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Left: Album Cover, recorded with Sweet Grass Records following 1996 Schemitzun World Champion Hand Drum Group title.
Right: Lead singer, Clayton Chief
photos by Ted Whitecalf
The Juno Awards have smiled on Saskatchewan First Nations artists once more. Little Island Cree, a traditional hand drum group has been nominated for the best music of Aboriginal Canada recording category.
Hailing from the Island Lake First Nation, the group has been together for 15 years. Alvin Chief, the group's spokesman, says that Clayton Chief, the leader singer, was instrumental in their formation. "He started off when all the guys were small, going around to powwows," says Alvin Chief.
From these small beginnings, the family group has grown over the years. They remain drug and alcohol free and write their own original music. Their diligence has paid off as they have won competitions all over North America. In 1996, they were named the Schemitzun World Champion Hand Drum Group in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Juno nomination comes as further confirmation that the group is on the right track. "The nomination proves that there is room for cultural singing," says Chief.
Ted Whitecalf of Sweet Grass Records agrees. He says, "It is an indicator that you are on the right track for the group as well as the company."
Little Island Cree has recorded three tapes with Sweet Grass Records since 1994, including a 1996 recording following their win at Hartford. Whitecalf says that he forwarded three of the songs from that recording to the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) for their consideration. Those three songs have now garnered the hand drum group a Juno nomination.
The group's nomination is noteworthy this year in that they are the only traditional group of the five nominees. Alvin Chief believes it is an indication of a new attitude in the music industry. "I think it's about time that cultural singing was recorded," he says.
Whitecalf firmly believes that this is only the beginning. "Groups like these are creating an awareness of traditional Aboriginal music, quality music," he says.
Quality music is the trademark of Sweet Grass Records. In the five years that the company has been in existence, artists it records have received four Juno nominations. These have included the Stoney Park Singers in 1994 and the Red Bull Singers in 1996. "The groups that are out there, drum groups are paving the way for new ones," says Whitecalf.
The Junos will be held March 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. "We're really honoured to be going," says Chief. The Little Island Cree are competing against Fara, Tom Jackson, Mishi Donovan and No Reservations.
A win at the Junos would be "icing on the cake" says Whitecalf. But he adds, "The main thing is achieving the goal, and that has come with the nomination. However, if they win, a lot of other groups will win too."