Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Aboriginal Music in Contemporary

Aboriginal Music in Contemporary: Echoes and Exchanges

Anna Hoefnagels
Beverley Diamond
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 520
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Aboriginal Music in Contemporary
    Book Description:

    First Nations, Inuit, and Métis music in Canada is dynamic and diverse, reflecting continuities with earlier traditions and innovative approaches to creating new musical sounds. Aboriginal Music in Contemporary Canada narrates a story of resistance and renewal, struggle and success, as indigenous musicians in Canada negotiate who they are and who they want to be. Comprised of essays, interviews, and personal reflections by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal musicians and scholars alike, the collection highlights themes of innovation, teaching and transmission, and cultural interaction. Individual chapters discuss musical genres ranging from popular styles including country and pop to nation-specific and intertribal practices such as powwows, as well as hybrid performances that incorporate music with theatre and dance. As a whole, this collection demonstrates how music is a powerful tool for articulating the social challenges faced by Aboriginal communities and an effective way to affirm indigenous strength and pride. Juxtaposing scholarly study with artistic practice, Aboriginal Music in Contemporary Canada celebrates and critically engages Canada's vibrant Aboriginal music scene. Contributors include Véronique Audet (Université de Montreal), Columpa C. Bobb (Tsleil Waututh and Nlaka'pamux, Manitoba Theatre for Young People), Sadie Buck (Haudenosaunee), Annette Chrétien (Métis), Marie Clements (Métis/Dene), Walter Denny Jr. (Mi'kmaw), Gabriel Desrosiers (Ojibwa, University of Minnesota, Morris), Beverley Diamond (Memorial University), Jimmy Dick (Cree), Byron Dueck (Royal Northern College of Music), Klisala Harrison (University of Helsinki), Donna Lariviere (Algonquin), Charity Marsh (University of Regina), Sophie Merasty (Dene and Cree), Garry Oker (Dane-zaa), Marcia Ostashewski (Cape Breton University), Mary Piercey (Memorial University), Amber Ridington (Memorial University), Dylan Robinson (Stó:lo, University of Toronto), Christopher Scales (Michigan State University), Gilles Sioui (Wendat), Gordon E. Smith (Queen's University), Beverly Souliere (Algonquin), Janice Esther Tulk (Memorial University), Florent Vollant (Innu) and Russell Wallace (Lil'wat).

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8712-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    Interaction between the scholarly community and culture bearers, creative artists, and elders of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people of Canada has been extensive in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This period marks an important time in Aboriginal culture in Canada characterized by renewal and revitalization of Indigenous heritage and cultural expressions. At the same time, Aboriginal communities are struggling over land rights and seeking improved systems of health and education that other citizens of Canada enjoy. Indeed, since the midtwentieth century Indigenous rights in Canada have become a priority for communities and individuals, shaping discourses and exchanges...

  6. 1 Recent Studies of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Music in Canada
    (pp. 10-26)

    At a recent meeting of academics and Indigenous musicians, dancers, and cultural specialists, a First Nations friend leaned over and commented on what is an old but still emotionally raw issue for Aboriginal people: “My god, we’re studied so much!” Indeed, although the growing number of scholars of Aboriginal descent is a welcome, predictable, and socially significant trend in recent scholarship, the fascination that non-Native scholars have with the song and dance traditions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis music seems as strong as ever. The roles we (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars) describe for ourselves have changed. Early collectors...


    • [PART ONE: Introduction]
      (pp. 27-30)

      The concept of tradition has variable meanings, associations, and uses in different contexts, but although scholars have unpacked its complexity, frequent ambiguity, and randomness, it remains a designation that is widely used in most communities, especially Aboriginal communities. The term functions as a dance category, for instance, in reference to Men’s and Women’s Traditional dances at powwows; “traditional teachings” explain appropriate behaviours and guide younger generations as they learn about their culture and its practices; traditional music can be contrasted with contemporary music or with music that draws from mainstream music; traditional ways of life might be invoked when describing...

    • 2 Continuity and Innovation in the Dane-ẕaa Dreamers’ Song and Dance Tradition: A Forty-Year Perspective
      (pp. 31-60)

      Informed by performance theory,¹ this chapter takes a contextual approach to trace some of the ways that the Dane-ẕaa dreamers’ dance² and song tradition has responded to and been affected by historical, cultural, social, and technological changes over the past forty years. I identify both continuities and innovations in the song and dance tradition over this period of time and relate these findings to responses of resistance and renewal to new social circumstances. The first sections of this chapter introduce Dane-ẕaa culture and history and place the Dane-ẕaa dreamers’ dance within a broader Indigenous prophet dance movement associated with cultural...

    • 3 From Tea Dance to iTunes: Recomposing Dane-ẕaa Dreamers’ Songs
      (pp. 61-69)

      The following edited interview was recorded on 14 January 2008 over dinner at a restaurant in Vancouver (Oker 2008b). At the time, Garry Oker was in the final stages of producing his CDDane-ẕaa Dreamer’s Melodiesand was kind enough to talk to me about his music, his musical inspiration, and his process of production. On this CD, Garry mixes traditional Dane-ẕaa dreamers’ songs with “modern sounds.” During our conversation, as Garry explained his musical approach, the following themes surfaced: (1) innovation within tradition, (2) artistic expression, and (3) issues of intellectual property rights that emerge with commercial distribution of...

    • 4 Localizing Intertribal Traditions: The Powwow as Mi’kmaw Cultural Expression
      (pp. 70-88)

      Powwows have been celebrated in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq, since their introduction in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, in the mid-1980s by members of the Birch Creek Singers, by local traditionalists, and by visiting traditionalists from western Canada and the United States.¹ Sometimes referred to asmawio’mi,or gatherings, powwows have gained prominence as Mi’kmaw² cultural events over the past two decades, and a Mi’kmaw powwow trail has developed, with powwows scheduled in different Mi’kmaw communities almost every weekend during the summer. For those who travel the trail, this style of song and dance has become an important mode...

    • 5 Contemporary Northern Plains Powwow Music: The Twin Influences of Recording Competition
      (pp. 89-108)

      This chapter represents a part of an ongoing scholarly and pedagogical collaboration between Gabriel Desrosiers and myself. Mr Desrosiers is a well known and highly respected Ojibwa singer, dancer, and composer of both traditional Ojibwa song styles as well as modern powwow songs. Born 25 January 1962, he has been singing since the age of six, coming to prominence performing with and composing songs for the popular powwow group the Whitefish Bay Singers from the Whitefish Bay reserve in north-western Ontario. Gabe left that group in 1991 to lead his own group, Northern Wind, comprised of singers from the Ojibwa...

    • 6 Aboriginal Women and the Powwow Drum: Restrictions, Teachings, and Challenges
      (pp. 109-130)

      Aboriginal powwow celebrations increased in popularity and significance throughout the twentieth century in Canada, and now, at the start of the twenty-first century, powwows have developed into annual gatherings with a regular following in most parts of southern Canada. Powwow practices can be traced to warrior societies of the Plains nations of the late nineteenth century and are also considered a product of the forced relocation of American Aboriginal groups to the Oklahoma region;¹ however, in many Canadian Aboriginal communities, powwows as we now know them were launched and grew during the second half of the twentieth century. For example,...


    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 131-132)

      The second section of this anthology addresses important issues in the preservation, teaching, and learning of Aboriginal music in contemporary Canadian contexts. It demonstrates that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars need to engage critically and respectfully with practitioners and culture bearers in order to consider what issues of teaching and transmission require attention and what responsibilities rest with each of us. Teaching and living with a focus on traditional music today are themes that emerge in the first chapter of this section, “The sound of what I hear on earth,” a compilation of reflections by Sadie Buck assembled by Beverley...

    • 7 The sound of what I hear on earth
      (pp. 133-149)

      Haudenosaunee singer and cultural specialist Sadie Buck was born in the 1950s in the Seneca community of Tonawanda, New York, into a family that was renowned for singing and dancing. As she describes below, she heard traditional Haudenosaunee songs in her childhood from dawn to dusk and had the voice and the memory to become one of the most valued culture bearers of her community. Her family moved to Ohsweken, Ontario, when she was a baby. However, because her father’s responsibilities included both the Tonawanda and Six Nations communities, she has memories of a lot of travelling as a child,...

    • 8 Reflecting on Reflexivity: Teaching and Conducting Research in an Inuit Community
      (pp. 150-173)

      This chapter presents a narrative ethnography made up of my experiences of living, teaching, and conducting research in an Inuit¹ community. Like other ethnomusicologists working today, I am searching for an innovative manner in which to research and write in an ethnographic style. I am also influenced by the insights on methods and Aboriginal voice emerging from postcolonial theory, especially those put forth by Aboriginal researchers themselves,² and I recognize the concerns in Aboriginal studies about the way Aboriginal societies tend to be portrayed. In an effort to challenge past anthropological generalizations, I am guided by the work of Michelle...

    • 9 Moose Trails and Buffalo Tracks: Métis Music and Aboriginal Education in Canada
      (pp. 174-193)

      For many years now, I have been accused of being a storyteller by various parties. Whether or not that appellation is favourable seems to depend on the context and the accuser. Regardless, I wear the title of storyteller with pride, even though it does mean I am constantly shifting between what I call my “aca-talk” and storytelling modes in my work, writing, and personal life. The challenge I, and many other Aboriginal scholars, face is what storytelling can offer as a research method, pedagogical practice, and mode of communication as well as the epistemological issues surrounding different ways of knowing....

    • 10 One Strong Woman: Finding Her Voice, Finding Her Heritage
      (pp. 194-205)

      The following is comprised of excerpts from an interview with Beverly Souliere, Algonquin musician and lead singer of the award-winning women’s hand-drumming trio Women of Wabano, based in Ottawa, Ontario. The interview took place on 29 May 2007 and covered a variety of topics, including Beverly’s personal journey, her ongoing activism within the Aboriginal community, and her various roles as a musician in Ottawa. This conversation illustrates the vitality of Aboriginal traditions in a modern urban setting in Canada and the important roles that female musicians have in contemporary cultural expressions.

      Hi Bev. Can you please start by telling me...

    • 11 Learning about and Supporting Aboriginal Music and Culture: A Personal Journey
      (pp. 206-214)

      The following is an excerpt of an interview with Jimmy Dick conducted 10 September 2009, which is augmented with his own writings about his background and musical experiences. Jimmy is a Cree musician who has lived for many years in Toronto, Ontario, and who has been highly influential in Native music making in various Aboriginal organizations in Toronto, most notably the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT). He is the lead singer of Eagle Heart Singers, a group of musicians that performs powwow music and participates in political rallies and ceremonies in the Toronto area. He has also been a...


    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 215-217)

      The third section of this anthology includes texts that consider Aboriginal musicians in interactions with musicians from other (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) communities. It is not surprising that it is the longest of the three sections since intercultural contexts are the norm, not the exception, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, no matter what part of the world one might consider. Noteworthy, however, is the fact that some of the intercultural contexts addressed by authors in this section are often overlooked and underplayed.

      This section begins with a reflection by Lil’wat composer Russell Wallace on collaborative processes in which...

    • 12 Intercultural Collaboration
      (pp. 218-221)

      In this chapter, I discuss some of the collaborative projects in which I have participated as a composer and producer of contemporary electronic music and as a traditional Lil’wat singer. I encourage readers to consider what “intercultural collaboration” is, and might be, in terms of sharing music, ideas, and meanings cross-culturally.

      “Hey, wanna play?” was all it took on the playgrounds growing up. Most of the time, it worked, and each party played games enthusiastically. Upon growing up, games and play turned into collaborations, co-productions, and many other interactions described by words that have more than one syllable. The terms...

    • 13 Listening to the Politics of Aesthetics: Contemporary Encounters between First Nations/Inuit and Early Music Traditions
      (pp. 222-248)

      That Canada inaugurated the turn of the millennium sonically with music that integrated loon calls, Inuit throat singing (each categorized as distinctively “Canadian” sounds), and an organum by Pérotin might give one pause for thought. That such a striking convergence of pre-1750 European art music, often referred to as “early music,” and First Nations and Inuit cultural practices has taken place with increasing frequency in Canada in the twenty-first century is yet more unusual.¹ As the following timeline demonstrates, however, these encounters evidence an interest by First Nations, Inuit, and non-Native composers alike to return to the musics of first...

    • 14 Musical Form as Theatrical Form in Native Canadian Stage Plays: Moving through the Third Space
      (pp. 249-270)

      In Canada, stage plays written by Aboriginals developed along a musical trajectory after Tomson Highway (Cree) became a renowned First Nations playwright in the mid-1980s. Highway trained as a classical pianist in England¹ and fused music styles of opera, serialism, blues, and Cree lullabies with characters from Greek and Eastern Woodlands Aboriginal myth. Subsequently, eastern Canadian playwright Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibway)² evolved blues structure as theatre structure, and Daniel David Moses (Delaware/Tuscarora) adapted forms of minstrelsy to contemporary theatre about Saskatchewan. Marie Humber Clements (Métis) in British Columbia borrowed operatic form, and an extensive list of Native Canadian playwrights and...

    • 15 Music and Narrative in The Unnatural and Accidental Women
      (pp. 271-280)

      This chapter draws on interviews that I conducted with artists involved in the production of the stage playThe Unnatural and Accidental Women,which premiered at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre in 2000.The Unnatural and Accidental Womenfictionalizes the drinking deaths of eight Aboriginal and two non-Native women who were associated with convicted killer Gilbert Paul Jordan in Vancouver’s inner city. Conversations with the artists featured here offer insights into their creative processes, musical and dramatic choices, and narrative strategies as they negotiated socially and politically charged topics.

      Marie Clements wroteThe Unnatural and Accidental Womenbut also co-directed the...

    • 16 Music, Religion, and Healing in a Mi’kmaw Community
      (pp. 281-299)

      The following is a collaborative narrative based on three extended conversations between myself, Gordon E. Smith (Kingston, Ontario), and Walter Denny Jr (Eskasoni, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia). These conversations took place on 6 December 2008, 9 May 2009, and 15 August 2009 at Walter’s home in Eskasoni. We emphasize the collaborative aspect of this text, as our conversations were free-flowing and informal. We have tried to maintain this spirit here.¹ By way of introduction, I first present some contextual information on Eskasoni and on my research in Eskasoni, which led to these conversations with Walter Denny Jr. The goal...

    • 17 “No Heartaches in Heaven”: A Response to Aboriginal Suicide
      (pp. 300-322)

      “No Heartaches in Heaven,” a song by Chris Beach, an Ojibwe Métis songwriter and playwright from Manitoba, does not celebrate suicide, but it does present the reasoning of its suicidal protagonist in a sympathetic light.¹ It has angered some listeners and comforted others; still others probably find its sympathetic tone perplexing. A consideration of how the song relates to its context of origin suggests some interpretations. On the one hand, “No Heartaches” reflects the songwriter’s personal experiences, as well as the all-too-frequent occurrences of suicide in Manitoban Aboriginal communities. On the other hand, the song is more than a mirror...

    • 18 Arnie Strynadka, “The Uke-Cree Fiddler”
      (pp. 323-345)

      I met Arnie Strynadka, who billed himself as the “The Uke-Cree Fiddler,” while conducting field research at the Vegreville Ukrainian Pysanka Festival in Alberta in 2002. When I stopped at Arnie’s booth to chat, he told me that he was the child of a marriage between a Cree woman and a man born of Ukrainian immigrants. I had already spent almost a decade researching and writing about Ukrainian music, culture, and identity, and I had spent my entire lifetime as a Ukrainian cultural, music, and dance performer and enthusiast. This was the first I had ever heard of family relations...

    • 19 Bits and Pieces of Truth: Storytelling, Identity, and Hip Hop in Saskatchewan
      (pp. 346-371)

      The Canadian landscape is shaped by its colonial past and present (Mac-key 1999, Young 1990), its global identity as a multicultural nation (Bannerji 2000, Day 2000), and its proximity to the United States (Théberge 1997, Krims 2000, Pegley 2008). So too are the contemporary Indigenous youth music cultures within Canada’s borders influenced by the effects of these discourses and the processes by which they are mapped onto the geographical, social, cultural, and political landscape. For local music cultures across Canada, globalization continues to have a profound impact on the way that cultural forms and practices both those forms and practices...

    • 20 Why Do the Innu Sing Popular Music? Reflections on Cultural Assertion and Identity Movements in Music
      (pp. 372-407)

      We are currently witnessing a renewal and a recognition of an Aboriginal movement in Quebec, in Canada, and in the world. Internationally, this movement falls under a political climate of decolonization, of recognition of cultural diversity, and of increased rights of minorities, all of which have, over the course of the twentieth century, allowed for a recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ rights to self-determination. This is most evident in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. These contemporary movements are complemented by cultural revitalization and by revalorizing social healing processes,¹ in which Aboriginal people turn to their...

    • 21 Aboriginal Popular Music in Quebec: Influences, Issues, and Rewards
      (pp. 408-418)

      Florent Vollant is Innu, from Mani-utenam, Quebec, and a member of former duo Kashtin. An inspired artist, spirit seeker, proud defender culture, songwriter, composer, and performer of folk-countryrock/pop music in the Innu-aimun language, he is an important figure Québécois and Aboriginal popular music scene in Quebec. The music he was exposed to was traditional song accompanied by the (the traditional Innu drum) that he heard as a child in Labrador. Growing up, he also listened to folk music and to American and Québécois country music on the radio, and he was also influenced by his family, sang and played various...

    • 22 Gilles Sioui: Supporting and Performing with Aboriginal Artists in Quebec
      (pp. 419-430)

      Gilles Sioui is a well-known Huron-Wendat musician, born in Wendake (Huron Village), and the son of the late Wendat grand chief Claude Sioui.¹ A professional musician since 1974, Sioui is a singer-songwriter, a talented and inspired guitar soloist and accompanist, a self-taught musical director and arranger, and a special education teacher. He performs contemporary Aboriginal music, as well as Québécois and Canadian bluesfolk-rock, and he is highly regarded on the Quebec music scene. Sioui started his career as a bassist and then drummer in his brother Bruno’s band Ook Pik. In the late 1970s, he developed his unique style as...

    (pp. 431-466)
    (pp. 467-468)
    (pp. 469-470)
    (pp. 471-474)
    (pp. 475-476)
    (pp. 477-486)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 487-503)