Heritage & Healing through music

Digging Roots uses their creative outlet to share experiences with the world

Everyone has their own journey through life and Raven Kanatakta of the Juno-award winning band Digging Roots is no different.

Raven and wife ShoShona Kish bring soulful, powerful music to the masses through their band, winning the Juno Award for Aboriginal Album of the Year in 2010 for their album We Are.

Though there are parts of his time on this planet that have been tough, there are others that have been wonderful; those times are usually spent with family or playing music, or both.

With an Ontario tour recently underway, we had a very informative and enjoyable phone call with Raven recently to chat about the music, as well as what the music means to him.

“How I was drawn to music, perhaps different than a lot of other musicians I know,” he says

And to find that out, we go back to his youth growing up on Winneway First Nation in Northwestern Quebec, a small Algonquin reservation.

“My community is gorgeous, it’s in the bush … I used to snare rabbit when I was a kid, hunt partridge, hunt moose with my dad, fish all year round,” Raven recalls. “I would go trapping with my grandfather; I grew up on the land.”

While those were among the care-free times spent learning and doing with his family, which included ceremonies full of music, food, love and laughter. However, there was a darker side that many indigenous individuals must cope with as part of their history on Turtle Island (commonly known as North America).

Specifically, regarding the negative impacts of colonialism.

“People in our communities were dealing with the effects of oppression, colonialism, assimilation,” says Raven. “People are still adjusting to things like the residential school system and the 60’s scoop, and the after affects . . . there were a lot of deaths around me growing up until I was 15 and moved to Ottawa.”

The impacts weren’t just those felt and shared by other individuals. As a child, Raven and his family were among those protesting a proposed golf course being built on First Nations ancestral burial grounds.

Raven and his family were surrounded by police officers with guns pointed and the threats were real. There were two fatalities in what became known as the Oka Crisis.

“I remember our car being surrounded and 20 police officers pointing guns at us.”

That was one of many incidents that could have taken Raven into a negative direction in life. Another came as a teenager when his family moved to Ottawa and he attended his first non-indigenous school.

The teacher began teaching the class, in which Raven was the only First Nations representative, falsehoods about the practices of indigenous peoples.

Raven attempted to correct the teacher about this misconception, respectfully explaining it the practice in question was brought to the land by Europeans. The teacher, rather than engage in thoughtful discussion and collaborative learning, kicked Raven out of class.

It was one of several incidents of ignorance he has faced throughout his life. However, with his music to heal and past experiences to draw upon, the man finds ways to address each event with a level head.

“It was really hard to stay calm,” says Raven of the school situation. “It must have been all those other experiences that helped me prepare for this situation.”

Correcting history

Raven’s mother is Anishinabe-Algonquin, while his dad is from a Mohawk tribe.(Ed Note: forgot to get the spelling and don’t want to write the wrong one).

He shares knowledge passed down through his family so that an understanding and peaceful interactions can become the norm.

But he also acknowledges that it’s going to take time – perhaps even a couple of generations – for reconciliation to occur.

Afterall, it took generations to do the damage, whether it was breaking treaties, the tragedies and horrifying practices of the residential school system, or the simple disregard for an entire culture.

Between assimilation into non-indigenous cultures through acts such as cutting children’s hair or making them forget their own languages, it will take open hearts and understanding minds to slowly bring about the togetherness and cultural appreciation we should have for one another.

“You can’t be twisting history inaccurately when we all have to live together,” he explains. “I still get the racist thing in this country because of people’s misperceptions and understanding of colonial history. The problem with colonial history is that it’s a façade … it’s a lie. If we took a real look at the history of this land, people would start thinking differently. If you have any humanity, your heart becomes activated because we are human beings.”

Listen to Cut My Hair: https://open.spotify.com/track/1yxjaC8bqy31Cs7BrwCKz0?si=5RqRlskhQZ-EXVP1GaZ0Dg

Family knows

If we were to point to one person where Raven’s affection for music took hold, it has to be his grandfather; and not only because he was also musically inclined.

“My grandfather used to come over and play guitar, he started leaving his guitar when I showed interest by watching him play,” Raven fondly remembers. “One time I woke up and the guitar was in the shower, and I’m wondering, why is the guitar in the shower, and I strummed the strings and was like, whoa . . . My grandfather came over again and when he left, the guitar was on top of the fridge.”

His grandfather knew the soul of Raven and used this knowledge to encourage him to play guitar. Raven would find the guitar in a different place every time, and each time would play it more and more.

“It became a real healer for me,” he says. “Music became this function where I could put my energy and it became something positive. I’m a bit of a jokerster/trickster, so the way to get my attention is to do something tricky around me because I’ll notice it. Him knowing me in that way and he could see I had this musical inclination; it was all part and parcel of I’ll just get him on this path.”

It’s this connection to family that helps fill anyone’s heart and soul with the emotional nourishment they need. As Raven notes, family and relationships make life worth living. He takes it back to what life was like on the land for his ancestors, “500 years ago, you’re here and in a wigwam, you’re not going to survive by yourself.”

“Real happiness comes from these relationships that we are able to fulfill in this life and bring us joy,” he says. “They give us hope. All these essential things that we need to have as human beings . . . I don’t care how much money you have, it won’t bring you happiness without the human relationships.”

Whether it’s a small gathering of immediate family or a community coming together to share a wonderful ceremony, the main idea is that the collective is more important than the individual. One must consider that what’s good for everyone, not simply one person.

“It goes back to the thing that it takes a community to raise a child and I believe that,” says Raven. “When a child is not raised properly, they become lopsided. It’s our responsibility as parents and community leaders is to make the best memories and experiences for people that are living right now.”

“We can do that through music.”

Listen to The Healer: https://open.spotify.com/track/2mQocJ9mjee0Qj55RJADTT?si=8WxWngjBRN6l3RxFxt1n0Q

Balance with nature

Raven says the decimation of the natural environment throughout the world is always in the back of his, and his Digging Roots bandmates minds, when writing music.

The climate change crisis, more and more species are becoming endangered, the loss of aquatic life in the oceans (some estimates says 70% of species are gone due to pollution and warming waters), and the destruction of natural areas are just a few of the items to be concerned about.

“The decisions we make are going to effect those future generations,” says Raven. “We’re forgetting that we’re not the only ones . . . We need to be compassionate about what we do to the earth because it’s not just our lifetime, but all those generations that are still to come.”

Listen to Skoden: https://open.spotify.com/track/1nhcsAm554MdmY79NrLlhl?si=UY2Ff2qqQtOg4mLeHTf2tw

Upcoming Shows

Digging Roots will be playing somewhere near – or at least relatively near – you in the next couple of weeks. Having lived in Barrie for over 20 years, they’re on tour in their own backyard and even playing venues they haven’t been to before.

Those attending the show will get great tunes, powerful lyrics and spirited performances from the band. Raven says the audience can expect, “a really honest show that is full of heart.”

Adding, “the band right now, they’re so good … everybody in Digging Roots is so good … They’re beautiful people and there are some awesome collaborations that are just going on between all the individuals on stage and they’re rally bringing something special.”

Concert Dates/Times/Locations:

Thurs. March 16 – Orillia – Orillia Opera House

Fri. March 17 – Gravenhurst – Gravenhurst Opera House

Sat. March 18 – Parry Sound – Stockey Centre

Sun. March 19 – Barrie – Five Points Theatre

Tickets can be purchased at insidethemusic.ca

And why not a video to entice you some more . . .

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One comment

  1. […] Check out a great concert! Digging Roots will bring their fantastic sound and style to the Gravenhurst Opera House stage on March 17, as well as playing a mini-tour through Orillia, Barrie and Parry Sound in the coming week. Learn more at: Heritage & Healing Through Music. […]


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