iskwe wont let us look away from injustice toward Indigenous people

iskwe at the Mod Club (1115 Queen West), Saturday (February 23), 8 pm. $19.50. February 9, 2018, Gerald Stanley,.

iskwe at the Mod Club (1115 Queen West), Saturday (February 23), 8 pm. $19.50.

On February 9, 2018, Gerald Stanley, accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Colten Boushie, was acquitted. Shock waves reverberated across Canada, only to be followed weeks later by a not-guilty verdict for Raymond Cormier, accused of murdering 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.

The acquittals of Stanley and Cormier, both white men, exposed what many already knew: justice for Indigenous victims of crime remain an anomaly in Canada.

The day of the Stanley verdict, the singer/songwriter and performer iskwe was minutes away from taking the stage at the Banff Centre conservatory, where she was attending a writing residency. When she heard the news, she fled the green room.

I felt rage. I had to leave, says iskwe over the phone in Toronto. It took every bit of my willpower not to launch my phone at the mirror. The only thing I could think of was, Just breathe. Just breathe. The reaction was so visceral.

The next day she tweeted:

The singer, who hails from Winnipeg and has been embracing her Cree heritage in her political pop music, has become one of the most outspoken and unapologetic voices speaking up against Canadas repeated neglect and abuse of Indigenous peoples and communities throughout the country.

Iskwe remains disturbed by both the Fontaine and Boushie murders and says that if we allow the one-year anniversary of the trials to slip by undiscussed, we are failing the younger generations once again.

[The verdicts] showed me one more time how devalued our bodies are in this country. And how Canadians do a really good job at pointing blame at other nations for how they treat people when it comes to human rights and injustices, but we dont recognize that those same things happen here. We keep turning a blind eye to it again and again and again. These are things that we expected to have happen in the 60s. Were supposed to be beyond that. Why is it still happening?

Today, iskwe releases Little Star the song written last year at Banff and its stop-motion animation video by Sarah Legault. While debuting it around the one-year anniversary of the cases was unintentional, shes grateful for the timing.

Unsettling and layered with symbolism everything from the videos red sky, which forewarns a storm on the horizon, to iskwes red dress that unfurls into the streets like waves of blood Little Star is set to the drum beat of an Anishinaabe honour song and sees iskwe digging deeper into the astrology teachings of [her] Cree ancestors. Its an ode to young, Indigenous lives lost, a recrimination of a callous society that has repeatedly turned a blind eye to tragedies, and a strike at complicit, victim-shaming media, too often trading in racist, biased headlines and coverage.

The biggest trigger for me with the Tina Fontaine case was when the Globe and Mail ran that headline [about] when her body was discovered, the toxicologist found drugs and alcohol in her system. I understand that this would come up during the trial, but its extremely irresponsible to have presented it [this way] because it only further perpetuates stereotypes that young Indigenous women or Indigenous men are addicts. It generalizes us as being a population that lives in a state of addiction and abuse. It allows people to feel that its self-induced, without there being any kind of understanding of what the back story is or what self-medicating is or what mental health is or what racism is and how all these different layers participate in how these trials and tribulations begin.

At the end of the day, this child was found in the river. Why isnt that our focus?

iskwe will unveil a new immersive live show at the Mod Club on Saturday and will release her third album later this year. She hopes her new material will continue where her 2017 album The Fight Within left off, challenging Canadians unexamined views of itself.

My primary motivation is to raise issues impacting Indigenous people, but the thing is that this storyline is not unique to us. Its about childrens bodies not being valued by society. You look at all these other youths who had their lives taken from them by various people in positions of power and what does that look like? What ends up happening to these people? Nothing. They dont go to jail. They dont receive any kind of repercussions. GoFundMe campaigns are put in place to raise funds for the accuseds legal costs. People come together and pool money to support these other folks because theres this separation and it blows my mind.

Shes proud to be considered a political artist, and she intends for her music to keep shining light on injustice, as well as uplifting the diverse Indigenous communities and youth around the country.

I want to remind Canadians that Indigenous young people have hopes and dreams, vulnerabilities and faults just like the young people in everybodys families, she says. We shouldnt need to be twice as good to receive the same amount of respect and room to grow as our Canadian counterparts. Im fighting for our young ones to have a shot in life and be allowed to be themselves. To be allowed to be Indigenous.

@nowtoronto | @ChakaVGrier

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