Montreal Q&A

Host of CBC's Reclaimed celebrates spirit of resistance by championing Indigenous artists

'At this moment, we need art more than ever,' Indigenous scholar Jarrett Martineau tells CBC's Nantali Indongo

February 24, 2018

Jarrett Martineau runs a record label, directos an electronic music festival in Vancouver and hosts Reclaimed, a show featuring Indigenous music on CBC Radio One. He also has a PhD in Indigenous governance. (Melody Lau/CBC)

Jarrett Martineau has a PhD in Indigenous governance from University of Victoria, but music and the arts are equal passions.

The son of a white mother and a Cree/Dene father from Frog Lake, Alta., he is the co-founder of New Constellations, a music and literary arts festival bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists on 13-stop tour across the country to major cities as well as several Indigenous communities.


Jarrett also founded and runs a record label and showcases Indigenous artists on Reclaimed, the CBC Music show he hosts.

For Jarrett, art is just as important a tool as policy to bring about change because ''art expresses experiences in a way that's deeper and taps into our human experience."

Jarrett was recently a guest on Nantali Indongo's CBC show, The Bridge. Here are excerpts from that interview, edited and condensed for clarity.

Jarrett Martineau (right) tells CBC's The Bridge host Nantali Indongo that 'at this moment, we need art more than ever.' (Amanda Klang/CBC)

NANTALI: In your research, you write about art and decolonization. When we look at recent events — Idle No More, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — where are we at now with decolonization?

With what just happened [with the Colton Boushie/Gerald Stanley verdict] in Saskatchewan this month, I feel like we are where we've always been, which is a sad statement. And that's not to deny the ongoing creative work that's happening in our communities and the ongoing resistance to systemic injustice and racism.

But think it's a challenging time right now because there's this idea that, thanks to national projects like the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada), we're entering the dawn of a new era where Indigenous people are all doing better than we have in the past.

But in the face of the existing realities in our communities, we have to say that, clearly, this is not working.

The power and presence of Sylvia McAdam helped propel Idle No More. Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 28, 2012. (Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works)

You've talked about how hip hop influenced you. And I see in my work that a lot of Indigenous youth are drawn to hip hop. Why do you think this is?

Some argue hip hop is a continuation of the Indigenous oral tradition. But I think it's more than that. 

I mean, given the realities of the social conditions that our people are forced to live in, stories of resisting the imposition of economic poverty and social oppression and racism have a kind of resonance. And those stories, found in hop hop, continue to appeal because the reality of the social conditions hasn't changed.

You were actively involved in the arts as a performer and producer, both here Montreal and on the West Coast. But you also got a day job researching stories from residential school survivors. How did that impact you?

I couldn't believe what I was finding. I was faced with victim impact statements.

I saw official church letters with the names of abusive priests who just got moved to another school. And at that time, I'd talk to white people a generation older than me who had never heard of residential schools. And fast forward 20 years to now, and I'm still having that moment with people. 

While I was at grad school, I met people at every level of education who had no idea a thing called the TRC had happened. That level of ignorance is connected with a lot of the work I've been doing since: it's about trying to combat it.

Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild stands during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) forum in Vancouver, on March 3, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

You've done a lot of work in media and in music. But you decided at one point to leave those behind for a while and go back to school to get a PhD in Indigenous governance. Why?

Many things led up to it. One was a moment of frustration, when I was at a job at the online news agency, Now Public.

It was at the time of the residential schools apology that then prime minister [Stephen] Harper issued. A non-Indigenous colleague said she didn't understand why these people needed an apology. Her comment made me so angry, but I didn't have the language or political vocabulary to explain the importance of that apology.

I eventually decided it was time to go sharpen my tools, and this program was the one I chose because it focused on the existing systems we have within our nations for governing ourselves and how have those been eradicated over time. People call it a decolonization boot camp, and I was up for the challenge.

So, with all the social change that's needed in Canada, is art really enough? Or do we need to put policy first?

We can't have political transformation without continued creative production in our communities across every art form, in every way.

It's because art expresses things policy can't. It expresses experiences in a way that's deeper and taps into our human experience. So at this moment, we need art more than ever.

Listen to Nantali Indongo's full interview with Jarrett Martineau:

Click to show more
On his CBC Music show, Reclaimed, Jarrett Martineau guides listeners to discover the next wave of Indigenous artists. Here he tells stories about his life and his work as an MC, poet, and scholar of Indigenous governance.  54:00

Check out Jarrett Martineau's show Reclaimed, Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on CBC Music and Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC Radio One.

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