When Lawrence Martin heard the announcement that he had won a Juno, he thought of how proud it would make his eight kids, three grandchildren and the folks back home in Moose Factory. Then he got on stage. Martin, 38, realized he was before thousands of people and TV cameras broadcasting across the country. “What am I going to say now?” he wondered.

But Martin, who goes by the Cree name Wapistan, didn’t lose his cool. First, he thanked his people in Cree. Then he spoke in English.

Afterward, he admitted to feeling a bit overwhelmed. “It feels pretty nice. People have been faxing me congratulations all morning,” he told The Nation the day after the Junos. He said speaking in Cree was a political statement about who he is. “I wanted to thank my people first.”

Wapistan is the first person to win a Juno in the new aboriginal music category for his debut album Wapistan Is Lawrence Martin. The highlight of the evening came when Wapistan treated a national TV audience to a stirring performance of Elders, one of the songs on his album.

Wapistan, who is also the mayor of Sioux Lookout, says music is a great way of getting across political ideas. “Where I come from, Moose Factory, there is the same poverty as in many other aboriginal communities. I want the government and the Canadian public to hear about it.”

Wapistan Is Lawrence Martin is the first release not only from Wapistan, but also from Wawatay Recordings, a multi-media non-profit company owned by the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. Besides putting out music, Wawatay also makes greeting cards based on native legends, does syllabic translations and repairs for First Nations community radio stations. Call Wawatay at 416-291-7651.