Before I get these artists on the mic, I first want to recognize the context for which First Nations people are now in. For over six decades… the Canadian state actively enforced a potlatch ban through the Indian Act. Ceremonies, which are an integral part of many First Nations cultures, were pushed underground from 1885 until as recently as 1951.
For those who don’t know, potlatches are different than potlucks. A potluck is where you and your friends get your friends together, bring a different dish, and share a meal, while potlatches are a formal event and institution, developed over thousands of years by many coastal First Nations communities of the pacific northwest.
These events are integral to our economic system, our relationships to one another, our relationships to other Indigenous Nations, and our relationships to our respective territories. The potlatch, or feasts as they’re called where I’m from, involves singing, dancing, gift giving, and of course a central part of our culture’s: food.
But because of the potlatch ban, we weren’t able to practice these ceremonies, including our songs and dances for sixty six years. That is entirely within our parents and grandparents generations. This is a part of the history of the past 150 years of confederation in Canada. So in channeling my inner George Erasmus, what do we have to celebrate?
We’ll I’m going to channel my inner JB The First Lady and quote a line from her 2014 album Indigenous Girl Lifestyle:
we sing songs of victory,
they did not kill the indian in the child.
We sing songs of victory,
we overcame waves of genocide.
We sing songs of victory.
We are on our healing journey,
With this in mind, what about the next 150 years? What can our future look like as Indigenous peoples? How are we going to create that change for ourselves? How can our allies make space and help us achieve our aspirations? What can our future look like in the year 21-67? And is this possible with music, art and activism?
Music has always been a part of our cultures as Indigenous peoples. But now we’re in every genre; traditional music, hip-hop, folk, electronic, metal, jazz, classical, we’re doing it all! Through technology, we can create music with few resources and project it to a massive audience! If you have a laptop and an internet connection, your stuff can be up on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Youtube, Google Play, or Spotify. There are many different ways for us to connect with each other.
Not only is the technology available, but we are now expressing ourselves in different ways. As JB reminded me earlier today, music and spoken word is just another expression of our oral histories. Artists are creating commentary that reflects specific cultural views and experiences. The Snotty Nose Rez Kids song “The Clash of the Clans” and “Fish ‘n’ Rice” are two songs that, I argue, people can easily relate to from northwest. If you’re from a fishing community, you know what they’re talking about. And that’s such a beautiful thing about music, it acts as a cultural unifier despite the diaspora of Indigenous people from our home territories.
In Prince Rupert, I’m listening to Snotty Nose Rez Kids, much like my friends in Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Lax Kw’alaams… This democratization of media and technology is creating online communities, where we can connect, collaborate, sample, remix and inspire.
Being Indigenous is political. And when you’re in a position to influence people’s perspectives, or ways of knowing, I find that Indigenous artists take that. They take that and use that audience to challenge negative stereotypes, and bring awareness to issues that Indigenous peoples face. Both of these artists are bringing awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the importance of traditional foods… JB talks about reconciliation in her work, bringing up First Nations peoples and communities… on and off the album. When you’re woke… you’re WOKE. And that’s what makes Indigenous artists so special.
When you’re woke… you’re WOKE. And that’s what makes Indigenous artists so special.