Photo: Crystal Schick/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
This past Sunday March 30, 2014, fans of A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) celebrated with the group as they took home the JUNO prize for Breakthrough Group of the Year. The hard earned, and well-deserved win was especially poignant since the group was competing outside of the Aboriginal Artist category, against mainstream artists. MUSKRAT spoke to ATCR’s Bear Witness about the win, and why the group purposefully did not submit to the Aboriginal Artist category:
MM: Congratulations on the JUNO Breakthrough Group win! What went through your mind the moment you heard “A Tribe Called Red” named as the winner?
BW: To be honest, I knew a couple milliseconds before. We had been hanging out with The Sadies backstage before, and they were really pulling for us to win. So as soon as they opened the envelope and I saw the look in their eyes, I kind of knew what was coming. It was still a huge surprise – it was definitely shock. The real excitement of that moment was knowing what it means to everybody, not just to our group.
MM: I read recently that ATCR submitted to both the Electronic Album of the year and Breakthrough artist of the year, but purposefully not in the Aboriginal Artist category. Can you talk about how and why you came to that decision as a group?
BW: It was time for it. We felt that we had the opportunity now to compete in the mainstream. We don’t have anything against the Aboriginal Award, and we definitely don’t want to take anything away from that award. But we felt that we had the opportunity to win an award outside of just our Nationalities, outside of being judged based on our backgrounds.
MM: Do you think there should be an Aboriginal category at the JUNOS?
BW: Yes, definitely. I don’t have a problem with the category necessarily, but I think we need to see people winning outside of the category as well. That has happened, we’re not the first people to win outside of the Indigenous category, but it’s definitely something that it has a tendency to keep people there. As Indigenous artists we need to be measured with everybody else, you know, not just with each other.
MM: As quoted in the liner notes from your album, Nation II Nation, “After what happened in the last hundred years, the simple fact we are here today is a political statement. As First Nations people everything we do is political.” How has the last year of politics, specifically the work and momentum of Idle No More impacted you personally as an artist?
BW: The biggest impact you can see is in Nation II Nation. That album was recorded during that whole rise of Idle No More. We live in Ottawa, so when we were recording that album, we were just feeling the energy in the city – there was this huge influx of Indigenous people in the city to march and protest and be heard, and we felt it. Ottawa is not the kind of city where you’re used to going to the corner store and seeing four or five other Indigenous people in the store or a line up of Indigenous people in the store, we’re kind of a little more spread out in Ottawa. But at that time, you would go to the store and that was happening, or you’d be on the bus and that was happening. The energy was there in Ottawa and it was all around us, and that energy worked its way into the album. Even the title, Nation II Nation came from having that happen all around us, and the idea that the discussion that needs to happen between Indigenous people of North America and settler nations, it needs to happen on a Nation to Nation level. All of that energy, and all of that stuff that was going on in Ottawa, that all went right into the album.
MM: Do you think that the JUNO win for ATCR will awaken Canadians to the way in which we are represented in mainstream?
BW: I think the biggest thing that ATCR can affect is the way that we are seen, particularly in the media. We are here to represent ourselves in the way that we see ourselves. That is what we are here to rep, and show the rest of the world. It’s not even about breaking stereotypes, it’s about showing people that we have already broken those stereotypes, that we’ve moved beyond those stereotypes. And for the first time really in the history of media, that we are able to represent ourselves the way we see ourselves to a worldwide audience. You know it’s always been Indigenous people being shown through somebody else’s eyes, so here we are, finally being able to take control of our image. And that is something I think ATCR can affect the most.
MM: What does the Nation II Nation relationship look like through Electric Powwow?
BW: We did this for our community, we did this for Indigenous people and to create something within pop culture that represented and reflected us. What we didn’t know would happen, and didn’t expect was that people from all cultures and backgrounds reacted to it. Seeing non-Indigenous Canadians get into and get behind Electric Powwow has been amazing! It’s one of those things we weren’t expecting and it has been part of the magic of what we’ve been able to accomplish. A huge part of how we manage to do things like win Breakthrough Group has been because of that unknown factor that non-Indigenous people were going to understand what we were trying to portray in our music.
MM: I understand ATCR is working on a new album, which will include new collaborations. Is there anyone specifically you would like to work with, or that you are looking forward to working with?
BW: Things are still up in the air at the moment, but we’re getting to work with some very exciting people. We’re getting to work with some people we’ve wanted to work with for a long time. People who have become close friends, kind of our road family, but as far as specifics it’s hard to start naming names at the moment, we’ve really just started work on the album this past month.
MM: Since you are a video artist, and have created many videos in the past for ATCR, will you be creating any videos for the new album?
BW: I will probably be creating new content for our live show, but the actual video making is beginning to move beyond just myself, and that’s all I can give you on that right now! But expect some videos that aren’t produced by me soon!
MM: When can fans expect to hear some of the new work from ATCR?
BW: The new album won’t be out until later this year but we’re looking to put out some singles this summer. So hopefully you’ll be hearing some new music sooner than later!