LAKELAND - A deep love for her family and culture, along with continuing a legacy that has existed for generations, has turned into a successful career for Fawn Wood - and most recently, a nod at one of the country's most renowned music award shows.
Every year, Canada's top musicians are honoured through the well-known JUNO Awards. One of the newest categories included in the JUNO Awards is the Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year category. When this year's nominees were announced on March 1, the first name in the list of five nominees for the 2022 event was Wood.
She has been nominated for her album Kakike, which was released across North America in the spring of 2021. Now living in St. Paul, Fawn grew up in Saddle Lake.
"When I think of what I want to pass down and leave for my children, I think of what I want to do with music, and this legacy that I’m a part of that came from my family - even before me - who were singers from this area, Saddle Lake," says Wood. She adds, "I’ve been fortunate enough to come from renowned Indigenous singers that have made their presence and grass-root music from this area known on world stages such as the Grammys."
Music has always been part of Wood's life. Both of her parents were traditional singers.
"I always sang at home and amongst my family, but it wasn’t until my late teens I started sharing it outside of my home atmosphere," she explains. Since then, Wood has travelled across Turtle Island, sharing her music.
Her latest album was a testament to ensure Indigenous music kept going, while also adding her own voice as she passes it down to the next generation. Wood previously released three other solo albums, along with numerous albums with Cree Confederation - a group she and her partner Dallas Waskahat, belong to.
Kakike means "forever and always" and speaks to the love she has for her family and culture.
When asked if she has a favourite song from the album, Wood says it's a tough question to answer because "I believe that every song on here means so much to me in different ways."
But, if she had to choose, she says it would be a tie between 'Hopelessly Devoted' and 'A Lullaby for Ambrose.'
'Hopelessly Devoted' is a love ballad and the track has a lot of contemporary elements that Wood believes leaves it open to listeners who may not be familiar with Indigenous music.
"It kind of bridges that gap between Indigenous music in the outside world."
Lullaby for Ambrose was written for Wood's second born son, who is now five years old.
"It was an expression of love from mother to child. He is a very special little guy and I’m glad to have shared another lullaby style song."
When the album was released, Wood says the response received was overwhelming.
"The most surprising part of the feedback was that I was able to maintain... spots on the world music charts internationally on iTunes, alongside some pretty well-known people. I guess it was really surreal for me."
Fast-forward about 10 months, and those overwhelming feelings have returned with the recent JUNO nomination.
When she found out she had been nominated, Wood admits it was surprising.
"I was in total shock. I was speechless."
Growing up, Wood says she would watch the JUNOs on television and every once in a while Indigenous music would be represented. To see her own music nominated alongside a number of other talented Indigenous artists is a great feeling.
The 2022 awards will include three new categories, created in response to Canada’s evolving music landscape.
While an Indigenous category was first created in 1994, "the goal was always to create a second category which celebrated Traditional Indigenous music," according to information from Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences/The JUNO Awards.
So, the category was split into "Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year" and "Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year."
"With the category split, the JUNO Awards want to celebrate the diversity of Indigenous artists and groups, the music they create, and educate Canada on music being made by the original peoples of this land, and its roots in the spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional connections to the land and cultures they belong to," according to the CARAS.
CARAS also announced a Rap Recording of the Year category, and Underground Dance Single of the Year category.
But, it's not just the JUNOs that are recognizing Wood's most recent album. She's also been nominated in four categories with the Native American Music Awards.
"This is the first time ever one of my albums have been nominated four times for any kind of reward. I’m pretty blown away," says Wood. Voting for the Native American Music Awards is open to the public and can be done online until March 31.
"These nominations mean so much to me because as an Indigenous woman, I feel like especially in the genre I sing, there hasn’t been too much representation."
Wood says she focuses on giving women a voice, telling stories from their point of view and "showing the beauty and empowerment that our Indigenous females hold - that matriarch energy."
The importance of creating traditional Indigenous music is clear for Wood.
"I believe it’s important to continue to create traditional Indigenous music because it really is a grassroots music to this land all of us call home. Also, a lot of our people's history isn’t recorded pre-contact with European culture, and this is a good way to keep our culture history known and practiced."
From an Indigenous point of view, "music isn’t just something that we do. It is a way of life. It is a testament to existence and strength of our people."
A mother to three young children, Wood says a typical month can be very busy. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, a lot of events shifted to being held virtually, but that didn't slow things down.
"I do a lot of speaking engagements or performances online. There’s always something happening, or a few things happening every week. Also during this time, I had started a live show that helps connect Indigenous talent from all over North America to people in their homes."
With the pandemic cancelling a number of in-person events, Wood and her partner, Waskahat, started something called the virtual round dance, "where we kept people entertained and connected to music and culture."
The virtual events brought people together, from all over the United States and Canada - and even overseas.
"Sometimes, I really don’t know how I managed to make it through two years of this pandemic being a mother of three, and for half of these two years I was a student full-time, plus a working artist. This year, I just decided to focus on music. For me, it’s all about balance. I am a mom first, but I think keeping busy like that has really helped keep my mind, my spirit, and holistic being in a positive way. I’m very thankful."
The 51st annual Juno Awards are scheduled for May 15 in Toronto, and will be the first in-person ceremony since 2019.