Celeigh Cardinal wins 2020 Juno for Indigenous Artist of the Year

Edmonton-based Métis singer songwriter Celeigh Cardinal has earned one of the highest honours in Canadian music. 

Métis artist won acclaim for Edmonton-inspired album Stories From A Downtown Apartment

Celeigh Cardinal's Juno-nominated album, "Stories From a Downtown Apartment," was largely written in this very apartment, where the photo was taken. (Megan Kemshead)

Edmonton-based Métis singer-songwriter Celeigh Cardinal has earned one of the highest honours in Canadian music. 

Cardinal earned a 2020 Juno Award for Indigenous Artist of the Year on Monday during a special virtual ceremony after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled in-person ceremonies that were set to take place in Saskatoon in March.

Instead of walking the red carpet, Cardinal watched the announcement from home.

"Has it sunk in yet? I don't think so," Cardinal said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"But there is a silver lining to not being able to walk across the stage and receive the award and it's that I got to sit with my family. My son was there and my two best friends.

"To find out I won the award with them, that was pretty incredible and I don't know if I would want to trade that for anything." 

The recognition follows the 2019 release of Cardinal's critically-acclaimed independent album Stories From A Downtown Apartment.

After more than two decades in the industry, splitting her time between music and motherhood, the award feels like validation, Cardinal said. 

"You write these songs and you're telling stories about your life," she said. "And you just hope that it's interesting enough for people to like it and relate to it in some way, and I feel like that's happened.

"That makes me feel like maybe I'm on the right path." 

Cardinal — originally from Grande Prairie — has lived in Edmonton for years and her critically-acclaimed album drew inspiration from the city. 

"Stories from a Downtown Apartment" is a breakup record, but it also revolves around Cardinal's experiences living in downtown Edmonton. (Megan Kemshead)

    The artwork for the album was shot from her downtown apartment, with many of the songs written on the piano right beside the couch on the cover art. 

    The album revolves around her experiences living in the city's downtown but at its core, it's a break up record. 

    "There are love songs and there are also heartbreak songs," Cardinal said. 

    "My most popular song is The Devil is a Blue-Eyed Man which is basically about the fact that I have a pattern of falling in love with men with blue eyes and it has never worked out for me yet.

    "We all have these patterns and human experiences like falling in love can be heartbreaking, and people see themselves there."

    Cardinal said she was in Saskatoon when the Juno ceremonies were initially cancelled and the pandemic began sending Canadians into isolation. She had just returned from a festival gig in Germany. She rented a car and drove home. 

    'The world just stopped'

    She's taken the weeks of isolation to reconnect with her music. After a short reprieve from writing, she plans to record an album this winter. 

    "Initially, it just felt like the world just stopped," she said. "I came home to my apartment and life had completely changed. I've really taken some time to slow down because things were pretty crazy for me.

    "Initially, the songwriting wasn't happening. I let the music go to the side for a while but now I sort of feel a wave of songwriting coming."

    Of the five nominees for Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year, Edmonton-based Cree band nêhiyawak was also nominated, recognized for their debut album Nipiy. 

    Cardinal said she hopes to use her Juno win to help promote other Indigenous artists across Canada. 

    "We have a pretty narrow idea of what Indigenous artists do ... And there is just so much more than that."