Music lifts the people, says matriarch of JUNO nominated group

Friday, May 13th, 2022 9:42am


Image Caption

The Manitou Mkwa Singers are nominated for a JUNO award in the category of Traditional Indigenous Artist of the Year.


“I started having circles in my home with the Elders at the time. They wanted me to start holding workshops and gatherings and picking our bundles back up for the future.” — Valarie King of the Manitou Mkwa Singers
By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

“We already won. In our mind, we’ve already won,” said Valarie King, who along with three of her daughters, Mya, Jai, and Miranda, make up the Manitou Mkwa Singers. They have been nominated for the JUNO Award 2022 in the Traditional Indigenous Artist of the Year category for their album Manitou Mkwa Singers Volume 2.

“Just by doing what we do to lift up the people. That is what our music is for. To lift up the people. For the people at the JUNOs to recognize that, feel that, and bring that forward, to me that is so good.”

Other artists nominated in the category include Joel Wood, Young Spirit, Fawn Wood, and NIMKII & THE NINIIS.

The televised JUNO Awards ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, May 15. King said the journey to this point has been very exciting. The group wants to represent their community at the event and decided to make traditional ribbon skirts to wear.

“We are making our own skirts. We are just going to wear our own skirts that we made and represent our people, lift up our people,” she said.

King explained that her desire to create awareness about her community and its traditions began many decades ago. She said her path had become blurry and she was living a lifestyle she knew wasn’t right for her.

At that time, she went to the Elders of her community, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and asked them for help and guidance to discover how she was to contribute to her heritage, culture and community.

“I started having circles in my home with the Elders at the time. They wanted me to start holding workshops and gatherings and picking our bundles back up for the future,” King said, adding they wanted her to teach the community and the youth about the eagle feather, tobacco and sweatlodges.

“So that’s what I have been doing.”

Now in her sixties, King remembers that time with such passion, and explains all the different areas where she now contributes.

She is an instructor at McMaster University, and is a water walker, sun dancer, does healing work. She holds drum making workshops, teaches culture and language in her community and teaches and makes traditional medicine.

“When we do our work, our healing work, our ancestors get healed too,” she said. “When they hear our singing, they sing. When we dance, they dance.”

When her children were small, she would pack all seven of them up and attend powwows and drum circles.

“I’ve always gone out there with my children… I took them everywhere I went,” she said.

It was then when the family discovered their passion to create music.

“Me and the girls picked up the hand drum and we do a lot of singing at powwows where they have the hand drum competitions and we do pretty good there,” she said. “We are well known in the powwow circuit. We are hand drum singers and big drum singers.”

The family’s first album Manitou Mkwa Singers, included all her children. Since the pandemic limited travel, only the ones who lived near her were able to contribute to the second album.

“I love singing with all my girls and you can tell when one of us is missing. It feels like a missing in your heart,” she explained.

However, she added, the magic that happens when they are together performing, whether it is all of them or even just a few, is very spiritual and uplifting.

“It feels like all these lights that meet up at the top when we are singing,” she said.

TD Bank is a supporter of independent artists from underrepresented communities through the JUNOS Submissions Access Program. It was created by CARAS (the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) The program helps communities by covering the cost of up to five submissions.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.