Indigenous hip hop artists bring the truth of Canadian history to the masses

Jane Puchniak
Momentum builds with Dakota Bear and Drezus’ debut collaboration, Circles.

Until recently, Canada was seen by many as a country that came to be by peaceful negotiations. Its origins — almost revered — on the international stage. The thing is, the world didn’t know the whole story.

In May 2021, everything changed. Canada’s horrific ongoing genocide made international news in some of the largest global publications. From Al Jazeera to the Washington Post to BBC World News to The New York Times, headlines landed as mass graves of Indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of the former residential school in Kamloops. Tragically, this would be the first of many discoveries across the country, and this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of colonial devastation and how Canada actually came to be. Around the world, people looked into what they perceived as a once-peaceful past, horrified by the dark reality. Horrified by the truth.

For Indigenous people who grew up on these lands, this news was no surprise.

“This news wasn’t shocking to us. It was triggering and heartbreaking, but we’ve always known this history. The people in the ground are our relatives. We’ve been trying to tell these truths for decades. Only now are people starting to listen. It literally took unmarked mass graves of Indigenous children for people to pay attention,” said Indigenous hip hop artist and activist, Dakota Bear.

Indigenous hip hop artists, Dakota Bear and Drezus, have been dropping colossal sounds, akin to contemporary hip hop and R&B charting artists like Post Malone and Lil Nas X, along with truths about the history of colonization.

“These hip hop artists are disrupting the traditional narrative and bringing these teachings to the masses. There comes a time in a generation when artists cut through the noise. Their voices define history. That moment is happening now in the Indigenous hip hop community,” shared celebrated Canadian broadcaster and music historian, Howard Mandshein.

There is extraordinary momentum building in the Indigenous hip hop community with Drezus, Dakota Bear, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Mamarudegyal ++ making impactful statements through their individual and collective voices.

“This next generation of artists is making people stop and see things more clearly. They represent a generation of Indigenous young people that aren’t backing down in the face of systems of family separation that continue to do harm. This song is a signal that we will work relentlessly to respect the matriarchs, fulfill our responsibilities to live these teachings and step into the circle,” says Michael Redhead Champagne, Ininew community leader.

“These artists are using music as a vehicle to amplify Indigenous voices and inspire action. With the power of music and storytelling, they are carrying the stories of our ancestors,” says Idle No More Co-Founder, Sylvia McAdam.

Throughout their careers, Drezus and Dakota Bear have been active supporters of the international social justice movement, Idle No More, a grassroots movement for Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous rights and respect for treaties with goals to stop environmental degradation and economic and social inequality. Drezus began working with Idle No More in the early days with McAdam. Coincidentally, Dakota is a nephew of McAdam, but he didn’t know of their ancestral lineage until a decade ago as Dakota was separated from that side of the family as residential schools tore family ties. Another layer of history: Dakota Bear is a direct descendant of Chief Big Bear, an extremely influential chief in the plains in the 1870s.

As the tragedies were literally unearthed across Canada this year, Dakota Bear played a critical leadership role in the #CancelCanadaDay campaign as a response to residential school grave discoveries. This campaign led to discourse in national and international media in response to Canada Day events being cancelled in more than 80 communities across the country.

Another campaign envisioned by Dakota Bear brought together icons in film, television and music in Canada and US to bring the truth of Indigenous history to the mainstream. He hosted a series of Instagram lives with icons like Drake’s long time producer Noah 40 Shebib (conversation linked here), cast from Netflix / Warner Bros & CBS series Riverdale (conversation linked here) and support from Marvel-star, Mark Ruffalo, Tegan and Sara, and MSNBC’s Liz Plank. Indigenous influencers have also played a huge role in bringing colonial truths to the surface and educating hundreds of thousands. Icons like Shayla Stonechild, Haatepah and Indigenous Baddie worked in collaboration with Dakota Bear on the #JUSTICEFORINDIGENOUS campaign and their voices continue to share the truth and beauty of Indigenous culture across Turtle Island. These collaborations speak to community coming together which is precisely what the latest single is all about.

“Circles is such a great title because there are so many circles we’re a part of and some of the most powerful ones are the hidden ones, the ceremonial ones, those are the ones you’ll never see on my Instagram. So much healing comes through circles, healing circles, ceremony,” says Drezus.

“For us, Circles shows the strength of community. We are stronger together. And that goes for Indigenous peoples and for settlers. In the circle, we come together with the common goal of healing our wounded past,” shares Bear.

In my humble opinion, there are not enough artists making a profound statement with their music today. These artists are doing just that. In the midst of huge social justice movements, we need these anthems to make sense of how the world is changing. Even after the artists come and go, the songs are eternal and they describe how history is unfolding through the raw, unfiltered lens of hip hop.

The duo hasn’t put out an official announcement yet, but there are hints of a Circles Tour on both sides of the border with confirmed dates thus far in Vancouver (August 28) and Los Angeles (September 23).

Watch Drezus x Dakota Bear | Circles Official Video directed by Matt Leaf here. Their new hit single continues to gain momentum landing on five of the largest Spotify and Apple music playlists including Apple Music’s New in Hip Hop, Spotify’s Northern Bars and Apple Music’s Shakedown. Circles is available now everywhere you stream music.

Circles single artwork by Tom Crier
Indigenous hip hop artists bring the truth of Canadian history to the masses

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