A Plains Cree singer-songwriter has received his second 2021 Juno Award nomination in recognition of Kîyânaw, an album that means “us” and fosters a strong sense of family and togetherness.
Jason Burnstick, a former resident of Alexander First Nation, 17 kilometres west of Morinville, is now married to Nadia Gaudet Burnstick, a Francophone-Métis singer-songwriter. The two have created a folk band bearing the name Burnstick.
“Being nominated feels pretty darn good. It’s unbelievable. This category has such outstanding artists. I guess lightening does strike twice,” said Burnstick. His solo album Burn received a nomination in 2007 for what was then called Aboriginal Recording of the Year.
Not only is Kîyânaw a symbol of the deep spiritual commitment the Burnsticks have to each other and their family, but on a broader scale, the fitting concept of “us” is also about the type of future nation the Winnipeg couple would like to see for their young son.
“I want to see a country where racism doesn’t exist. I want to see Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit artists celebrated. I want to see all aspects of our cultures embraced – language and cultural practices. People forget this is our home, where we originate. They say we are given a free handout, but they forget what was taken from us. I have nothing but respect for multiculturalism. I want to see respect for all nations. There is no room for racism,” said Burnstick.
Although the 10-track album acknowledges Canada’s dark history, the Burnsticks believe music heals, and that stories, both personal and political, have the power to transform our world views and attitudes toward each other.
The album, released in September 2019, is among a handful of recordings for the Juno Awards category of Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year. Burnstick is up against Crystal Shawanda’s Church House Blues, Julian Taylor’s The Ridge, Leela Gilday’s North Star Calling, and Terry Uyarak’s Nunarjua Isulinginniani.
In some ways, the seed of Kîyânaw was planted on the couple’s first date in 2013, an evening that came to embody their entire relationship.
“On our first date we played music together. I played the Weisssenborn (lap-slide guitar) and she played piano. We started singing and jamming around, and I realized our voices blended really well. She made every aspect of my life better. I’m a better musician because of her.”
Will the nomination translate into more record sales or future bookings?
“We’ll see how it plays out. We came back from New Orleans right before the pandemic in January 2020. New Orleans was incredible. Things were starting to happen, and then not, because everything shut down.”
Burnstick hopes to win that little golden piece of hardware.
“But the competition is pretty stiff. There are people doing amazing things. It’s really anybody’s win. I’ve been here before. I’ve had to process loss. There’s nothing like loss that makes you humble. Being nominated twice is unbelievable – something I will never forget. We’re proud of this album, but I feel the next will be even better.”
The 50th annual Juno Awards are celebrated today (June 6) at 6 p.m. on CBC.