5 Indigenous artists you need to know in 2018

Christie Lee Charles, Jeremy Dutcher, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Aasiva and Shawnee are five diverse Indigenous acts inspiring us this year.
Aasiva is an Inuktitut artist based in Iqaluit. (Courtesy of Aakuluk Music)

From bringing hip-hop and poetry to city hall to creating teen-friendly traditional music (throat singing plus ukulele for the win!), CBC Music celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day with five emerging artists that you need to know in 2018.

Christie Lee Charles

The hip-hop artist, activist and writer was recently named the poet laureate of Vancouver, and is the first Indigenous person to occupy that role since its creation in 2006. Charles hails from the Musqueam Nation and has family lineage to both the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations as well. She made headlines back in 2011 for rapping in her traditional language, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, on her song "Experience."

In her role as poet laureate, which she spoke about with Unreserved, Charles will host live performances, and connect artists, poets and performers from Indigenous communities with artists from a diverse variety of cultural practices. She'll also translate poem submissions into her traditional Musqueam language for a publication that will be a legacy for future generations.

"My project will connect the greater Vancouver poetic scene and the public to this history of local Indigenous communities, language and lands we live on today," Charles said in a press release. "It will create new relationships and help elevate the beautiful and cultural understandings of my people. This will empower the young people from Indigenous communities and give them a path for creative expression."

Jeremy Dutcher

The classically trained operatic tenor and composer released his stunning debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, or Our Maliseets Songs, just a few months ago, and already it's been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize long list. It's no surprise: from the first single last year, "Honour Song," critics raved at Dutcher's remarkable weaving of traditional field recordings of Wolastoq songs with classical, jazz and electronic music.

Dutcher is from the Tobique First Nation, one of six Wolastoqiyik or Maliseet Nation reserves in New Brunswick. This record is a means of preserving Dutcher's ancestral language (according to an interview with CBC, there are now fewer than 100 people fluent in the Wolastoqey language), though he rejects the notion of the association of "death" with his work.

"A lot of people want to frame this as singing in my dying language and always this narrative of death," Dutcher told CBC. "But for me the language is living and it's growing so let's invest in that excitement. The way that I've seen our language being taken up and be passed forward by those knowledge keepers in our community, that's really encouraging."

Dutcher is also an active community organizer with both Indigenous and LGBT communities, and helped coordinate the first national gathering on Two-Spirit reconciliation. He was also a key artist on the 2017 New Constellations tour, and his work is profiled as part of the tour's lesson plan for classrooms, where Dutcher shared these thoughts about resurgence:

What does resurgence mean to you?

Resurgence is different for everyone, but for me;
Resurgence is taking back what has been lost and not asking permission.
Resurgence is song and language.
Resurgence is gatherings and potlucks.
Resurgence is a movement that swells from earth to sky reaching through waterways & forests.
Resurgence is futurism.

Jeremy Dutcher

New Constellations also provided mentorship opportunities and the result is a mixtape of songs from new and emerging artists, which you can check out here.

Snotty Nose Rez Kids

The Haisla Nation hip-hop duo is comprised of Darren Metz and Quinton Nyce, a.k.a. Young D and Yung Trybez. The pair perform as Snotty Nose Rez Kids and their songs are just as subversive, political and provocative as their name promises. Their 2017 record, The Average Savage, is brilliant and blistering. It was also just nominated for the Polaris Music Prize long list.

The artist statement that accompanies Snotty Nose Rez Kids' Bandcamp page for the Average Savage says everything:

"We call ourselves savages, red skins, and indians. Some people hear this and underestimate us. They don't think we understand the origin and weight of these words. We have reclaimed these words, and stripped away the harm they were intended to carry, the hate and ignorance they thought we didn't notice. When we say Average Savage, you better believe that means that we are the most brave indigenous warriors out there and there's nothing average about us. Our people are survivors by force. We've injected clips of movies, cartoons, and media into our track list to point out how this racist shit is engraved into our minds as kids — how normalized it was for us to hear 'Stupid Indian' and 'Kill the savages.'

"When we interact with these slurs, we are confronting them, deconstructing them and regurgitating them to create our own impressions that exemplify us as the strong, creative, and intelligent Savages we know ourselves to be."

Snotty Nose Rez Kids

Just a few weeks ago, Snotty Nose Rez Kids signed to Indigenous record label RPM Records, and released a video for their song "The Water" in support of Tiny House Warriors, the group fighting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

"The Canadian government does not get the final say when it comes to our land because this is more than land to us as Indigenous peoples, this is our identity," Yung Trybez told Noisey. "This isn't just a pipeline on our land with risk of infecting our waters, this is the intersection of violence against our lands, bodies, and governance."


The young Inuktitut singer-songwriter's self-titled debut (via Aakuluk Music) will make even the most jaded music fan fall a little bit in love with ukulele indie-folk again. Aasiva's secret? Bright, sparkling melodies, sunny vocals and textured throat-singing elements that bounce and beckon the listener closer.

It's easy to imagine Aasiva, whose real name is Colleen Nakashuk, growing up in the breathtaking and remote Pangnirtung, Nunavut (she's now based in Iqaluit), so moved by her surroundings that she's internalized the beauty, It's manifested through her songwriting since Aasiva began posting her music to her Soundcloud page a few years ago.

Aasiva's also a graduate of the groundbreaking Nunavut Sivuniksavut program for Inuit youth, a collaborative educational partnership with Ottawa's Algonquin College, and an emerging youth leader in bringing Inuktitut music to the masses.


The Mohawk singer-songwriter has been featured on Billboard's 2017 list of "11 transgender and non-binary musicians you need to know" and has also been profiled by Autostraddle, MTV, Exclaim and Curve, to name a few. Last year, Shawnee released her gorgeous pop anthem of survival, "Warrior Heart," for the We Matter campaign, in support of Indigenous youth and ending youth suicide in Indigenous communities.

"There's a suicide crisis in Canada amongst Indigenous youth," Shawnee said in an interview with Ottawa Life. "These youth are in kind of remote areas, living in homes on the reserve. There's specific issues, they don't have the same resources and they don't have the same contacts as someone would like me in Toronto. For me 'Warrior Heart' is less of a political song and more of a dedication to those kids, feeling like there's nothing for you to turn to. When you feel alone as a young person, knowing that there's someone else out there who's felt and survived that desperation and darkness is important. Hopefully the song can save them from that place in their life. It's speaking to people going through that now to connect with each other, connect with music and their culture."

Shawnee, who started out in music as a Shania Twain impersonator, has spent years cultivating her own voice, both in terms of vocalization and as a songwriter.

"People who have been listening to my music have said the genre's changed," Shawnee said. "For me, I've pushed myself to go deeper, but it's hard and intimidating to be that vulnerable so I push myself to that point. This past year, I feel like I'm stronger to say what I want to say and not think of anything but what I can do for me, letting go of any expectations that come with it."

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner