Members of the Cree hip-hop group The NorthStars credit the power of music with turning their lives around.
The NorthStars are made up of Elton J. Salt, Keith Lacroix and Gary Jolly, all of Nemaska, Que., a James Bay Cree community of 700 people about 300 kilometres northwest of Chibougamau.
"I can really say that music saved my life," says Salt, 24.
'When kids hear their songs for the first time, they literally cry.' - David Hodges
Before music helped him, Salt says he was drinking a lot and hanging with a bad crowd.
"I was going on a really dark, dark path, " says Salt.
Two years ago, he was attacked and beaten. For him, it was a turning point.
"Music is a really powerful and strong thing that people can use," says Salt. "My life changed a lot when I took music into my life."
The NorthStars are officially releasing their debut CD Dreams this Sunday, June 14 in the Nemaska Recreation Hall. They also recently released a video of one of the tracks on the album, Champions.
Jolly agrees with Salt about the power of music.
"I almost lost my kids because of drinking," says the 29-year-old father of three.
"I had to go for help to stop drinking. I finished a detox program and came back to the community and got my children back."
Salt and Jolly say they hope their story will inspire others.
The NorthStars have also received funding from the Nemaska Band Council and Cree Nation Government to build a recording studio in the small community. It will be the first music studio in the Cree Nation, according to Salt. They hope to use it to help Cree youth choose a healthy and productive path.
"There is always the young kid out there who are shy to interact with people. Even to just go say hi to people," says Salt.
"Those are the type of people we want to reach out to and we want to show that music can be a good, educational thing."
The group is being mentored into the music industry through the N'we Jinan project, a popular music education program that toured all the Cree communities in James Bay in the spring of 2014. N'we Jinan has also recently launched a record label by the same name. The NorthStars are the second group signed to the label.
For N'we Jinan founder and music educator, David Hodges, The NorthStars are inspiring because of the effort they have put into their transformation.
"When kids hear their songs for the first time, they literally cry," says Hodges.
"And I ask them 'Why are you crying?' and they tell me it's the first time they have ever been proud of themselves. I feel very honoured and blessed (to be part of this project)."
The music studio is expected to open later this summer.