The industry & Indigenous music

The information on this page will provide a brief overview of some of the developments that have marked the emergence of the Indigenous music scene in the Canadian music industry, as well as some important context.

Before beginning, a thought paraphrasing Bear Witness of A Tribe Called Red

Indigenous people never stopped making art. It’s just that the industry started paying attention. Don’t forget the people who have been pushing the whole time. 

The Indigenous music scene in Canada has established itself a major force in the music industry, full of creativity and energy, exploring a huge variety of genres, multidisciplinary work, all while uplifting and celebrating traditions that were for a very long time under institutional attack.

Coming out of the Idle No More movement that saw Indigenous communities and leaders affirming the importance of their values and needs within the Canadian social and political mainstream, and spurred by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the recent Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Canadians have been forced to grapple with the systemic racism and violence that the colonial project wrought on the original inhabitants of this land, a system that continues to this day.

With the beautiful emergence of Indigenous art and conversations that has sparked the imagination of people from all around the world and from many backgrounds, there has been also a need for reflection on the roots of this movement and the way it has contributed to and shaped modern conversations around systemic racism, white supremacy, and social justice.

This post will provide interested parties with resources to both learn about some of the incredible music that has been taking the world by storm in recent years, as well as resources for better understanding the massive challenges that the colonial system has placed on Indigenous people. It will feature links to resources as well as art.

First of all, if we are going to speak about Indigenous people, then we are speaking about the original people of the land. Whose land are you on?

  • Use website (there is also an app) to find out!
  • Quebec counts (just Quebec!) 11 different communities! Challenge yourself and learn the 11 ones via this map.

Next, we must acknowledge and learn about the injustice that has led to the need for a resurgence.

Did you know that the last residential school was closed in 1996?

The Idle No More was a major force in awakening people across Canada to the realities of life for Indigenous people. The music community, especially those who focus on musical and cultural diversity began to express their interest.

La Fabrique culturelle

Artistes autochtones : un tour d’horizon des 11 nations du Québec
Click here !

Indigenous special

On the radio show Pénélope
Click here !

A Tribe Called Red

Right around the same time, A Tribe Called Red released their first music. Their powerful mix of Pow Wow drums and singing with electronic beats proved irresistible to audiences, and a cultural phenomenon was spawned, with Polaris Prize nominations, world tours and crossover into mainstream festival circuits.

Tanya Tagaq

The next major moment in the music industry was when Tanya Tagaq won the Polaris Prize in 2014 for her album Animism. The next year, the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie won for Power In The Blood.

In 2018, Jeremy Dutcher won for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, sung entirely in his language.

Listen to Jeremy speak here

ShoShona Kish

On an international level, artists in Canada have been connecting with their counterparts in Europe (there appears to be a similar resurgence among the Sami people in Scandinavia).

We would like to highlight the work of ShoShona Kish, from the band Digging Roots, who has been making huge efforts to build capacity with in the Indigenous arts community across Turtle Island, collaborating with artists from a huge diversity of backgrounds. She was presented with the WOMEX Excellence Professional award in 2018 and given the chance to speak to more than 1000 world music industry professionals representing some of the most influential people in this global community that promotes and highlights cultural diversity around the world.

ShoShona was also interviewed by Jo Frost a year prior and featured in SONGLINES MAGAZINE  .

Want to hear more stories through lyrics ?

Listen to the artists!


Here is a useful guide created by the lovely people at the Hillside Festival that gives some ideas about working with Indigenous communities.

A note however, from Andy Hillhouse: “It’s now been several years since this was written and in many ways the field, and how people talk about this topic, has progressed. One major thing is that I know that Indigenous folks tend to not want to get lumped in with the idea of cultural diversity. This guide includes Indigenous presentation alongside other cultural presentation, which can obscure the distinct concerns of Indigenous communities. At any rate, it was meant as a document to be critiqued and improved upon, and hopefully still can contribute to the discussion!”