(First written and published in Alberta Native News, March 2012)
A young man from Winnipeg is garnering national attention with his efforts to improve the lives of Aboriginal people in Canada.
Wab Kinew, an Anishinaabe, CBC TV Journalist, activist, and also an award winning hip-hop artist is moving and shaking up the perception of our nation’s first peoples.
His family has always been actively involved in leadership and his father Peter Kinew, was Grand Chief of Ontario for many years.
Kinew feels he is living out his life mission, stemming from direction he received from a vision at a very young age.
“I had a vision when I was three or four years old,” said Kinew.
“I saw an eagle that took me on a journey.”
Upon learning of the powerful vision his father took him to see a medicine man who instructed him to have a pipe and return to see him by the next moon.
His calling to a powerful destiny that would impact the lives of many was confirmed and his family started grooming him for his life purpose. He was also trained in traditional medicine and taught the language and culture of his people.
“I’m a spiritual man and I have a deep faith. I wouldn’t say I choose this path, I would say it was something that chose me.”
In his teenage years Kinew developed a deep love for traditional drum and hip-hop music and he began to express himself through rapping.
For many years he traveled Canada sharing inspiring messages through his songs and won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Award and an Aboriginal Music Award.
With a drive to succeed he earned a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Manitoba, but coinciding with his passion for music he began working in radio, which eventually lead him to the CBC and to a career in broadcasting.
Being passionate about sharing the plight of Aboriginal people an opportunity came about last year for him to participate in and host a ground breaking documentary series, titled 8th Fire.
8th Fire draws from an Anishinaabe prophecy that declares now is the time for Aboriginal peoples and the settler community to come together and build the ‘8TH Fire’ of justice and harmony.
He committed to the project and as production commenced he was unaware that the series would produce overwhelming success, high ratings and stimulate important conversations.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, I was also a little skeptical,” said Kinew.
“I thought ‘okay I’m going to do my best on this project and there’s a pretty good team here’, but I wasn’t totally sure that a documentary series produced by the CBC was going to resonate with the Aboriginal community or non native people. On one hand it needs to be authentic enough for native people to feel like it’s doing a good job of portraying them. On the other hand it needs to be open enough to appeal to non-native Canadians. I wasn’t sure how well it was going to go until I saw the first episode come together. Then I really became a believer.”
Debuting this past January, 8th Fire quickly struck a chord with viewers across the country and gained a regular, loyal following throughout its four-week run.
“It’s been interesting. When it was on TV tons of the comments I received were from native people but in the months since it’s been mainly non-native people. “
Although the series is now off the air, coverage is continuing to be added on the 8th Fire website and word is spreading far and beyond. Kinew has heard stories of people on both sides expressing interest in hearing the issues faced by Aboriginals, wanting to know the true history of Canada and a desire to learn more about the culture after viewing the series.
“I think we presented certain stories to the public that are important to be talked about and to be heard. I think that a lot of what happened is that people saw something on TV that appealed to them or touched them in some way and they felt compelled to talk to somebody near them about it. The conversation is what really matters.”
An advocate for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, Kinew believes it’s the right time for reconciliation, but there are things that need to happen on both sides in order for it to happen.
“Non-native people need to come at things with an open mind and really discard all the presuppositions that they bring to the table. It’s really hard to do because a lot of things are really engrained in Canada regarding the views towards Aboriginal people. It doesn’t happen easily, but I’ve seen a lot of people with open minds so that’s encouraging. I think Aboriginal people need to demand more of ourselves and to hold a higher standard when it comes to different areas in our communities. We have it within ourselves to do better and we should ask of ourselves that we deliver on that potential.”
Kinew believes that culture and identity is extremely important to keep alive since the effects of residential schools and colonialism where designed to strip the “Indian” way of life away.
He is working to revive and strengthen this aspect and facilitates Anishinaabe language classes in Winnipeg and online through social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and Face book. He takes the traditional teaching approach incorporating fun games, crafts, songs and elements of culture to create a hands on environment for children to learn alongside their parents and also elders.
“Our language is on life support. The reason why it’s at risk of dying is because the heart of the language, the thing that transmits it from one generation to the next doesn’t exist anymore. People don’t learn it organically in their homes. So if a patient is on life support what we’re trying to do in the classroom is give it a pace maker or heart transplant. The real magic is the kids are now starting to soak it up from the older people.”
Besides his hectic schedule and flourishing career, Kinew is also the father of two young boys. He designates time to coach his eldest son’s hockey team and regularly speaks Ojibwa at home plus teaches his sons the medicine way of life.
He also believes in the importance of sobriety and how it’s incompatible to the Sundance and traditional medicine lifestyle.
“I don’t really preach, but I don’t see how you can live up to your full potential if you’re wasting your time drinking or being hung over. It’s pretty simple.”
In the long term he hopes to make his mark in the world through the outlet of his career in journalism.
Now widely regarded as a Canadian celebrity and public figure Kinew will be in Edmonton to commemorate National Aboriginal Day, June 21, alongside local native community leaders and participants. The full 8th Fire series and extended interviews can be viewed at http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/8thfire/.
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