Manitoba

Juno-winning singer William Prince's 'indigeneity' always on his mind

A rising star in the Indigenous music scene, William Prince says his cultural roots are never far from his thoughts.

Feature performer at Indigenous Day Live never far from the culture he's grown to appreciate

William Prince, an Anishinabe from Peguis First Nation on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg, says his heritage is never far from his mind. (Glassnote Records)

A rising star in the Indigenous music scene, William Prince says his cultural roots are never far from his thoughts.

The outside world likes to classify him as an Indigenous singer, to be respectful, Prince says, but the Winnipeg-based Juno-award winner with the smooth voice finds the description limiting in a way.

He is proud of his heritage, but his identity encapsulates so much more.

"Those things can come to light after, if people are interested into who I am," he said.

Prince, an Anishinabe from Peguis First Nation, won't need an introduction at Indigenous Day Live — an all-day event Saturday at The Forks in Winnipeg featuring live entertainment, a powwow and a round dance.

Manitoba's William Prince is a first-time and double nominee for the WCMAs this year. (Mike Latschislaw)

"I've been a part of it over the last few years and now to be a part of it as a feature performer again is huge, it's awesome," he said.

The show comes two days after National Indigenous Peoples Day, an annual occasion which gives the singer-songwriter pause, like Saturday's show.

"I'm being asked or questioned about my indigeneity throughout my music and travelling, so it's always on my mind," he said, "but it's nice that there's a time to reflect on the people of all these different nations."

He didn't grow up attuned with his culture. It's something he's discovered over time, he told CBC Manitoba's Information Radio on Thursday, while wearing a medicine pouch filled with sweetgrass, sage, lavender and tobacco.

I'm being asked or questioned about my indigeneity throughout my music and travelling, so it's always on my mind.- William Prince

"As I went through school, that's when I kind of figured it out," he said. "Yeah, I'm an Indigenous person."

Prince, who moved to Peguis First Nation when he was five, is a direct descendant of Chief Peguis, who signed the treaty with Lord Selkirk, granting land along the Red River to the Selkirk settlers.

He doesn't like to boast about the ancestor who set his community in motion. 

"It's a major thing that I'm almost shy at times to put forward, in hopes of kind of honouring what he did to lead our people and put the reserve where it is now," he said.

"Whenever somebody brings it up, I kind of politely nod to it being part of this family history."

Meanwhile, Prince is making a name for himself, evoking the likes of Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson through his sound. He's won Aboriginal Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards in 2016 and Contemporary Roots Album of the Year at the 2017 Junos.

He's working on a follow-up to his debut 2015 album, Earthly Days. He was in Nashville last month, collaborating with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, who has produced for major country acts like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.

Though he's working with musical royalty, he hasn't lost track of his roots. He's proud of a single he wrote in part with the Peguis graduating class, based on the seven sacred teachings: love, courage, humility, truth, respect, courage and honesty.

Prince wants his two-year-old son, Wyatt, to grow up in a world where he speaks of his heritage without reservation.

Teaching his son

"The negative stigmas that can come around being a First Nations people, I hope those are far dissipated by the time  we get to that point and that he's proud of who he is," Prince said.

"I just hope there's more awareness to things so it's not just your [Indigenous] family, telling you about your history," he said.

Prince is trying to do his part.

"He's going to know where Peguis is, and he's had a couple sleepovers and trips out there already," Prince said. "He fits right into the country."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Sam Samson and CBC Radio's Unreserved