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This year, Indigenous History Month comes with the tragic news of 215 First Nations children found buried in the former site of a residential school in Kamloops, BC. Though the headlines sent shockwaves throughout the world, for the Indigenous community, which has been fighting for justice on their own land while being continually silenced throughout Canada’s history, the news is just confirmation. The past cannot be erased, but future healing means the systems that have been put in place to harm the marginalized must be redesigned. Hearing and empowering the stories of Indigenous people, as told by Indigenous people, is a start.

The International Indigenous Music Summit (IIMS) is a global event showcasing Indigenous artists in all avenues of music. The summit offers opportunities for the Indigenous community to tell their own stories, while also spreading awareness globally. This year, due to COVID-19 protocols, all events are being held virtually. While no in-person events comes with complications, it’s also presented a chance for artists to be seen and heard in a new light, and to access a wider audience. This year’s summit will be running exclusively online from June 8 to the 11. 

“If I said, ‘My child is missing,’ you’d know that’s my truth. Two-hundred and fifteen mothers said that to someone. That’s one school. For me, it’s about that, because of those stories that were told and they were not believed.”

One of the IIMS’s main events is Giiwewizh, a project featuring 16 Indigenous artists in individual short documentaries. Giiwewizh, which means “to carry home”, highlights each artist’s perspective, as well as their connection to their identities, their land, and their creative process. The project, produced by Jennifer Podemski, was directed by Sarain Fox, an Anishinaabe activist, broadcaster, filmmaker, storyteller, and founder of Land Back Studios, who has been amplifying Indigenous voices and stories over the course of her entire career. When approached for the project, the Inendi director was immediately inspired to give each artist featured in project the power to shoot their footage on their own terms. Each featured artist was given an iPhone 12 to shoot from, and the rest was up to their own vision. Fox received 45 minutes of footage from each artist or group, and collaborated with editors to create every documentary in the artist’s own narrative. 

Fox tells Complex the questions the artists were encouraged to answer in their content were: “How does the land affect who you are, how does it affect your identity, and how does it affect your music?” 

Once shot, the footage was sent to Fox, who pieced it all together, creating 16 unique and inspiring short documentaries. “I felt like I had these artists in my home. I have a four-and-a-half-month-old baby, and now she’s experienced all of this,” says Fox. “There was no moment where she hadn’t heard the music. I watched her experience joy hearing these incredible musicians. It really made me feel connected, it really made me feel proud, and I’m incredibly inspired. These voices, the stories that are being told, the honesty, the courage to be vulnerable.”

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Sarain Fox/Image via Tara Barnes, Land Back Studios

Keeping the project authentically Indigenous, and ensuring all the artists were shown on their own accord, was vital to encourage growth and healing for the community. “Right now, I think two things have been happening. For allies and non-Indigenous communities, I think there’s outrage that this news [about the residential school mass grave] is real, but for Indigenous people, there is sadness that it took this for us to be believed. To put it simply, now, as a new mom, if my child was taken and sent to a residential school and never came home, I would never stop searching. If I said, ‘My child is missing,’ you’d know that’s my truth. Two-hundred and fifteen mothers said that to someone. That’s one school. For me, it’s about that, because of those stories that were told and they were not believed. When we reclaim our stories, when we reclaim our narrative, we heal that. We give those voices that were lost an opportunity to be heard. My daughter is going to know from the moment that she can, that all of her truth, not just the trauma, was fought for.”

Complex also caught up with three of the artists featured in Giiwewizh—Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Nimkii, and Mamarudegyal—to hear their stories.