Unreserved

Five questions for Falen Johnson, new host of Unreserved

Johnson talks about what it was like growing up in Six Nations of the Grand River, her love of rez radio, and her excitement for connecting with Indigenous communities across the country. 

Falen Johnson takes over the national Indigenous radio program Sept. 13

Falen Johnson joins Unreserved as host for the 2020-21 season. (Liz Beddall)

This season, Falen Johnson joins Unreserved  for its seventh season, so we wanted to help Canadians to get to know our new host. 

She talked about what it was like growing up in Six Nations of the Grand River, her love of rez radio, and her excitement for connecting with Indigenous communities across the country. 

What do you want the Unreserved audience to know about you?

I am Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in southern Ontario. That's how I identify. My mother is Mohawk and my dad is Cayuga but my grandfather was Tuscarora. He was a guiding force when I was growing up. He was funny, creative and a great storyteller. When he passed away I wanted to carry his Nation with me as a way of honouring him. I still have dreams where he visits me and that is always really special. Identifying like this isn't the traditional Haudenosaunee way, we are a matrilineal society so one should go by their mother's nation, but for me it has always been important to carry my grandfather with me.

Johnson most recently hosted 'The Secret Life of Canada' for CBC Podcasts. (Liz Beddall)
How does coming from Six Nations inform your storytelling?

Six Nations has a lot of fantastic artists and storytellers; people like Robbie Robertson, Shelley Niro, Zoey Hopkins, Elizabeth Doxtater, Pauline Johnson, Santee Smith, Lacey Hill, Bear and Tim from Tribe Called Red. I could go on and on. I'm really proud of coming from a place with such a rich culture and history. A place that keeps fostering so much amazing talent. 

I love learning more about my community and my history and while I don't have my language I do want to learn. I have been slowly picking up bits and pieces and I hope I can add more words to my vocabulary so I can deepen that connection.

What are you looking forward to about working on Unreserved?

I love the radio. I always have. I grew up listening to the radio. I remember making mixtapes at a pretty young age. I would sit at the kitchen table doing my homework on a Sunday and I would have a little boombox beside me and I would record songs I loved. On Friday nights my sister and I would call into our local rez radio station and request songs for our friends or cousins. It felt like this amazing connector between the community. That's kind of how I think of Unreserved, as a connector for all Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. I'm looking forward to being a part of that connector. 

Listeners might be familiar with your work on The Secret Life of Canada, what's happening with that podcast?

Leah-Simone Bowne, my co-host and co-creator and I are working on the finishing up season three. The podcast has been such a gift to me. It has taught me so much about storytelling, collaboration and of course about the history of Canada. A few of the upcoming shows are pretty exciting. One in particular about the history of the RCMP feels particularly timely and important so I am looking forward to sharing that. 

As you step into the new role, what kind of stories are you excited to tell?

I am a bit of a history nerd so I obviously gravitate toward shedding light on Indigenous history. I think as the country continues to try to move forward we need to make sure we are looking back to honour those who blazed a trail to make change in this country. I also have a background in theatre and the arts and so I always have my eyes on those communities. Really, I am just excited to share stories that illuminate and celebrate the hundreds of Indigenous nations and communities across this land. 

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