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'I'm just being me,' Crystal Shawanda says of her Indigenous roots, unique music

Last Updated Jun 12, 2020 at 11:46 am EDT

Canadian musician Crystal Shawanda. Photo credit: crystalshawanda.co

June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, CityNews will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.

June 2: Today, we celebrate Crystal Shawanda


Crystal Shawanda is from Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. She is Ojibwe Potawatomi.

Her name translates to “Dawn of a New Day” in the Ojibwe language. Indigenous people have a deep connection to the land they are from, which is the inspiration for many of Shawanda’s songs.

Shawanda was exposed to country music at a young age. Her parents taught her how to sing and play guitar, but Shawanda credits her older brother for getting her into the blues. Her brother would play blues greats like Muddy Waters, B.B King and Eddy James, while Shawanda listened, asking herself if she will ever be able to sing like these legends.

When Shawanda was 12 years old, she often hitched a ride to Nashville, Tennessee with her father who made frequent trips as a truck driver. At 13, Shawanda recorded her first album and moved to attend music school. At 17, she dropped out of school and moved to Nashville.

Shawanda’s journey wasn’t always easy, questioning how she would make it as an Indigenous person after a conversation with a well-known record executive. It was that conversation that made Shawanda leave Nashville to do some soul searching.

But no matter what Shawanda was going through, she always found her way back to a microphone. She wanted to prove her critics wrong, and she did just that as she returned to Nashville to release her debut album, Dawn of a New Day, in Canada in June 2008 and in the United States a few months later.

The album entered the Canadian Country Albums chart at number 2, and the Billboard Top Country Charts at number 16.

It became the highest charted album by a Indigenous person from Canada in that era.

Shawanda makes you feel every word with her powerful voice, so pure and soulful yet gritty. Click here to listen to some of her music.

Crystal Shawanda’s latest album is called “Church House Blues.” Photo credit: crystalshawanda.co