Nova Scotia

First Nation woman in N.S. rewrites Billy Joel song to reflect Indigenous issues

April Martell rewrote the Billy Joel song We Didn't Start The Fire to bring awareness to injustices against Indigenous people in Canada.

‘It just wasn’t saying what I thought needed to be said,’ says April Martell

April Martell said she rewrote the song to bring awareness to issues affecting Indigenous people that have existed throughout Canada's history, and continue to exist today. (Submitted by April Martell)

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow, April Martell said she kept hearing people say racism isn't an issue in Canada, something she says is "not true."

"It's important that we look at our own issues while still supporting the Black Lives Matter movement," she said.

Martell is from Blues Mills, N.S., just a few minutes away from We'koqma'q First Nation in Cape Breton.

She decided to rewrite the Billy Joel song We Didn't Start The Fire, changing the lyrics to focus on issues affecting Indigenous people like the Sixties Scoop, MMIWG and other deaths of Indigenous people.

"Tina Fontaine, no appeal. No foul play, no big deal," Martell sings in the cover, which she turned into a ballad.

When Martell first thought about using her YouTube platform to contribute to the conversation around racism, she considered just covering the song, because it was already political.

"But as I'm reading the lyrics, it just wasn't saying what I thought needed to be said," she said.

She wrote the song earlier this month. Since then, two more Indigenous people have been killed by law enforcement in New Brunswick.

The night before healing walks were planned in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for Chantel Moore, who was killed by police during a wellness check, Rodney Levi was fatally shot by RCMP.

"There have been a lot of deaths lately," Martell said. "I don't understand. But a lot of these names [in the song] are recent. It's not something that's from 30 years ago. This is happening now."

Some of the names included in Martell's cover aren't commonly known, she said, and she wrote the song hoping it would raise awareness and encourage people to educate themselves.

"[Music] might touch people differently than just reading an article or seeing something on the news," Martell said.

Participants in a healing walk for in Edmundston, N.B. carry a sign reading, 'Justice for Chantel Moore.' (Shane Magee/CBC)

"It should be part of our history, it should be common knowledge, and it's not," she said.

Martell's video has more than 3,000 views on YouTube, and has been shared on her Facebook page more than 25 times.

She said she's "overwhelmed" by the response, getting messages from people who were relatives or friends of the people included in her song.

"I didn't realize it was going to mean so much to people," she said.