The Plains Cree-Saulteaux rapper Drezus may have took home the most hardware at the 10th annual Indigenous Music Awards last weekend, but Jaaji Okpik made Kahnawake proud with his win for Best Indigenous Language CD.
“It feels great. It is a great honour,” said Okpik, whose biological father is from Kahnawake, and who was known here as Sunchild Deer. “I didn’t even think I had a chance, so I had no speech or no expectations.”
The awards ceremony, formerly called the Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Awards, recognized the achievements of emerging and established artists in 34 categories last Friday evening at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Okpik said he was in awe at the ceremony, which was led by actors Lorne Carnival and Gary “Litefoot” Davis.
“Just seeing all the artists that I didn’t think I’d even be sharing the same air with,” said Okpik.
Okpik grew up in Quagtag, Nunavik in Northern Quebec and was raised by his maternal grandparents, but visited Kahnawake during the summer when he was younger.
His music blends folk with the Inuit language. He described his self-produced album Nunaga [ITALICS], which means “my land, my home” as having an acoustic feel, melodic, nostalgic and a tale of how he grew up.
“My grandparents taught me the ways of the Inuit culture and it is a lot of storytelling of the importance of respect, culture and land,” he said.
Okpik won against artists like Florent Volant (Puamuna), Jonathan Maracle (Karonyakdadeh Hymns of Mohawk Elders), and Sewepagaham (Sewepagham).
Okpik told THE EASTERN DOOR he didn’t think he would win because Volant, a well-known francophone artist, was nominated.
“When the hosts had problems pronouncing a name, I pretty much figured out then and there that it was me,” he said.
Okpik wasn’t the only Inuk/Kahnawa’kehró:non artist up for an award.
His cousin, Beatrice Deer (whose father is also from Kahnawake and is Okpik’s cousin), was also nominated for Best Album artwork latest EP Fox [ITALIC], but lost to Enter-Tribal’s [Hitting The Trail ITALICS].
The winners were chosen based on online voting that took place throughout the summer.
“I have a following that is very dedicated and I’m very happy for that,” said Okpik. “If there were people from Kahnawake that voted – thank you very much I really appreciate it.”
However, the win was bittersweet, as his girlfriend – Algonquin/Metis singer songwriter Chelsey June – didn’t win the category she was nominated in.
June was up for Best Folk/Acoustic CD, but lost to Nadine L’Hirondelle & Jason Burnstick’s latest album [Wrapped in Daisies ITALICS].
The musical couple recently combined their talents and are working on recording their debut album under the band name Twin Flames. The album is expected to be released in November.