When the 2016 Juno Awards came to Treaty-Seven Blackfoot Territory, Tsuu T’ina Nation welcomed all of the inspiring artists to the area with an honouring ceremony during a special JunoFest Indigenous Showcase a few nights before the awards. The legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie stood amongst other Juno-nominated Indigenous artists including Black Bear, Armond Duck Chief, Don Amero, Cris Derksen, and Derek Miller. All of the nominees were invited to perform for their brothers and sisters at the Grey Eagle Events Centre, and it was here that they shared their unyielding passion for their craft and culture.
The night started off with the resonating cultural sounds of Black Bear, an Atikamekw drum group from the community of Manawan, Quebec. Their Juno nominated album Come And Get Your Love: The Tribe Session Powwow indulges in the tribal spirit of their ancestry. The group sang in their native tongue over traditional Atikamekw drumming, bringing the audience into the atmosphere of a powwow.
The next act was Armond Duck Chief, a country singer from the Treaty-Seven community of Siksika Nation. “It’s awesome that the Juno’s this year is where I grew up” he told First Nations Drum. “I’m on cloud nine right now, and to just have my name amongst the other Juno nominees—that in and of itself is rewarding. They’re all top notch and have been grinding it out for so long.” Duck Chief performed an acoustic set for the audience, featuring three songs from his Juno nominated album The One. He swept in two awards at the last Indigenous Music Awards for the same album, but had no luck at this years Juno’s. With the expected release of another album in early 2017, it is hoped that Duck Chief will have a chance to rope in an award next year.
Don Amero followed Duck Chief, bringing to the audience his own style of strumming strings to heartfelt ballads. During his uplifting performance, Amero shared music from his Juno nominated album Refine. His album’s theme centres on the removal of toxic impurities in order to create a better sense of self. He spoke to First Nations Drum about how Canada’s community can remove it’s own impurities to create a better tomorrow. “Above all, it is important to have honest relationships with each other,” he says. “Being able to progress is about developing a community and trying to get people to realize that it’s not about government programming. It’s not about saying ‘Hey, here’s some money to help you with your situation.’ It’s about saying ‘I want to walk with you. I want to become a brother. I want to become a cousin. I want to become a friend.’ I think that this is not happening enough, and I think a lot of people in the non-Indigenous community are saying ‘Alright, well we need to fix this problem; I hope the government gets on that.” My mission is to change people’s mind and say ‘It’s not up to the government—It’s up to you.” Although Amero did not win a Juno this year, his vision and voice are vital to have in music.
Next up was half-Cree Albertan musician Cris Derksen, a cellist who captivated the audience with her multi-dimensional performance. She started off with a live improvisation that embraced the acoustics of her cello, creating heavy bevies of beautiful sound by weaving her bow masterfully along its strings. Within her Juno nominated album Orchestral Powwow, Derksen braids traditional powwow singing and drumming together with new-age electronic manipulation, creating unique textures that overlap and culminate in genre-defying arrangements. As for the rest of her performance at the showcase, she decided to share songs that she will be putting onto her upcoming album, including a piece that was written in respect for the missing Indigenous women across Canada. Unlike the other Aboriginal Juno nominees, Derksen was nominated in the category of Instrumental Album of the Year. While she didn’t win the award, she hopes her next album will be nominated for another Juno in 2017.
Blues guitarist Derek Miller of Six Nations in Ontario hit the stage next, belting out songs from his Juno nominated album Rumble. Receiving a Juno in 2003 and 2008, Miller was well-seasoned in his performance at the showcase. With a band accompany him, he rumbled the auditorium with heavy guitar riffs and rocking blues songs. He even did a cover of “Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone, adding his own flare of grittiness and snarling vocals.
Above all, though, Buffy Sainte-Marie was the standout performing artist of the evening. Accompanied by her band, she sang multiple songs from her Juno nominated album Power In The Blood, as well as many others from her past records including “Darling Don’t Cry,” “Universal Soldier,” and “Little Wheel Spin and Spin.” On Juno award night, Sainte-Marie received not only Aboriginal Album of the Year, but was also recognized for her work’s thought-provoking lyricism and received the award for Songwriter of the Year. During her acceptance of the awards, Sainte-Marie shared a spoken word segment of her lyrics from the closing track on her album Carry It On, which she also shared at the JunoFest showcase.
“Hold your head up,” she said. “Lift the top of your mind, put your eyes on the Earth. Lift your heart to your own home planet–what do you see? What is your attitude? Are you here to improve or damn it? Look right now and you will see, we’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is, so take heart and take care of your link with life. It ain’t money that makes the world go around, that’s only temporary confusion. It ain’t governments that make people strong, it’s the opposite illusion. Look right now and you will see, they’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is, so take heart and take care of your link with life… Life is beautiful if you got the sense to take care of your source of perfection. Mother Nature, she’s the daughter of God and the source of all protection. Look right now, and you will see she’s only here by the skin of her teeth as it is, so take heart and take care of your link with life.”
All of these artists exhibit the strength of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, especially through a shared connection to culture, tradition, Mother Earth, and community. Check out these Juno nominated albums to see how our indigenous culture is being represented in the innovative music of today.