The red carpet at this year’s Juno Awards included some of the most prolific and noteworthy stars in the world of music and art. From Marvel star, Simu Lui, to the human attached to Shawn Mendes’ exceptional hair and grin, there was no shortage of excitement. However, a major standout at this year’s event was more structural rather than individual in scope.
In light of the growing demand for Indigenous art, the Juno’s program has evolved to highlight a broader range of the eclectic talent our community has to offer. The previous category of Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year was split in two this ceremony. Alongside the newly titled Traditional Indigenous Artist of the Year award came the Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year award sponsored by The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). Traditional and Contemporary artists were previously included in the same group of nominees. All this to say, after a two-year hiatus, the Juno’s triumphant return was championed by the artistry of our People.
The energy was palpable as Indigenous talent assembled on the red carpet with a uniform mission: to uplift our communal culture and craft. Each and every artist was proudly taking up space in the Canadian music landscape that was rightfully theirs and had previously gone unappreciated by a national audience. At this moment, any notion of “competition” had become obsolete, and the artists representing both Indigenous categories had unified to simply celebrate Indigenous excellence in Canada.
This comradery was also demonstrated through the partnership between sponsors, The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), and the Junos. This collaboration is part of the consistent efforts by the organization to uplift Indigenous artists and creators. In uplifting our community’s best and brightest, we will also be sponsoring The Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival and PowWow Pitch in June. What is becoming increasingly evident in ITAC’s mission to immerse ourselves in the Indigenous creator network is that the gap between tourism and art is narrower than one would imagine. While discussing every artist’s origin story, there seems to be a ubiquitous muse at the root of all of their art: the land. This shared reverence for community and travel makes these partnerships a seamless fit and something that ITAC is eager to expand on as an organization.
Here are the nominees for the Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year from this past weekend:
Shawnee Kish, Shawnee Kish. The soulful and powerful vocals of Shawnee Kish’s debut EP are unmistakable and will entrench them as a powerhouse for years to come. Think Adele if Adele was an incredible two-spirit, Mohawk person advocating for LGTQ2S+ and Indigenous communities through her music. Kish’s art is fiercely authentic and although this is just her first studio album, she has already shared stages with the likes of Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Madonna.
Jayli Wolf, Wild Whisper. Jayli Wolf’s most recent album is unlike any other. The Saulteau First Nations member’s newest work is an autobiographical account that explores her father’s experience in the 60’s Scoop, and in her words, “releasing the shame and guilt instilled in me around my bisexuality, depression and mental health, post-traumatic growth, and reclaiming my Indigenous heritage.” It is a winding and soothing sound with intense, booming, and welcome, interruptions of ambient noise and piercing group choruses. A deeply emotional album that you are invited to feel alongside Wolf.
DJ Shub, War Club. The Mohawk DJ, producer, and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, perhaps better known as the Godfather of the PowWowStep, has released a classic in War Club. With collaborations including fellow nominee Snotty Nose Rez Kids as well as…Randy Bachman – which somehow works because Shub is so prolific and talented. Shub is no stranger to the Canadian music awards with an Indigenous Music Award nomination at the 2018 Juno Awards for his PowWowStep EP and an inclusion on the shortlist for the esteemed Polaris Music Prize Award in 2013.
Adrian Sutherland, When the Magic Hits. The longtime frontman of the all-Cree rock group Midnight Shine, Sutherland is the roots-rock artist you throw on when you are seeking comfort and just end up losing yourself in the thoughtful lyrics. A member of Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay, Sutherland’s When the Magic Hits is deeply emotional with tracks about his mother’s experience at Residential School. Stil His love of the land he lives on and its people is constantly reflected in his songs and videos.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Life After. It seems to be a yearly occurrence that Snotty Nose Rez Kids are up for nomination in the landscape of the Canadian music awards. From a Polaris Music Prize shortlist in 2018 and 2019 to a Juno nominee for their albums Average Savage and TRAPLINE, they are everywhere.Their most recent release, Life After, shows the growth and expansion of the fearlessly political hip-hop duo of Haisla descent from Kitimat, BC. A distinctly newer sound emanates from Life After in comparison to the 90’s style hip-hop of their previous works with clear punk and synth-driven influence. It is a new era for the unstoppable duo.
When all was said and done it was DJ Shub who walked away with the first ever Juno in the category of Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year. It was a huge night from Shub who also performed alongside Snotty Nose Rez Kids in what was an emotional and intense collaboration that filled the room with energy as they performed War Club and Uncle Rico.
Indigenous excellence was also honoured through the achievements of Cree and Salish artist, Fawn Wood (winner of the Traditional category), and Inuit singer, Susan Aglukark, who received an honorary award for her humanitarian efforts. When asked about her thoughts on Indigenous Tourism, Susan said, “I always say that every Canadian should experience the arctic once. Don’t be afraid to take the chance to travel up there, because it will be worth your while. The communities are incredibly close-knit and traditional so please respect their boundaries. But they’re also very open and generous in sharing community life – so trust that as well.”