On May 18, the Indigenous Music Awards will return to Winnipeg with awards in 19 categories that honour music that has been created by First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Turtle Island.

The awards are a part of the Manito Ahbee Festival, which celebrates Indigenous arts, culture and music. The Yukon has a diverse and distinctive music scene and its First Nations element is prevalent at local festivals and events, and this year, three of the Yukon’s premier artists are nominated for the prestigious awards.

Dena Zagi — Gucho Hin — Best Inuit, Indigenous Language or Francophone Album

Dena Zagi, a husband and wife duo from Ross River, are a well-established band in the Yukon. They perform their music in their traditional Kaska language and the lyrics are about the land, spirits, ancestors and traditions. “All our songs are written in the Kaska language, which I was not allowed to speak in residential school,” said Dennis Shorty.

Shorty grew up in a family who spoke Kaska and now he is sharing his love of the language through the musical duo he formed with his wife, Jennifer Froehling, aptly named Dena Zagi, meaning “people’s voice.” As Kaska is only a spoken language, their music gives the language life and gives their audience a unique experience.

“It means a lot to us because our language is dying, our youth are not speaking the Kaska language anymore, just English,” said Shorty. “We are happy to bring some awareness to this critical issue we are all facing as Indigenous people. People are losing their ways.”

In August 2017, they toured in Germany with their first CD, Gucho Hin (“Our Grandparents’ Song”), which is nominated for best Inuit, Indigenous Language or Francophone album in this year’s Indigenous Music Awards. “With our music we would like to inspire our younger generation to speak and learn their native language,” said Shorty and Froehling. “Souga Sinla … Thank you to all our fans and supporters, family and friends.”

Dakhká Khwáan Dancers and DJ Dash — Deconstruct/Reconstruct — Best Electronic Music Album

The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers are a national award-winning Inland Tlingit dance group who focus on reclaiming their languages and traditional values through their art form of singing, drumming, dancing and storytelling. “Our remixed music are all songs newly composed by members of our group that reflect strong messages in our realities as Indigenous people living now and reclaiming our identities while honouring our ancestors,” said Marilyn Jensen, founder and leader of the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers. “We are extremely thankful and excited to be nominated for an Indigenous music award this year for our first and newly released album called Deconstruct/Reconstruct.”

Their album takes modern songs and stories in a traditional style and captures the identity of modern-day Tlingit composers through songs rooted in the powerful Tlingit First Nations tradition. The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers collaborated with Daniel Ashley (DJ Dash) who is an electronic music producer, DJ, vocalist, percussionist and media composer, raised in the Yukon. Dash’s production style involves recording and arranging environmental sounds and incorporating them with electronic beats, bass and atmosphere.

The collaboration produced and created the album Deconstruct/Reconstruct, which is nominated for Best Electronic Music Album in this year’s Indigenous Music Awards. “We approached this collaborative album with the vision to share our songs, our artistry and our guiding vision to uplift and honour our people,” said Jensen. “The album has been dedicated in the memory of our late dancer, William Callaghan, and our performance at the Awards show in Winnipeg on May 18 will be dedicated to our late elder, Doris McLean. We are truly humbled and grateful for this amazing opportunity! Gunalcheésh.”

Cody Coyote — “Northern Lights” feat. Vision Quest — Best Music Video

Cody Coyote, who was raised in Ottawa, Ontario, and is of Ojibwe/Irish descent with ancestry from Matachewan First Nation, is a famous hip hop/electronic artist, songwriter and spokesperson. “The guys from Vision Quest were the feature on the track and after originally meeting in Ottawa, when they were on tour, we stayed in touch since then and I brought the idea of this project to their attention. I reached out because I saw a lot of potential in them, and after having an artistic vision for this song, I wanted to also have representation of people who were from that territory too,” said Coyote. “We filmed northern lights throughout the Yukon at locations such as Emerald Lake and Carcross.”

Cody Coyote teamed up with local Yukon hip hop group Vision Quest, which is comprised of brothers Nick Johnson and Yudii Mercredi of Kluane First Nation. “When Cody asked us to be a part of the project “Northern Lights” we were honoured to do it,” said Johnson. “When it all came together, it turned out so good that we thought we definitely would need some visuals and so Cody made the trip to the Yukon to experience the land of the northern lights.

“We are really excited for this nomination and to represent the Yukon and the North at the Indigenous Music Awards this year, and I think we have a pretty good chance overall to take it home.”

The collaboration brought together a unique mix of northern and southern Canadian hip hop, and their video for “Northern Lights” has gained them a nomination at this year’s Indigenous Music Awards.

“Creating this project allowed us to embody the story behind the northern lights, the story that they are our ancestors dancing in the sky. Having our listeners feel the pride associated with that has been a remarkable feeling and I’m grateful that the vision for this project came to life,” said Coyote. “The fact that “Northern Lights” is also now up for an award is truly outstanding, and as much as I am remaining hopeful for the award, I’m just happy to see that it is getting the recognition it deserves and I am hoping that it will continue to affect listeners in a positive manner.”

Congratulations to the Yukon’s nominated artists for this year’s Indigenous Music Awards.

The 13th annual Manito Ahbee Festival is May 16–20, 2018, and features the Indigenous Music Awards, which are held May 18: https://www.indigenousmusicawards.com/.