By Julia Peterson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When Donny Parenteau was starting his music career in Saskatchewan, he knew he wanted to play his fiddle on the world’s biggest stages.
Now, the highly acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer has a new dream, to help up-and-coming Indigenous musicians from across the province shine.
“All through my career, I’ve had people call me and ask me for advice,” he said. “’What do I do here? What should I do here? I wrote this song, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to get that out of your head. You’ve got to get past the four walls where you learned your craft, and take it to that next level.’ But a lot of the time, that’s the problem. People don’t know where to go.”
That’s what inspired him to create the Saskatchewan Indigenous Music Association (SIMA).
The association will organize an awards show, to highlight the breadth of Indigenous music happening in Saskatchewan.
At many of the major music awards in Canada, Parenteau has noticed that Indigenous music is often featured in a single category, regardless of genre. He himself has been nominated for ‘Aboriginal recording of the year’ at the Juno awards three times.
But at an Indigenous awards show, the vast array of Indigenous music being produced in Saskatchewan today can all have time in the spotlight.
“We’ll have different Indigenous artists playing all kinds of music, every genre, from pow wow right through to rock, heavy metal and rap,” he said. “There’s so much out there right now. And I’m just talking about Saskatchewan.”
Parenteau also believes this will make Saskatchewan the first province to have its own Indigenous music awards show.
“Somebody asked me ? what took so long to make it happen?” he said. “And I don’t know why. But the most important thing is, it’s finally here. It’s about time.”
The awards show is only one part of what SIMA will do. As Parenteau started building the association’s board, reaching out to friends and colleagues in the music industry, he says there was so much enthusiasm that the idea just grew and grew.
Now, Parenteau says SIMA will be there to help Indigenous musicians in Saskatchewan at every stage of their careers.
“Our main goal for this organization is to take all the knowledge that we have, so that someone from a small community, who just started playing, who’s not sure what to do, can call us,” he said. “And we can be a helping hand to guide you to that next step.
“Our board has such a wide breadth of knowledge. It’s absolutely phenomenal. If we don’t know the answer to your question, I guarantee you we’ll know somebody that does.”
When he moved back to the province in the early 2000s, an organization like this would have helped him find his feet in the local music scene, he says.
“It could have guided me a lot more easily down that path.”
He knows exactly what kind of doors he’d like to open for talented young Indigenous musicians in the province.
“This is what I visualize happening,” he says. “We’re going to meet a 12- or 14-year-old person who comes forward, and all of us as a board are going to guide them. And when they turn 25 or 26, they’ll receive their very first big award in Canada. And they’ll be asked, ‘Who would you like to say thank you to? How did you get your start?’ And they’ll say, ‘the Saskatchewan Indigenous Music Association.’
“That’s when I’ll sit back and just beam with pride and go, ‘Wow. We made it. We did it.”’
Julia Peterson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with
THE STARPHOENIX. The LJI program is federally funded.