April 13th, 2014 Last Updated on: April 13th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Music Editor
Q) It's nice to visit with you! You're so well known! How do you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't yet know you and your excellent music?
A) I'd like to think I'm active and noticeable on the music scene (smile). My stage name is W.T. Goodspirit, my given name is Wayne Jackson. I come from the Plain Cree nation in northeastern Alberta, Canada. I am a country singer who dabbles in other closely knit genres.
Q) Country is a mainstream musical style, yet many of our Native people love the country sound. How do you blend country music with your precious tribal traditions?
) I do embrace the teachings of our Cree traditions, part of it is what we call ‘tapahtêyimowin' or humility, something that sometimes clashes with the ‘in-your-face' reality that the music business is. I have to say that blossomed late too because I really didn't come from a background or a family that was musically inclined. I languished in my shyness and insecurities for such a long time, but when I finally started singing publicly, I was greatly encouraged by the overwhelming response by people who enjoyed my singing.
Q) Late start, but big stardom, right? A career like yours probably has some terrific tales and adventures you could share?
A) I've always known I could sing, but about 10 years ago, I only played for family and friends, when my cousin showed up one day and borrowed my guitar, he failed to return it immediately and I longed to play and sing. I realized I had foolishly hidden my talent. That summer I tried to hit as many amateur stages as I possibly could. The end result was winning the ‘Canadian Aboriginal Icon' contest in Winnipeg in 2005 and shortly thereafter recording my debut CD, ”Give Me a Sign,” which went on to capture 8 nominations including Best Country CD at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and the Native American Music Awards in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Since then I have embarked on other projects, including being part of a compilation CD devoted to the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada, a couple of songs extended my musical writing to include entirely Cree lyrics. I've also had a couple of my songs hit the top 10 on the Canadian National Aboriginal Music Countdown.
Q)Congratulations! Such success!As you enjoy awards and acclaim, how do you reflect on your music from a Native perspective?
A) I grew up hearing and speaking the Plains Cree language, it was the first language I heard and conversed and lived it daily until the I went to school. I never stopped speaking Cree, but the hegemonic influence of English while attending the public school pushed Cree language aside and the colonizing belief that to succeed, one needed to be good at the English language. While it has some merits, being proud of our tribal heritage and your native language is essential to overall self-esteem. I continue to speak, read, write and teach in my original language. I have recorded a couple of songs in Cree, and the First Nations theme does play out in some of the songs I have recorded including, ‘a Native Woman' and ‘Let's Go Home.'
Music is therapy for the soul and crosses all cultures and social boundaries. I would hope that those who listen to my music would feel not only a sense of pride, but connect personally to their lives.
Q) All of us at Powwows.com are extremely interested in helping our Native youth by encouraging them. Take a minute and speak directly to our beautiful future?
A) Be proud to speak your language, there is nothing more that will make you more indigenous to this land than speaking the language of your ancestors. Many of our languages are dying, we need to do all that we can to not only retain them, but to also make them flourish. Linguist Charles Berlitz made the analogy that ”speaking only one language is like living in a huge mansion and only staying in one room.” We need to explore the beauty and diversity of our languages, they are used in ceremony and rituals.
Q) You reach so many folks now, did you ever think you'd become such an influential performer?
A) Being shy was a big thing to overcome, when I was younger I wouldn't be able to speak in front of a room full of people, it kept me from sharing my talent, it took courage and time to finally get comfortable on stage, but eventually I did it. Today, I can not only sing in large crowd of people, but I also teach in a class setting to adults and at times am asked to emcee large gatherings and events.
Q) Talk about progress! In an entertainment field noted for “shooting stars”, what's the secret to staying power?
A) Being true to who you are. Stay true to who you are and don't let others try to make you what you are not. The most destructive quality is narcissism. I've met some other artists and I really wouldn't want to be their friends based on their self-absorption.
Q) Using this criteria, who are some of the artists that you think would be good to get to know?
A) Dwight Yoakam, because he's not only a great performer, but he writes a bunch of his own songs.
Ricky Van Shelton, he drew me to country music when I mostly listened to rock.
Elvis, my mom had his records and grew up listening to his music, so falling in love with his music was natural.
Q) Any advice to aspiring performers? After all, you're an example of following your dreams!
A) Just do it! If you don't attempt or try, the world will never know. Be prepared to often stand alone, but do it anyway.
Surround yourself with good people and don't get caught up with anyone telling you that you can't stand on your own two feet or them telling you you'll never make it without them. Believe in yourself and your talent.
Q) What would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?|
A) I have a Masters degree in Indigenous Languages (Cree), the first of its kind ever in Canada. I convocated in June 2013 from the University of Blue Quills in Alberta, Canada. One of my proudest accomplishments.
Thanks so much for sharing with us. We sure do appreciate you!
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