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Monday, April 4, 2016

Juno Awards mark another breakthrough year for Native Music

In 1991, Elaine Bomberry was spinning records as a DJ at CKRZ-FM, the hometown radio station of the Six Nations of the Grand River. She had also started her company All Nations Talent Group. Around this time she was asked serve as Juror for World Music category by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS). It lead to a chance to create a historic opportunity in the Canadian Music scene.

"I was asked by Anne McKeigan to be on the Advisory Committee for the (World) category, and during one of the meetings I was sat beside Daisy Falle (former Executive Director for CARAS), and I kept shaking my head saying, "our music doesn't fit here in this category, or that category'. Then Daisy leans over to me and says "Why don't you start your own category?" 

Native music has always been an essential part of North American music. Indigenous rhythms and singing styles root all music created in North America including Country, the Blues and Jazz. Traditional Indigenous sounds and songs are a unique form and have survived in Canada despite the government policy of cultural genocide that outlawed singing and dancing.

Indigenous artists have been significant creators in contemporary Canadian music for decades with artists Buffy Sainte Marie and Robbie Robertson internationally renowned. Local and regional artists also shared their songs, stories and styles for just as long. This year, the Grammy Awards nominated a recording filled with Canadian Aboriginal artists that span twenty years beginning in 1966. Native North America vol. 1  documents a period of music unheard on mainstream radio and unrecognized at the Juno Awards the annual celebration of Canadian music.

The awards began to take form under other names in the 1960's and by 1971 it was officially named after a bureaucrat.  In the 1980's, in order to be more inclusive CARAS began to add more categories. By the early 1990's there were categories for Best Francophone, Best Reggae/Calypso and Best World.

The Aboriginal award faced controversy in its first year. In 1994 the nominee list included Nancy Nash performing under the name Sazacha Red Sky. She was nominated for her recording of a sacred song that she said was given to her by Chief Dan George in a dream. The George family filed an injunction to stop the award from being handed out. A compromise was achieved and the awards went ahead.

Lawrence Martin took home the first award for his album Lawrence Martin is Wapistan. The category has consistently recognized the best recordings by Aboriginal artists for over two decades. There was a ripple effect throughout the country as regional music awards added Aboriginal music categories.

The category soon became overwhelmed in diversity. As someone who has served as a judge in the Aboriginal Recording category it is very difficult assessing new country versus hiphop versus traditional powwow versus folk versus experimental and on and on. In fact many recordings nominated in the category should have been considered among the best recordings in other categories.

There was criticism that the category creates a ghetto and that artists are considered Aboriginal first and artist second. Although the Junos haven't been entirely closed.

In 1995, the year after the award was created, Robbie Robertson won Producer of the Year recognition for his Music for the Native Americans soundtrack. Susan Aglukark won Best New Artist and Aboriginal Recording of the Year award. That same year Buffy Sainte Marie was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

In 1996 Susan Aglukark was nominated in the category of Best Female Vocalist. In 1998, Metis artist Holly Mcnarland won for Best New Artist. In 2004,  Kinnie Star was nominated for Best New Artist.

In 2014, A Tribe called Red took home the Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year and was also nominated in the best Electronic Album category. In 2015 Tanya Tagaq was nominated in the Alternative Album of the Year category.

The Nominees this year marked another big step towards Aboriginal nominees being considered in all categories. Sainte Marie's Power in the Blood won in the category of Contemporary Folk Album as well as taking home Aboriginal recording of the year. Ms. Sainte Marie was also nominated as Songwriter of the Year. Don Amero's Refined was nominated in the Adult Contemporary Album. Not nominated in the Aboriginal category yet a nominee in the category of Instrumental Album of the Year was Cris Derksen for Orchestral PowWow.

Following the awards which opened with a beautiful performance by the indomitable Ms. Sainte Marie, Bomberry shared that she "loved Buffy's spoken word," and added, "Its been amazing to watch our Indigenous music scene grow before our eyes."