Local Indigenous artists who inspire nominated for awards
Inaugural Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards recognize music with a message
When the inaugural Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards (SSIMAs) are handed out on Saturday night, some of the most significant accolades won't be for record sales or radio play — they'll be given to those who help to lift up the Indigenous community, even in the darkest times.
The SSIMAs celebrate the art of First Nations, Inuit and Métis musicians from across the country, but organizers say they also want to recognize the vital role the artists play by using their platform to raise important issues and protest injustices.
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Ottawa hip-hop artist Cody Coyote and rapper Jah'kota are nominated not just for their music, but for their social activism and youth mentorship.
Coyote is in the running for best radio single of the year, but is also being recognized in the youth and leadership category.
Jah'kota earned a nod for the social voice award for raising awareness about Indigenous issues through music and social media.
Both are already multi-award-winning artists, but being singled out for their social commitment means something special, especially in light of the horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
"It's never been about me, it's always been about my community," said Coyote. "It's always been about Indigenous folks and really advocating for our future generations."
Coyote's music and videos deal head-on with the bullying and racism he endured in his youth, which led him on a self-destructive path until he began reconnecting with his roots and understanding the horrors his families had suffered under the residential school system.
His nominated track Manidoo Dewe'igan, Ojibway for "Spirit Drum," is a proclamation of the power and confidence he's gained by reclaiming his identity.
As an artist with a strong social media following, Coyote said he now feels compelled to spread a message of resilience to Indigenous youth.
"I have a responsibility being in the position I'm in," said Coyote. "I think it's important to use that influence."
When he's not creating music, Coyote is a motivational speaker and mentor, leading youth workshops in songwriting, anti-bullying and the healing power of art.
"For me, a leader is somebody who ... is helping out the most vulnerable people in the community, as opposed to disregarding them," he said.
"Hopefully, by the time I'm done here in this physical world, I want to be able to pass on the gift of empowering them to use their voices. "
Jah'kota, a.k.a Justin Holness, is an Afro-Indigenous rapper with roots in both Jamaica and the Ocean Man First Nation in Saskatchewan. He's also a businessman and entrepreneur who recently founded Tribe Music, a profit-sharing streaming platform featuring Black and Indigenous musicians.
"I think it's a huge honour to be recognized, especially as a rapper," he said. "To be able to share my truth, tell my story, and to be recognized in the social voice [category] is a huge honour."
Like Coyote, Jah'kota visits high schools and communities to engage young people in discussions about racism and Indigenous issues. Employing music, video and audience involvement, Jah'kota said he wants to bring the uplifting messages that Indigenous youth need to hear.
"We're resilient, we're strong, we're proud, we're healthy. We're raising healthy families. We're authors, entrepreneurs, artists," he said. "I think if there's any message I can leave out to the world, is to remind everybody that we are still here."
Other Ottawa artists up for awards at this weekend's ceremony include husband and wife team Twin Flames, nominated for artist of the year and three other awards.
Throat-singing trio Silla and Rise are up for Inuit group/artist of the year and artistic video of the year.
Ottawa-Gatineau duo Okara received a nod in the music in the arts category.
The Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards will be streamed on the festival's YouTube Channel at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.