North York Arts is proud to introduce Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone, an Indigenous singer, songwriter, storyteller, artist, and activist originating from North Bay, Ontario. We spoke to Aqua about her background and passion for the arts, her current projects and involvement with NYA, and the importance of Indigenous voices being shared through community arts. Keep reading to learn more!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your passion for the arts?
I am an Indigenous two-spirit woman of mixed ancestry. I am Ojibwe with French and Scottish heritage. I identify as Anishnaabe and Metis. I am an artist and activist. I feel very strongly about honouring my teachings and traditions and have always been called to creation in many forms. I am a songwriter and feel it is my deepest level of self-expression or what I like to call “the expression of my spirit”. I am also a drum carrier and drum maker. This is a role I’ve taken on and is a responsibility in my community. The drum has helped me and continues to do so. I am proud to be sober and continue to heal on my journey as I work with the traditional medicines of my ancestors. I have always been passionate, from a young age I felt so righteous about giving voice, face, and space to those who go unheard, unseen, unnoticed. As I grow on my journey I understand that it takes many of all Nations to do this good work for us to heal. I share my medicine and my experiences knowing that they may resonate with someone, even just one, but also accepting that they won’t resonate with others, if any, and that’s ok.
Why is it important for Indigenous voices and stories to be shared through community arts?
I feel very strongly that Indigenous voices be heard in all areas including community arts because they are of value. This was not the belief for a very long time. Our voices as all marginalized and oppressed groups have been silenced, this needs to change. Community arts is a portal, a vessel to accomplish this. The arts have always allowed for more openness and love than many other areas in mainstream society. This is where it begins, but certainly not where it ends. The young ones I teach and mentor do not see themselves reflected in many aspects of this world. I believe it is crucial to have our own people telling our own stories in our own ways. For our young Indigenous people to see themselves in the leaders in all facets including the arts.
Can you tell us about the work you are doing with the North York Arts team?
I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with some amazing people at North York Arts, one being Melissa Foster, someone I consider a strong ally. She has been humble, patient, and understanding when it comes to learning about Indigenous peoples and our ways. It’s because of her and the strong connection and relationship we have both nurtured that I’ve been working with North York Arts for the last 3 years. Over this time I have shared my original medicine music, including a song called The Strong that tells a part of the story of my people’s experience in residential schools. I have also lead circles for all Nations to learn about my culture and the hand drum. I have honoured the land and taught the intention behind honouring the land that gives us life and the lives that were given to protect her. I am currently going to be working with Melissa and other team members to discuss the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action and how they can be implemented into community arts. This is a big one, but there are other amazing Indigenous people in the community who are also helping. I love my work with North York Arts. It has always been a positive experience for me as an Indigenous two-spirit woman of mixed ancestry.
What can you tell us about the projects you’re currently working on?
I am currently leading a free and inclusive hand drum group that is open to all Nations, ages, genders, and walks of life every Monday evening at Regent Park School of Music from 7pm-8:30pm. I am also leading another free and inclusive hand drum group every second Tuesday starting from September 17th at Native Child & Family Services of Toronto at 156 Galloway Road from 6pm-7:30pm. I lead a weekly hand drum circle at the Native Women’s Transition House, where I lived for 2 years about 9 years ago. This circle began when I moved out. This circle is closed as it is only for the women and children who live in the house, but it is very close to my heart as I wouldn’t be where I am without the women who worked at the house who helped me so much along my journey. I am training Okichitaw weekly at The Native Canadian Centre as I work towards earning my blackbelt and hopefully one day becoming an instructor so I can pass on this knowledge to young Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. Part of my role as a warrior for peace is teaching and sharing with women. They are our life givers and much of my work is about supporting the strong and powerful women in my community. I am continuing to write new music as I gear up to record my blues album Red Rhythm & Blues.
For more information on Aqua, visit https://aquamusic.ca/