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Hip-hop artist JB The First Lady lends her voice, spirit and inspiration to the Indigenous and feminist movements

On Louis Riel Day, it’s a good time to return to a more and more frequently cited quote of the Metis leader.

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

Those words were spoken more than 133 years ago, so, allowing for inflation, let’s clock it right …. now.

The Indigenous artists in this country are awake, they are spirited and they are inspired and inspiring.

From the success and resonance of musical acts such as Buffy Sainte-Marie,Tanya Tagac and A Tribe Called Red to films, television and other artforms chronicling and celebrating the Indigenous experience, the First Nations are being heard in a way that they never have been.

“That’s what we’re experiencing right now,” says Vancouver-based hip-hop and spoken-word artist, dancer and educator Jerilynn Webster (a.k.a. JB the First Lady), who is a member of the Nuxalk and Onondaga Nations. “And I think people are going to look back on this time and see all of the artists including myself who are bringing the voice of the people and the stories in a good way and our way on our own platforms. It’s really great, I like that.”

Webster has been creating art from the Indigenous perspective for more than a decade, releasing a quartet of albums, including her latest release, 2017’s Meant to Be — a strong, powerful, punchy and accessible hip-hop album.

Over those records and throughout her career she’s unflinchingly, honestly dealt with such important subjects as murdered and missing Indigenous women as well as the blight on this nation that were residential schools.

But Webster also, especially on her most recent outing, takes pride in dealing with not only the reality an Indigenous woman faces in 2018, but also what all human beings deal with in these current times — love, relationships, etc. — albeit through the lens of a First Nations woman.

The point, she says, is an important one, that after all that the past has dealt them, it’s necessary to make the statement that, “Indigenous people aren’t from the past, not in the history books, but we’re here today dealing with contemporary things,” she says.

It’s a difficult world to navigate because while strides have been made — thanks, in part, to those artists, those voices — there is still something of a “perfect imbalance” in this country, where past horrors have been acknowledged, but where there are still fights being fought, including pipelines, land claims and other instances of marginalization.

Webster says those battles will continue, with artists still needing to confront “systemic racism on all levels — from the media, to health care, to RCMP and policing and the justice system.”

“I feel like artists are coming forward and bringing that knowledge to music and other platforms — even this interview … All of our artists, from filmmaking to television to animation to fashion, it’s all there,” she says.

“And we’ve been doing it since time immemorial, it’s just that collective consciousness is finally opening its doors to allow the Indigenous voices to come forward. So that’s what changing.”

Also changing is the fact that other movements are welcoming their voices into larger conversations.

Take, for example, the fact that JB the First Lady is one of the main headliners for this year’s Femme Wave, Calgary’s feminist arts and music festival, which kicked off Thursday, Nov. 15 and runs throughout the weekend.

Webster will be onstage Friday, Nov. 16 at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1, and is honoured to be part of it, happy that the tent is finally big enough to welcome an artist like her in, see how important her voice and experiences are to moving forward.

“I feel like white feminism and just feminism in general is finally seeing that they need to honour and respect First Peoples of the land that they’re on and acknowledge a perspective that was not included, that is coming to the forefront,” she says.

“And I feel that it’s really great that we’re all together and we all have a similar experience that we experience every day just walking in the world, and that finally people, the movement, are seeing that there’s protocol and in North America (that’s) including the voice of Indigenous women.

She continues. “Again, we have to move in a way where we can hear and listen to each other, and I feel like music is really powerful because we can hear each other clearly and include each other and create diversity that hasn’t really been there for Indigenous people or people of colour, so I feel like we’re on the right track.”

(Photo courtesy Melanie Orr Photography.)

JB The First Lady performs Friday, Nov. 16 at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 as part of Femme Wave. For tickets and more information please go to http://www.femmewave.com.

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