British Columbia

'Be gentle to our leaders': Vancouver musician on legacy of late Inuk artist Kelly Fraser

J.B. the First Lady says the death of Inuk musician Kelly Fraser has hit the Indigenous community in Vancouver hard.

'Kelly was so beloved to our indigenous community,' says Vancouver-based musician J.B. the First Lady

'Kelly was an incredibly kind person who gave so much of herself to help others,' said Kelly Fraser's family in a statement released Monday morning. (Submitted by Hitmakerz)

Canada's music community — especially the close-knit Indigenous music scene — is still reeling from the death of young Inuk singer Kelly Fraser.

On Monday, her family confirmed Fraser had died by suicide Christmas Eve in Winnipeg, where she had been living. She was 26.

Jerilynn Webster a.k.a. J.B. the First Lady, a Vancouver-based hip-hop musician from the Nuxalk and Onondaga nations, says her death has been particularly painful.

"Kelly was so beloved to our indigenous community," she told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition. 

J.B. and Fraser had performed together on several occasions, and Fraser had spent some time in Vancouver in the past few years. 

"When you see another Indigenous female onstage, you're, like, instantly cousins," J.B. said. "She was always super smiley and so open and giving and loving."

J.B. said watching a young artist like Fraser use her Inuktitut language in her art and music was powerful. Fraser first came to prominence with a viral video singing Rihanna's song Diamonds in Inuktitut. 

Kelly Fraser on why singing in Inuktitut is important to her

2 years ago
Duration 3:32
Inuk singer talks to Rosanna Deerchild 3:32

"It's just so powerful because our legacy of residential schools has taught us to not be proud of who we are, and to take away the language," J.B. said. 

"She really was able to be that role model that we needed."

In a statement, Fraser's family said she had suffered from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] for many years as a result of childhood traumas, racism and persistent cyberbullying. 

J.B. says being a young Indigenous woman in the music industry is tough where you're expected to not only handle being in the music industry, but represent your community and family. 

Jerilynn Webster a.k.a. J.B. the First Lady is a Vancouver-based hip-hop musician from the Nuxalk and Onondaga nations. (Courtesy of the artist.)

She says community can be a double-edged sword: it can be extremely supportive but also very hard on you.

"You gotta have that thick skin. But at the same time you're ... baring your heart."

For J.B., who has also dealt with post-traumatic stress and mental health struggles, digging into her music and working with young people has helped. 

In such a tough environment, it's important to be gentle, she said. 

"This is a deep reminder to the Indigenous community how important it is to be gentle to our leaders, to our cultural language teachers, and our youth workers, and the people that deal with the heavy complexities of colonialism every day."

Where to get help

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Listen to the interview with J.B. the First Lady here:

With files from The Early Edition