Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The National Music Centre in Calgary has added five new Indigenous “trailblazers” to the evolving Speak Up! Voices that Matter—Past—Present—Future exhibit.
The exhibit features Indigenous musical artists who are known for their social impact on Canada, music culture and growth in the country.
Tom Jackson, Elisapie, Ferron, Fawn Wood, and Drezus were added June 21 for their continued contributions to the music scene and support of community.
Jackson, is known for the Huron Carole Benefit Concert Series; Inuk artist and activist Elisapie is known for bringing awareness to the culture, language, and realities of the Arctic Inuit; Métis folk singer-songwriter and poet Ferron is recognized as one of the most influential writers and performers that rose out of the women’s music movement; Cree and Salish musician Fawn Wood is the recipient of the first JUNO Award for Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year in 2022; and rapper and youth mentor Drezus was a member of the influential Indigenous hip-hop group Team Rezofficial.
“We want to highlight, continue highlighting, Indigenous trailblazers, and the basic theme of it is artists who've created social change and have also created awareness through their art and through their actions as artists,” said Speak Up! curator David McLeod.
Launched in 2019, the Speak Up! exhibit annually showcases a handful of Indigenous artists from across Canada.
The National Music Centre focuses on preserving and celebrating Canada’s music story. It is located inside Studio Bell at 300-851 4 Street SE, Calgary. It is also the home of four Canadian music halls of fame, including the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Quebec’s ADISQ Hall of Fame. These different collaborations and collections include more than 450 years of history.
Visitors to the exhibit will have the opportunity to see artifacts, as well as listen to music and stories recorded by the artists.
“Visitors to Speak Up! can learn how Indigenous artists are fostering dialogue and understanding to radically shift the Canadian paradigm of who First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people are,” reads a press release about the exhibit.
Each year a list of potential artists is brought forward to a committee that analyzes the work of each individual and then decides which artists to highlight for the year.
“So, when we go through the list, you know you look at Tom Jackson, for example. He’s literally raised millions of dollars… mainly for food banks and also for social service agencies that have been affected by disasters, such as flooding,” McLeod said. “And he’s done that through music. So that is pretty incredible, what he’s done.”
Born at the One Arrow Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1948, Jackson has become a well-known country and folk singer. He’s also an actor and is much loved for his roles in movies and the television series North of 60 and Shining Time Station. Currently, he is plays the role of Frank Cranebear in the Sullivan’s Crossing series which airs on CTV.
Jackson has been singing and performing in multiple capacities for many decades. He has received the Companion of the Order of Canada. He is a 11-time honorary degree recipient, and a proud bearer of the 2014 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Since 1988 he has spearheaded the Huron Carole Benefit, which has raised more than $250 million for food banks, shelters, mental health programs and other community initiatives throughout Canada.
Jackson said he was compelled to establish the concert back when he was starting out after experiencing homelessness for a period of time as a young adult.
“Music and change go hand-in-hand,” Jackson said. Lyrics can evoke emotions in people and those emotions can create a change, he explained.
He said he took having the opportunity to help others “very seriously” and, for him, performing was his way.
When he was just starting out, he acted at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in a show about a young Indigenous girl who moved from a reserve into the big city and got caught up in city life.
“Some people started throwing rocks through the windows, but what that did is it made me realize how important theatre could be that you can create that kind of a change and so I got an interest in acting and I've been doing it ever since,” Jackson explained.
Jackson said he hopes his being included in the National Music Centre and having his work on display at the exhibit will inspire others who have talents to explore them and the many possibilities and opportunities that talent can bring.
“When you are an artist, it’s a different space that you live in … As an Aboriginal artist I think about a lot of things and sometimes it is easier to put those things down on paper, or paint them, or sing them, than it is to actually express them talking. I believe First Nation artists have a lot to say in a lot of different ways.”
Jackson has always encouraged young artists to, “Use your voice to be heard, to be shouted, to be sung, to find the fury, to find the spark, to find the courage. Use your talent.”
For more information on the show or to attend visit Speak Up! | Studio Bell
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.