Alberta Juno nominee says learning Cree brought more beauty to her music

Fawn Wood, a Plains Cree/Salish singer living in St. Paul, Alta., says she “kind of screamed” when she learned that her album Kakike had been nominated for a 2022 Juno Award in the Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group category.

Fawn Wood’s album Kakike earns St. Paul singer her first Juno nomination

Fawn Wood says she incorporates her Salish and Plains Cree cultures into her music to inspire Indigenous youth to connect with their own cultures. (Janice Huser/Precious Pictures Photography)

St. Paul, Alta., singer Fawn Wood's first Juno nomination is something she's been dreaming of for years.

But when she got a text message from her producer telling her the news, it came as a bit of a shock.

"I might have scared my partner here," Wood told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday.

"I kind of screamed a bit."

Wood's album Kakike — on the Buffalo Jump Records label — is nominated in the category of Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year.

Wood's album Kakike is nominated for a Juno in the category of Traditional Indigenous artist or group of the year. (Buffalo Jump Records)

For Wood, being nominated in the category means a lot, especially as a woman. She said the genre is typically dominated by men and it was rare to see women share their perspectives when she was growing up. 

Her own role model in the genre was easy to find as a child — her mother, who is Salish, is also a traditional singer. Another source of inspiration was Wood's father, a Plains Cree singer.

Wood considers it a point of pride to combine her parents' Salish and Plains Cree cultures in her work, even though she found it challenging to incorporate their languages as a young songwriter.

Now 35, she said it isn't common for people her age to speak their traditional languages fluently.

For help, she often turned to her father to get him to translate specific words and phrases.

Once, he told her the music would sound more beautiful when she finally understood the language. 

"Right there, [a] fire was lit in me," she said.

That inspired Wood to earn her bachelor's degree in the Cree language in 2017 at University nuhelot'įne thaiyots'į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills in St. Paul, 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton .

Music was where she found her passion for revitalizing the language.

Right there, [a] fire was lit in me.- Fawn Wood

She hopes her music encourages young Indigenous people to keep their cultural practices and languages alive.

Wood infuses her songs with guitar and piano to bridge the gap between traditional listeners and everyone else. She said she hopes her Juno nomination will help expose traditional Indigenous music to all Canadians.

"Music is such a beautiful international language and expression that everybody listens to," she said. "When you connect to something in that song you connect with that spirit of music."

This year's Juno Awards ceremony is set for May 15 in Toronto.