‘Dive into my culture’: After Juno’s historic win, Crystal Shawanda reflects on the journey

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Ojibwe singer Krystal Shawanda said she was shocked and surprised to win Best Blues Album of the Year at this year’s JUNO Awards and feels like she’s living a “full circle” moment.

The 37-year-old from Wiikwemkoong First Nation in Manitolin Island, Ontario, won for her album, Blues House Church, at the award ceremony broadcast on CBC Sunday.

“I really, honestly didn’t think I’d win,” Shawanda said.

The Juno Awards’ 50th Anniversary was hosted from Toronto, but it included live and pre-recorded items from many other locations. Shwanda watched the show with her daughter and family at her side from Nashville, as she works on her next album.

This was the first time an Aboriginal artist had won in this category.

Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me on TV.– Krystal Shwanda, winner of the JUNO Award for Blues Album of the Year

“It’s always been very important to me to try to break through the barriers in the main circuits. This has always been important to me, since I was a kid,” she said.

“Growing up, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on TV. And even as a kid, I realized that, like, ‘Why can’t we see everywhere? Why are we invisible?'”

Shwanda said she started singing “as soon as she made a fuss” and made her stage debut when she was six. She recorded her first album at the age of 13.

She said, “My parents were very supportive. I started getting paid to sing when I was 10 and have never looked back.”

At the start of the Juneau Awards presentation, Buffy St. Mary’s acknowledged the anguish many feel after the remains of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site.

Part of Saint Mary’s Message, Shawanda repeated, that Aboriginal peoples have grown up hearing these stories for generations.

“We knew these things were happening. We had a cousin in my family who didn’t come home,” she said, adding that’s part of the reason she keeps pushing to break barriers with her music.

“I don’t want us to be invisible,” she said. “I want our voices to be heard because we speak on behalf of these children who don’t have any.”

Shawanda is working on her next blues album, but she’s also working on a personal project – an album of Aboriginal music, or storytellers’ songs, as she calls them.

She said she feels she has come “full circle”.

“To the place where I am now immersed in my culture and embracing it and wrapping my culture around me,” Shwanada said.

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