“And when they come back, they would have to match the energy of the song, so the songs were really
deep. And I’m like man, I can really talk to these people about their lives through this music,” he says.
“It’s a lot easier than me striking up a conversation with somebody who’s had trauma in their life and
saying, ‘Tell me about your trauma.’ So in talking to artists who were writing to my set, I would be
finding out all these things about their lives.”
A program is born
On his own, he began researching the connection between trauma and the brain, trying to figure out the
correlation to music. He discovered that what he was doing was more along the lines of experiential therapy, as opposed to traditional music therapy. With this new realization, he returned to Lapwai and started working at the Boys and Girls Club. Supplied with just a computer and a microphone, he began a music program. The results were immediate and so powerful that they ended up shutting down the program because the staff members weren’t trained counselors.
Eventually, he got hired to monitor the patients at the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations, an
adolescent residential chemical dependency treatment center in Spokane Valley, Wash. He suggested
trying his music program there with the patients. It took him a while to get permission. At the time, he
says there were a lot of kids getting kicked out for rules violations like running away or destroying
property. So he created a survey to ask the kids what they thought would help.
“And every single kid had music on their list in one form or another, and I brought that back to the
Initially, he was allowed to take kids off-site to a studio to work, but the results were so promising that
he soon got the green light for a formal music program. The result was Healing Through Hip Hop,
although the program welcomed participants to choose their own musical genres. “We’ve done some
country, we’ve done a lot of rock, some spoken word poetry,” Deekon says.
With Deekon’s help, kids in the program wrote, produced, and recorded music, through which they often
revealed the traumas in their lives, a process that was then paired with dependency counseling and
Healing Through Hip Hop attracts national attention
The approach was so successful, it attracted considerable attention from the mainstream medical
establishment. In 2011, Healing Through Hip Hop won the “Innovative Program of the Year” from the
Washington State Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery. The next year, Deekon was a finalist
in President Obama’s Native Youth Challenge. In 2013, the program partnered with Harvard Medical
School’s Division on Addiction.
Recently, Deekon has been working with the University of Washington’s CoLab for Community and
Behavioral Health, which engages community expertise and research evidence to make changes in
behavioral health policy and systems. Through this partnership, he completed a training manual, and the
program is being evaluated to determine if it qualifies as an evidence-based practice.
“This program came from the Reservation,” Deekon says. “This program isn’t built on Western standards
of psychology, and now with working through this training manual and working with the CoLab, it will be
an evidence-based program that’s culturally competent.”
There is the hope that Healing Through Hip Hop will become a pilot program for how other community-based programs are evaluated and adopted. Along the way, Deekon says he’s had to fight for the program to be recognized by Western medicine as effective and worthy of funding, and he’s aware that many community-based programs haven’t been so lucky.
“It’s been so frustrating, and I’ve just kind of been so stubborn that I never gave up,”
He recently began a new venture, founding an organization called Community Development Initiative
with the mission of increasing neighborhood vitality throughout Spokane, where he lives part-time, by
serving BIPOC businesses and entrepreneurs with training and education, funding, and increased
visibility. He sees an opportunity to help individuals and programs succeed that are all-too-often ignored
by mainstream establishments, because they are BIPOC led and may not qualify for traditional loans and
“And you’re trying to come into a predominantly White space, and so I want to provide the space to be
able to fund those programs, give them space to operate and grow, just like I’ve struggled to do,” he
says. “I hope to be the one that goes through all that storm and makes it a little less turbulent for those
who come after me.”
Join Potlatch Fund in congratulating Deekon as our 2021 Spirit of Reciprocity Awardee at the 19th Annual Fundraising Gala for a week of Giving & Gala Events celebrating Indigenous Vibrancy. Monday, November 1 – Saturday, November 6, 2021. Register and tune in to see Deekon’s award – Nov. 4th
Register HERE: https://bit.ly/19thAnnualGalaRegistration