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Fri Oct 4, 2019

Unveiling the Power of Song: in Conversation with Mari Boine

On the afternoon of Friday October 4, 2019 at the Native Education College (NEC) in East Vancouver, acclaimed Sámi vocalist Mari Boine took part in an intimate artist talk in the fireside lounge of the school’s beautiful longhouse. The conversation was moderated by Russell Wallace, Lil’wat singer, composer, and cultural coordinator at the NEC. Joined by over 60 students, teachers, elders, and music lovers—many of them longtime fans—Mari opened up about her life and the path that brought her to a career in music. A large part of this journey involved both the pain and joy of learning and embracing her Sámi language and culture—something that from a young age, she was actively discouraged from doing.

Mari now revels in the truth and clarity the teachings of her Sámi ancestors have brought to her life. But she recognizes there is still work to be done, and that the knowledge and power of Indigenous women needs to be respected and preserved. “We have to make sure the wisdom in our consciousness doesn’t disappear,” she said. “That is the sad part of the colonization of the Sámi people. The rituals have been demonized, and half of us still believe that. And the elders, many of the elders are frightened away from the old ways. So you have to fight, you have to fight with your own family to reach your heritage.”

But despite the obstacles, Mari continued to find the courage to champion what she believed in. Throughout the talk she referred often to a “wise old woman” she says “whispered songs” in her ears and encouraged her as a young artist to pursue the traditional music of her people. She acknowledged the power of music to change hearts and to heal some of the damage caused by colonization: “I can use it to tell my story, and through that, maybe help others. We have to deal with our wounds. And talk openly about them–how they have destroyed our souls and insides. And we have to grieve. Sometimes some tears can cleanse and heal. I found this in my songs. And I realized I can make healing songs not only for myself, but for my people.”

The incredible power of song was undeniable that afternoon. The welcome song led by Russell Wallace set the stage for this, and much to the delight of audiences Mari sang two beautiful yoiks—one from the town of her maternal grandmother, and the other from the town of her paternal grandmother. The talk closed with another moving song delivered by elder Theresa Pointe Campbell as a gesture of blessing and gratitude.

"Sometimes some tears can cleanse and heal. I found this in my songs. And I realized I can make healing songs not only for myself, but for my people."

- Mari Boine

When asked about her advice for the next generation, she encouraged young people to take an active stance in support of the environment and to fight against climate change. Mari spoke passionately against the greed and short-sightedness of those that have chosen to “poison the earth” for financial gain. She also touched on topics such as important musical influences, citing Buffy Sainte-Marie and Doris Day among others.

A thread that was woven through Mari Boine’s stories and discussions with Russell Wallace this afternoon was the importance of perseverance and grace. “I had to deal with a lot of negativity, but I never gave in” she said with conviction. “I listened to the wise old woman. She said ‘go.’ And today I am a strong, proud Indigenous woman who nobody puts down.”

 

This talk was presented by the Chan Centre in partnership with the Native Education College as part of the Chan Centre Connects series. 

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