Ottawa

Inuit artists in Ottawa keeping eye on awards controversy

Inuit artists living in Ottawa are watching closely as criticism toward the Indigenous Music Awards (IMA) mounts due to concerns over cultural appropriation. 

Artists concerned over nomination of non-Inuk artist who performs throat singing

Alexia Galloway-Alainga is an Inuk throat singer living in Ottawa. (Miriam Katawazi/CBC)

Inuit artists living in Ottawa are watching closely as criticism toward the Indigenous Music Awards (IMA) mounts due to concerns over cultural appropriation. 

Several Inuit artists are pulling their support after the IMA nominated a First Nations artist who performs Inuit throat singing. 

Musicians Tanya Tagaq, Kelly Fraser and the duo PIQSIQ have announced they're refusing to submit any work or perform at the awards until the organizers add Inuit representatives to the IMA board.

Ottawa's A Tribe Called Red became the latest artists to pull out of the awards in solidarity with the group.

At the heart of the issue is Nehiyaw (Cree) singer Connie LeGrande, who performs as Cikwes. She was nominated in the best folk album category, but is being accused of appropriating Inuit style throat singing in her music.

A Tribe Called Red became the latest artists to boycott the Indigenous Music Awards over cultural appropriation concerns. After a Cree musician who tries out throat singing was nominated for a folk award. Local Inuit throat singers weigh-in. 11:34

Not just a 'performance'

Alexia Galloway-Alainga and Heidi Langille, both Inuit throat singers in Ottawa, say they share the concerns of their fellow Inuit artists. 

"I would hope they would apologize," Langille told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Monday. "Cultural appropriation can happen [even within the Indigenous community]."

It's taking the space away from other Inuit performers that could be there doing it authentically.- Heidi Langille, Inuk throat singer

Both Ottawa artists said throat singing is an act of cultural reclamation among Inuit, and not simply a "performance."

"It's a place that's still sensitive, I think for, many Inuit in Canada because it was a thing that was almost lost completely with colonisation," Galloway-Alainga said.

"Inuit are still reclaiming it, and it's still something that we are trying to grasp and learn about ourselves."

She said throat singing is seen as a bonding practice rather than a performance. 

"It was a way to pass time traditionally between two women," Galloway-Alainga said.

Diverse communities 

The Indigenous community in Canada is diverse, Langille said.

"There is the assumption that it is all one culture," she said. "In fact, it is many different cultures, and absolutely there can be cultural appropriation between Indigenous communities and Indigenous groups."

In the Inuit culture, it is important to share art and music, and to teach others the crafts, Langille said. 

"Where the line is drawn is when somebody who is non-Inuk is doing it and getting paid for it and billing it as Inuit throat singing, even though it's not," she said.

"It's taking the space away from other Inuit performers that could be there doing it authentically."