'Show Indigenous youth that they could be anything': Winnipeg neighbourhoods see return of sākihiwē festival

A popular Indigenous music festival is back in the flesh and continuing its mission to take art directly to the people instead of them coming to it. 

Music festival began Thursday and runs through Sunday

Seven members of the group Thunderbirdz surround a large drum on stage at Central Park in Winnipeg, as part of the sākihiwē festival on Saturday.
The group Thunderbirdz performs at a block party in Winnipeg's Central Park on Saturday as part of the sākihiwē festival. (Laïssa Pamou/Radio-Canada)

A popular Indigenous music festival in Winnipeg is back in person and continuing its mission to take art directly to the people instead of them coming to it. 

The sākihiwē festival includes two ticketed concerts and four free block parties with performances by 26 acts from across Canada. It was pushed online the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The festival — formerly called Aboriginal Music Week — aims to serve two purposes: to bring Indigenous music to people in under-served and disadvantaged areas and to be a platform for up-and-coming Indigenous artists and those who are mid-career and may need a boost in support.

This year's festival, which started Thursday, has seen concerts taking place across a range of sites in the Spence neighbourhood, Central Park, the North End and downtown. 

For performers — whether new to the music business or further along in their careers — being part of the festival is a way to help youth connect with their culture and help them dream big. 

"I think it's important to know where it comes from and the history," said Morgan Grace of East Selkirk, a 15-year-old fiddler who is Métis. "I have fun doing it and then I get to learn my culture while doing it."

That's echoed by Juno-winning artist Fawn Wood, a Plains Cree/Salish singer from Alberta who took home the Canadian music award last month in the category of best Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group for her album, Kakike.

"I believe that our Indigenous youth, when they are connected to their identity and the strength that comes with being an Indigenous youth and an Indigenous person, they are forced to be recognized and in a good way," Wood told CBC. 

Morgan Grace, a fiddler from East Selkirk, is one of 26 Indigenous artists from across Canada taking part in the sākihiwē festival, which concludes in Winnipeg on Sunday. (CBC)

Festival director Alan Greyeyes said making artists available to people in their home areas is key. 

"The most important thing we do is take the music to these families in neighbourhoods that they're already there instead of asking them to come to a central location which is convenient for us," he said. 

"I grew up with not a lot of representation in the media or on stage, and so I didn't see myself and I didn't see the possibilities. So I think what we really want to do as an organization and as a festival is to show Indigenous youth that they could be anything — that they could have careers in the arts," Greyeyes said. 

Inspiring Indigenous youth is a key goal of the festival, says festival director Alan Greyeyes. (CBC)

The sākihiwē festival runs through Sunday, when it will host two block parties. One is taking place from noon to 6 p.m. at Turtle Island Neighbourhood Centre at 510 King St., and the other starting at 1 p.m. on Ellice Avenue, between Sherbrook Street and Langside Street in the West End. 

Details on performers and other attractions can be found here.

With files from Lamia Abozaid and Laïssa Pamou