Afro-Metis musicians hope to inspire others to learn more about heritage

A group of Halifax musicians of black and Indigenous ancestry showed off its work to a packed recording studio Sunday, hoping to inspire others to find out more about their heritage.

Musicians release album with 18 songs celebrating the melding of black and Indigenous cultures

Musician Chris White is one of the black artists recording an album in Halifax that seeks recognition for their Metis ancestry. The group calls itself Afro-Metis Nation. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A group of Halifax musicians of black and Indigenous ancestry showed off its work to a packed recording studio Sunday, hoping to inspire others to find out more about their heritage. 

The group calls itself the Afro-Metis Nation, and includes members such as Toronto-based musician Shelley Hamilton, former Canadian poet laureate George Elliott Clarke, and Chris White, the nephew of Portia White, the renowned African Nova Scotian opera singer of the 1940s. 

The group has created a new album of 18 songs celebrating the melding of black and Indigenous families.

"These were both of the communities that were marginalized in Nova Scotia. And these communities built up strength, and unified, and created marriages and created communities outside of those that weren't accepting of us," said Shelley Hamilton. 

Toronto-based singer and actor Shelley Hamilton is one of the artists singing on Afro-Metis Nation's new album that seeks recognition for African-Nova Scotian Metis ancestry (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Growing up, Hamilton didn't know she has Indigenous ancestors, but said she was moved to feel more "a part of this land" when she made the discovery. 

Patrick LeBlanc, a district chief for the Eastern Woodland Metis Nation of Nova Scotia, was in the audience at the concert. He believes the definition of "Metis" needs to be broadened. 

"In the dictionary, in the definition in our government, it is anybody of European and Aboriginal descent. That needs to change. It has to be of different cultures," he said. 

LeBlanc estimates up to 60 to 70 per cent of African Nova Scotians may have an Indigenous connection. 

Shelley Hamilton would like more people to learn about their history, as she did. 

"Unfortunately, because those areas were marginalized, history about us has also been marginalized and dismissed," she said. 

"If we do not let our future generations know about their past generation, their past lineage, they're not going to have any idea of the truth of their ancestors existing."

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Shaina Luck

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Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca