Edmonton·Video

Fighting for hope: Teens from Alberta First Nation record hip-hop track with a message

A group of teenagers from northern Alberta's Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation have released their first single — a heavy hip-hop song with a powerful message. 

'We were looking for a way to have a voice'

A handful of young people from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation collaborated with N'we Jinan music producers to record and film an original song. (N’we Jinan)

A group of teenagers and children from northern Alberta's Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation have released their first single — a heavy hip-hop track with a powerful message. 

The lyrics of Fight for Hope touch on themes of addiction, healing through cultural tradition, and a desire to break the cycle. 

"We were looking for a way to have a voice and looking for a change," said Aaron Letendre, 19, one of the artists featured singing and rapping in the song.

"We're telling people, we see it's tough and it's hard to get out of, but the youth are watching so send them in the right direction. Don't lead them to the path of loneliness."

You can watch the video here:

A video for the song, shot in the community about 80 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, was released online this week. 

Letendre told CBC News he wanted to be honest about the struggles within his community. The reserve is a tough, sometimes toxic, environment, he said.

"Almost every family on the reserve has a person that is going through this," he said.

"Growing up in the community, the youth, that's all they see. And they grow up with that sadness. 

"The message of the song is to let them know, there are two paths." 

The song was written, recorded and filmed in July in collaboration with N'we Jinan, a non-profit organization which brings artistic and educational programs to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and schools. 

Producer and youth worker Dave Hodges launched the N'we Jinan music initiative in 2014 as a response to a lack of artistic programming in remote First Nations communities across Canada.

The same year, N'we Jinan launched a cross-country tour, bringing a mobile recording studio to dozens of communities. The organization has since launched a music festival and a music label.

To date, more than 500 kids and teens have participated across 40 communities, resulting in the production of more than 80 songs and videos. 

The project in Alexis, funded by a grant from the RCMP, was N'we Jinan's first music project in Alberta.

'Suffocating in the cloud of addiction'

Madison Potts, 17, said the project made her feel empowered to tell her own story.   

The video is a snapshot of life in a community fractured and conflicted by the trauma of substance abuse, she said. 

"We're suffocating in the cloud of addiction," she said.  "Even in my own family there is a lot of substance abuse, which I come face to face with every day. 

"Seeing family members hurt themselves and others without even knowing, without taking a second thought, I felt like I needed to do something about it." 

Potts said participating in the music program has inspired her to be a role model for the community, and for the next generation. She plans to establish a youth council on the reserve. 

"The youth in our community is where the change is going to happen because we are the future generation. It's up to us to overcome.  

Potts and Letendre both plan to keep singing and performing. 

Letendre said the project helped him rediscover his passion for music and traditional drumming.

He hopes to one day pay it forward and teach the next generation about music. 

"I had kind of lost myself," he said. "I went into the dark and didn't really talk much but this pushed me, and reminded me that there are people out there that want to listen.

"It feels like it's only the beginning of something." 

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Travis McEwan