Election soundtrack: Indigenous playlist packs political punch

From Young Medicine to Tanya Tagaq, Janet Rogers brings you five songs that could inspire you to rock the vote.

From Young Medicine to Tanya Tagaq, songs that could inspire you to rock the vote

Young Medicine featuring Trent Agecoutay released this single to encourage Indigenous Peoples to vote in the upcoming federal election. (Brad Crowfoot)

With a federal election looming and political mud being flung between parties, native communities across Canada are faced with some big questions: Do we follow our forebears and not interfere with the colonizer's politics? If we vote, can we really make a difference? And which party deserves our vote?

Here is a list of songs which pack a political influential punch coming from an unequivocal native perspective — an indigenous soundtrack for the election season.

1. For What its Worth by Young Medicine featuring Trent Agecoutay

Curt Young and Jamie Medicine Crane couple up to bring audiences socially conscience songs firmly rooted in their cultural teachings.

With this Buffalo Springfield cover track, Young Medicine reaches back to a 1970s popular radio song originally composed by Steven Stills to echo sentiments recently promoted by the Assembly of First Nations.

The sentiments of AFN? Native people have the power to make a difference in this election. Native people need to put their disdain for a mainstream political system — which often times sees them as inconvenient barriers to further resource extraction — aside. In short, native people need to get out and vote.

The results of this musical call to the polls has yet to be seen. But rest assured, we have now come full circle from not being considered citizens, to gaining the right to vote in 1960, to decisively rejecting the voting system, and now to entertaining an indigenous push to the polls.

Thank you Young Medicine for marking this political event in our collective histories.  

2. Working for the Government by
A Tribe Called Red featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie

This is the greatest musical definition of a two-for-one. A Tribe Called Red has provided brand new territories for native and non-native people to dance on together.

Here, they've done what any respectful indigenous gentlemen raised in the culture knows to do — give honour to those who have paved the way for their success. Hence, the remix of indigenous groundbreaker Buffy Sainte Marie's Working for the Government.

ATCR knows the art of timing. This throwback/remix dropped on July 1st, a.k.a. Canada Day, and preceded the AFN's collective announcement urging all nations to get out and vote this fall. Makes one wonder, who exactly IS working for the government.

3. Fracking by Tanya Tagaq

The most effective and efficient way to communicate any political cause is to make people feel. Emotional campaigns tend to win a percentage of the votes.

On the track Frackingfrom her Polaris and Juno Award winning album Animism, Tanya Tagaq emphatically places her whole being on the front lines of the fracking issue and invites the listener to hear what it's like for the land to be raped, violated, abused and forcefully bled.

'On the track Fracking, from her Polaris and Juno Award winning album Animism, Tanya Tagaq emphatically places her whole being on the front lines of the fracking issue,' says Janet Rogers. (Canadian Press)
There is no doubt this track has the potential to effect Alberta pipeline lifers and touch some seemingly soul-less government ministers with investment hard-ons. If you're not feeling this sound-song, you're dead inside. 

Tanya Tagaq for prime minister! 

4. The Cheque is in the Mail by 7th Fire

This popular 80s punk reggae group, made up of brothers Allan and David DeLeary, was the first of their generation of music makers who let the rest of the nation know that native communities were paying attention to mainstream politics and clearly did not like what they were seeing. 

When their hit song The Cheque is in the Mail aired on the newly-broadcast Much Music, it gave every indigenous person across the nation a reason to sit up a little straighter, feel a little prouder and raise a fist in unison with these messy-haired-heads-on-straight Ojibway boys.

There were no other bands doing what they were doing or saying what they were saying: "Promises of food and there was none, promises of land and there was none, so we sent for more beer and now it's gone; now you tell me that the cheque is in the mail." 

5. B.I.A. by Floyd Redcrow Westerman 

Digging in the files for some of the early Indian music on records I came up with a 2:24 track by someone better know as an actor and official spokesperson for Lakota herbal medicine products.

But before the cameras found him, the late Floyd was very much influenced by political philosopher and academic activist Vine Deloria. 

B.I.A. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) is the original round dance song complete with protest lyrics and powwow chants.

So the flow chart may look like this: academic political science author influences the folk singer, the folk singer influences the communities and the communities express their political values through lifestyle choices, commercial purchases and quite possibly through voting in federal elections.

Floyd knew we could take control of our own governing destinies and he sang about it loud and proud in the 60s and 70s. Listen up. 


Janet Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from Six Nations in Ontario. She has been living on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people (Victoria) since 1994. Janet hosts Native Waves Radio on CFUV FM and has a regular radio column, Tribal Clefs, on CBC Radio One. She has produced two award-winning radio documentaries, including Bring Your Drum: 50 Years of Indigenous Protest Music.