Interview with Steve Wood from Northern Cree 2017 A Grammy Nominee
1. What position to you hold at Ermineskin school? Steve: (responds in Cree). I’m the Cree language Teacher at the school for grade 7 to grade 12, and I also do many of the cultural things. We have a school drum group and a dance troupe, our whole day is based on our culture, it starts off like that. Just like any other school, they have like a national anthem. Our school plays our own anthem our flag song and it’s live our students do it. We gather three hundred and sixty students into the gathering area every morning and we start off the day the same way with the flag song done by our group and we all pray together. We give thanks and then the announcements are made and then the kids are off to class to the sound of the drum group.
2. Who’s all nominated for the drum group for the 2017 Grammy Nominees? Steve: Our whole group is nominated. : Do you know the names off hand? Steve: We represent several communities in the Treaty Six area. We always say we represent the Treaty Six area and not just one community. Myself, I’m from Saddle Lake and I’m the original founder of the group. So people sometimes think the group originated from Saddle Lake. But I’m also from Maskwacis because I live here. I’ve lived here for thirty years. We have group members that are band members from Louis Bull and Samson. There’s actually eleven of us heading down to the Grammy Awards in Las Vegas next week. We’ll be flying out on Thursday because we have rehearsals. This came as a total surprise to us. I never thought we would be nominated again. We had been nominated six time but that was when they had, like a Native American Music category. Then they dissolved the category and put our music into different categories. So I thought, the likely hood of us being nominated ever again but would be never. So it came as quite a surprise when we heard it that morning that we’d been nominated for Regional Roots category. Again, after they dissolved our category I let go of the memberships because we had memberships with the Grammy Association, we had twelve of them. We would vote too. After the category was dissolved I thought what’s the point. After the nomination, I started to think, well, people voted for us. Different people voted for us. It wasn’t any of us. So our own original genre of music that originated with us is actually being listened to by different ethnicities, different groups of people all over the world. Which I think is a good thing. Here’s the music that’s been here since time immemorial but it’s new to mainstream society. It’s like an awakening for them because they have a familiarity with it: that beat, we all do. Every human does, it’s the heartbeat. The heartbeat of the earth. Their just starting to recognize that. Just a couple of us were going, a couple weeks later we got the call and we’re opening up the Grammy Awards. We are actually the first performance and initially when they called they said we would be mixing our music with some kind of percussion music from down south. Then the producer called me back a couple days ago and said ‘We can’t do that, I listened to your music, it’s the real thing, it’s raw, and the energy and natural. We have to have that.’ So we’re actually performing exactly like the way our original music was performed. There’s no gimmicks.
3. Are you going to be wearing traditional regalia? Steve: That’s an interesting question because you know, when I started sitting around the drum and singing, I never thought about awards or Grammy Awards or anything. We were just doing it because it was something that we grew up with and it makes us feel good, and it feels good to make other people feel good. So when we first got nominated for a Grammy, we had no idea other than what we had seen on TV: People in suits and tuxedos. So we went and we were all dressed up in tuxedos, nobody spoke to us. Nobody approached us. Nothing like that, we were invisible. Those suits were uncomfortable, I can’t figure out how they could wear those things all day. The next year we went as ourselves. Like our people, beaded vests, moccasins, whatever bead work we could wear. We were like magnets! I’m not kidding you. People would just come up and wanted to touch our clothing. Even some of the biggest name stars. That’s when we had the opportunity to go on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno which was a real big thing. So of course we’re going to dress up to the hilt. Where we want to show that we are the real thing. We don’t only play this on the weekends or whenever, we’re the real thing. We live in our communities and nȇhiyaw-e-ahk, we speak our language, for some of us we read and write it. We live in these communities. When we go home, we go home here on the reserve. We don’t go home somewhere else. That’s what I’m the most proud about is that, we’re not emulating somebody else’s music. We’re not singing about our social issues, we’re the real thing, were singing the real songs. The music that originated before anyone else came to this land. I’m proud of that: that we’re able to represent in that manner, and of course when we hit that stage we want to make everyone proud. We’re going to try our best and we’re going to bring energy to that the best we can for our people and for all people because in this time, right now, all over the world, people need peace. We have to send out that message. That’s what I hear from the Elders is that, some day, First Nations people are going to show the rest of the people about how to live in peace and to accept one another. Just like we did five hundred years ago when they first arrived here we welcomed them. We helped them. We helped them survive. And I hear from the Elders that time will come. You know, we can’t depend on anybody to do it for us. Even to save our language, we have to do it ourselves. We have to teach our kids about our ceremonies and about our way of life, our language because someday that’s what going to keep us alive. And that’s what kept us alive for the past how many hundreds of years. We’ve had historical trauma on our people. And someday, just like five hundred years ago, people are going to come to us and ask us to help them to survive. How are we going to do that? With our traditional teachings, our ceremonies, our way of life and the respect that we have for the land.
4. Is there anyone you would like to thank at this point? Steve: (responds in Cree). To think about it, if a person thinks about it, you give thanks to the Creator first. You have to give thanks to the Elders and the people who carried on this way of life. Even at that time when it wasn’t cool to be an Indian. My Father who was a singer, my uncles and those other people who were singers before and kept this way of life around the drum alive, those people have to be thanked because we never would have gotten to this stage otherwise, and of course, our families. When I was first starting out, our group would go on the road for three weeks. My wife stood still beside me, she deserves a lot of credit. My brother’s family deserve credit. All of our people, the people that listen to the pow wow music and round dance music. The people that go out to round dances and not expecting anything and out there just for the spiritual aspect of it. For giving us Mostos for giving us the drum, the hide that he gives up for that sound. There are so many people to thank and to recognize. I probably missed a few and that wasn’t my intention. We want to acknowledge them all. Even those people that picked up our music and listened to it. The record label, Canyon Records. Sometimes I tell that white guy, “You’re an Indian stuck in a white man’s body.” Because this guy has an ear for the music. He understands it. It’s not just, let’s make money off of it. It’s more than that to him. I have to thank all those people. And all those living spirits that were part of it. Our culture is so beautiful. I got to so many places that I never would have gone. I’ve met so many people that we’d have never met. The drum took us there. Our culture took us there. I often wonder when I’m sitting at a drum at a pow wow and I’m looking at all the kids having fun, dancing, the Elders talking, I wonder if other people have these kind of events. I wonder if they do they have this intimacy
in their event. I haven’t seen any, and I’m not talking about concerts because there not the same. It’s not the same intimacy. There could be ten thousand people there and it would be like one big family. So we’re blessed in that regard. I keep thinking about this, this is a great opportunity for us, it’s an opportunity to show young people that they don’t have to be anybody else, they can be themselves. They can aspire to great things and they can be proud of it. That’s the whole idea. Every young First Nations person on Turtle Island that sees this, will know that they can. Where do you think the first place we’d take that Grammy if we won? Right here at this school. The first place is these schools. I want to them to able to actually touch it. I want them to know that the person who won it lives right here and I see him every day and he’s just like us. I want them to think, I can do anything I want, it’s possible. It’s so much more than just getting on that stage and look at us. We try and do everything properly before we go. We’ll have ceremony before we go, we’ll feed our drum and then we’ll have prayer. So that we have strength to do the right things to represent, to have good travels. And that when we come back everything is still the same. Like our families and communities are still the same. I make it a point when we go to these different events, like the Canadian Consulate, and the pre-Grammy nominee party where only the nominees go and that’s where you get to mingle with all the big name stars and there’s no media and you just get to talk with them. I have a thing about that and I make it clear to all the men in the drum group that no one drinks alcohol. They are adults and I’m not saying you can’t drink at all but if you want to drink, you can drink back at the room or the lounge. Because those people, they’re not only looking at us, they’re looking at our image and who we are, and the perspective that they have of us from history. From the way that they historically looked at us, people with alcohol problems, we’re not that. I don’t drink myself. So if the men from the drum group want to drink they can drink on their own time.
5. Where can people get a hold of you for interviews or pictures after you get home? Steve: I work here every day at Ermineskin school. I’m here all the time. It’s not about me though, it’s about that entity. I always say, we are blessed. That spirit, that Norther Cree spirit that took us all over the place, that’s what it is. It’s so much more than just one person, it’s a group of different people
representing different bands, representing this tribe because that’s something I rationalize about too. There’s only one nation, it’s the Cree Nation, there’s a bunch of bands that belong to it and if we get that straight we’re going to be powerful again.