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Mainstream Indigenous music spreads important messages to the masses

In the past decade, social media has opened up opportunities for more diverse voices to be heard, enabling Indigenous musicians to reach wider audiences on their own terms. CBC’s top 10 Canadian songs of 2021 included Jayli Wolf’s “Child of the Government” which retells the story of Wolf’s father being taken in the ‘60s Scoop. “Child of the Government” has almost one million views on YouTube. Social media is able to amplify artists like Wolf, which is especially important for their Indigenous audiences.

A husband and wife stand beside each other in winter coats.
Indie pop duo Twin Flames showcase Indigenous languages through their music.

Wishe Spring is an Indigenous student at Mohawk College . He listens to many Indigenous artists and explained why they are so important to him, and the different ways their music represents Indigenous people.

One of the artists Spring mentioned is the Indie band Twin Flames, a husband-and-wife duo based out of Ottawa. Twin Flames uses a mix of English, French and Inuktitut in their lyrics, and Spring said their use of Indigenous language drew him to their music, even though he doesn’t speak Inuktitut.

“They have a song that’s about how our languages aren’t dying,” Spring said. “They’re just asleep, because some people do speak them. They’re just not common right now.”

Spring said Indigenous artists reaching broader, non-Indigenous audiences makes it easier to teach the history of Indigenous people in Canada. He referred to Juno Award nominee Leonard Sumner, an Anishinaabe musician based out of Winnipeg. Sumner’s music covers topics like grief, love, and intergenerational trauma. His website says his music “walks the line between fortitude and fragility.”

“You get a perspective on what’s been going on behind closed doors that we’ve been experiencing for decades and two centuries, but no one’s really seen or heard or [they] just ignored,” Spring said.

Rick McLean is an Indigenous educator and part of Mohawk College’s Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative. McLean has been performing music since the 1980s as a member of a mainstream punk band, for his community, the Wiikwemkoong First Nations at Manitou Island, and in Indigenous arts festivals.

A smiling man is beside his dog.
Rick McLean, pictured here with his dog, has almost 40 years of experience as an Indigenous musician.

McLean said many Canadians are unaware of the Indigenous history that pre-dates colonialism, and are often stumped when asked questions about Indigenous people’s accomplishments and inventions. He said when Indigenous voices cross over into mainstream music, it opens up a dialogue and allows Canadians to get to know Indigenous communities.

“The lack of knowledge about Indigenous peoples and the real history of this land creates prejudice, discriminations and racism,” McLean said. “A start to changing this is having the dominant culture get to know us.”

Spring said that Indigenous music has a role to play in changing how Canadians learn the history of Indigenous people.

“The history is hitting more people in a way that maybe they can digest it easier. It’s less textbook, and more just straight up: this is how it was,” he said.

With millions of listeners tuning in and discovering music through social media, it seems as though Indigenous musicians are getting their message across to new audiences every day.

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