By Michaela Whitehawk
For Inez Jasper of Chilliwack, B.C. June 21, 2008 was an unforgettable day. The 27 year-old singer and community health nurse began the day by receiving the National Aboriginal Role Model Program (NARMP) Award, presented to her by Governor General Michaelle Jean. Later that same day Jasper earned first place for her vocal performance in a talent show at the Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival.
Jasper, who was nominated by her peers for the NARMP Award, said she was overwhelmed by the entire experience. The timing of the award ceremony, which was held in Ottawa shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s residential schools apology, made the experience even more meaningful for Jasper, a member of the Skowkale First Nation.
“When Michaelle referred to the residential schools, it reminded me that the work I do as a community health nurse is significant,” she said. “I have family members and people in my community who were affected by residential schools so that made me realize the importance of working in the community to promote healthy lifestyles and healing.”
The NARMP, which is administered by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) honours 12 outstanding aboriginal youth, aged 13 to 30, for their leadership in the community. The goal of the program is to create positive public images of Aboriginal Peoples and to promote aboriginal inspired leadership. Jasper was selected because of her leadership in the aboriginal community as a community health nurse and music artist.
“Some of the strong aspects about Inez are that she is focused on her education and giving back to the community. She is also musically talented and draws strength from her First Nations background for her music,” said NARMP Program Coordinator, Karen Kettler.
Jasper believes being a role model means honoring her ancestors and the traditions that have been passed down for countless generations. Through her music, the singer does her part to keep aboriginal traditions alive. She has already put the $10,000 award money she received from the talent contest towards the production of her first solo album to be released at the end of this summer.
Jasper, who writes and produces her own music, describes her sound as a “blend between hip hop and traditional Stó:lō music,” a fusion she hopes will inspire aboriginal youth to return to their First Nations culture.
“A lot of aboriginal children and youth identify with hip hop because true hip hop is a form of art and expression. It is a way of sharing messages with our people. I see how proud they are to be Native and I am proud to use my music to be a positive role model.”
Jasper’s music is strongly influenced by her personal experiences as a First Nations woman. “The women in my family have taught me to be proud of who I am, to hold my head up high,” she said. That sense of pride in her heritage manifests itself in her unique style of music.
That is not to say that discovering and embracing her own distinct genre of music was easy. “Identifying what I want to achieve, finding my own style and going down an unbeaten path has been difficult,” admitted Jasper.
Taking the ‘unbeaten path’ has lead the artist to write songs such as “Stick-Game Jam,” which features Phillip Lockerby singing a traditional stick game song he composed as the chorus. Like many other songs on Jasper’s upcoming album, “Stick-Game Jam” references Stó:lō culture within the context of a youthful hip-hop beat.
The album is also influenced by Jasper’s work relationships and experiences. “A lot of people think they are love songs, but many of my songs are inspired by my experiences working as an aboriginal nurse,” said the multi-talented Jasper, whose other hobbies include war canoe racing, running and sewing.
What is next for Inez Jasper? Now that she has reached her goal of several years of releasing a solo album, she hopes to start a family with husband of three years, Otis Jasper. The couple plans to build a home on their reservation in Chilliwack, B.C. Developing her nursing career is also a priority for Jasper, who is considering medical school.
Whatever paths she takes in the future, music will continue to be an important aspect of Jasper’s life. For Jasper, music is more than a form of expression, it also keeps her sane. “Writing and singing are good for my health,” she said. “Music is my self-care.”