It was an evening to celebrate the best in Native music from across the country. The John Bassett Theatre in downtown Toronto was packed November 28 for the fifth annual Aboriginal Music Awards, recognizing both popular and traditional original music.

The evening started out on a strong note with hosts Tom King and Jennifer Podemski taking the stage. Podemski’s arm pumped praises for the artists as she shouted, “It’s Indian time tonight! Thank you, god, for making me an Indian!”

The depth and quality of Native music that is available today is impressive and extensive. The producers of the awards show did their best to showcase the different styles. The categories for awards included rock, country, traditional, hand drum, blues and rap/hip hop.

The evening featured performances by folk artist Andrea Menard, a Métis from Saskatchewan, during which you could have heard a pin drop as the audience held its breath listening to her acapella song. Country artists Mitch Daigneault, Kimberly Dawn, and Moose Factory’s own Cheechoo and Martin took the stage together for an inspiring trio of short songs. Ontario’s Six Nations family band Wolfpack did a funky blues tune, while Inuk hard rocker Lucie Idlout sauntered on to the stage and belted out a powerful song. Crowd favourite Tru Rez Crew of Six Nations performed to the delight of many fans in the theatre, and Ceremony (from Whapmagoostui) graced the stage during the fashion show. Turtle Concepts founder Dave Jones chose the group only a couple of weeks before the show to help showcase some extraordinary pieces from Native designers.

The show ended with a skin-tingling performance by another up and coming group out of Edmonton called the Red Power Squad, consisting of 6 dancers, an MC and a DJ. With the stage darkened, all one could hear was some contemporary traditional native music and this: ‘Welcome, and enjoy this experience. This is more than a performance. This is a way of life. Today we have many warriors with us. And as warriors we tell our stories, through our dance, through our songs, living in two worlds, a balance is kept. To make it in this world, our traditions are kept alive. And it is felt through our music. The battle has begun. We are the Red Power Squad!”

They came out on the stage preceded by two Pow Wow dancers dressed in full regalia and broke into a funky tune. At the end of the song, the stage filled up with the fashion show models and some of the night’s winners like Tru Rez Crew and Wolfpack. Despite the fact that it was clearly the youth contingent on stage, the significance and energy was not lost on the older observers. It drew a standing ovation and left this reporter nodding her head with the simple brilliance of it all. It was a truly glorious sight to behold the traditional, with the contemporary and the future, all sharing the stage.

If we wonder what people are doing to promote, perpetuate and praise our culture and traditions, rest assured that the warriors are talented, willing and able.

For a complete list of AAAA winners, go to

The Canadian Aboriginal Festival had many artists performing over the weekend at the performance tent, the music tent and on centre stage. Each performance was limited to 20 minutes so that as many artists as possible could be featured. Up-and-coming bands like Redd Nation, a hip hop band from Edmonton, and Feedback, a contemporary hard rock band from Saskatchewan, had the crowds of Natives and non-Natives alike in the palm of their hands. Traditional vocalists and musicians Asani stunned the audience with the beauty of their sounds. Jessie James from the North West Territories delighted people with his unique performance singing in Dogrib and English. And Red Power Squad crossed over at centre stage Saturday night, compelling an elderly Native woman off to the side of the stage, to bust a move and bop her head with the beat.

The Festival is the largest Aboriginal cultural showcase in Canada. Now in its 10th year, it is three days of exposure to every aspect of Native Culture. The centrepiece of which is the Pow Wow, with over 600 dancers and 17 drums from across the country. This year the Pow Wow was dedicated to Canada’s Peacekeepers. There were over 200 booths offering wares as diverse as Long Bow guitars to more common items of moccasins and wild rice. The food fair included the Pow Wow staples of Indian tacos, moose burgers and strawberry juice, always a treat. Besides the performances by the musical artists, there was a lacrosse skills demonstration, fashion shows and traditional teachings tent.

NARIA: Building the Native music industry

The National Aboriginal Recording Industry Association (NARIA) is a newly incorporated organization to foster development of the Aboriginal music recording industry and its creators and artists. With funding from the federal government and groups like the First Nations Buying Group and the Tribal Council Investment Group, NARIA is the culmination of a decade of industry building by Elaine Bomberry, Curtis Jonnie/Shingoose and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

NARIA will fill the need of artists to advocate for professional development and training, to promote and stimulate the Aborginal music recording industry while providing economic opportunities for its recording artists. They will establish a distribution network modeled after the mainstream, only for Natives.

Shingoose pointed out the potential of the industry at an information session during the Canadian Aboriginal Festival in Toronto. ‘We have our own Aboriginal Top Ten, (currently) they each sell about 25 units a month. With this network, we can sell 1,000 units a month of each, 12,000 units a year,” he said. “It could be a million-dollar industry! The artists’ royalty could be around $37,500 each a year. So this is a business. This is not wishing for winning the lottery. This is focused energy to establish the infrastructure for this industry to move forward. This is our time.”

Further info, phone: 204-474-1383, e-mail: