My music classes and I had the good fortune to discover Kelly Fraser’s music when she was nominated for a Juno in 2018. We spent much of January and February that year listening to and analyzing the amazing music created by the artists in the Indigenous Music Album of The Year category and we cast our votes in school for our favourite artist before the Junos aired in March. The Juno was officially awarded to Buffy Sainte-Marie that year but if my students had been on the selection committee the Juno would have been handed to Ms. Kelly Fraser for her album Sedna.
My students were interested in her at first because they recognized songs that she was covering like Rihanna’s Diamonds. But as we looked deeper into her music, we delved into conversations about music as a way to protest or covey messages and music as a way for people to connect. We all found power in her openness and honesty and I personally was moved by her message of hope.
Therefore, I was very saddened by the news that Kelly Fraser passed away at the age of 26 on Christmas eve in Winnipeg. A true Canadian treasure was lost.
Kelly Fraser taught my students and I so many things over the past two years. I have used her name repeatedly in conversations with other teachers about the power of her message and her ability to explain the generational impact of the residential school system. She shared that “when you grow up witnessing trauma and pain, you have scars too.” CBC did a short documentary a year and a half ago that tells part of Kelly’s story and her experience being Inuit. It is a great starting place for a conversation in your classroom about residential schools.
Kelly also fearlessly shared her experiences on social media about her own journey and that of her mother and stepmother.
“Both my mothers are residential school survivors, both their father’s dogs were taken away and killed so they couldn’t go dog sledding to get their food to feed their family. TB/influenza caused our people to convert to Christianity and let go of their culture (drum dancing, tattooing, throat singing, shamanism…etc) because the priests were the only ones with the medicine and I’m not here to say being a Christian is not right, I believe in the freedom of believing what you want to and I respect ALL religions. The Mounties were sent by the government to take away our kayaks and made my family walk thousands of kilometers to a new settlement where they were told there would be houses when there weren’t any. I believe we can rise above what has happened to us by telling each other to please find healing and help by elders, mental health workers, there’s the internet where we can learn to meditate, learn about our culture and reach out and help each other heal. Its time for us ALL people to also call onto the federal/provincial/territorial/municipal governments to give us food that is affordable, programs that will help us heal, proper housing, proper education that allows us to go straight to college after grade 12 and proper healthcare by writing to them and calling them up, this is up to ALL Canadians too!!”
As a young, fashionable, brilliant, creative young women, my students connected to her and really listened to her story. This was not from some history book about things that happened in the past, she explained things through a medium that my students related to and brought the impacts of history to the present.
She also gave us some insight into modern Inuit music, art and culture. She spoke with pride about her Inuit culture consistently and took every opportunity to share other talented Indigenous creators. She introduced me to Nuvuja9, Rannva and InukChic and their fabulous designs. She also introduced me to an amazing cosmetic company called Cheekbone Beauty, where I ordered many items of Swag for our Women’s Dinner this year. I’m sure she was a fashion designers dream. Beautiful inside and out.
She also was a writer and her poetry was moving and told history from the voice of a young women trying to overcome her story.
I am beautiful
I am native
I am Inuk
I am made out of seal
With strength like steel
With land of impossible beauty that stretches so far on this earth.
I am a byproduct of colonization
Yet my tongue remembers a language my mother fought to keep in residential school, she fought assimilation.
Even when my grandfathers dogs were killed and kayaks sliced by the RCMP for infiltration
We still love the huskies
We still love the Qajaq
We survived the Canadian apartheid
We still think fondly of how our people survived.
We are survivors of genocide
I invite you to share Kelly’s story, music and love for her culture. Share it with your students who are going to be the next policy makers in Canada. Help them to have compassion and caring when they are making decisions that challenge us to really address some of the systemic problems that exist in Canada. Help them to understand the long-lasting impacts of residential schools. Although the last door may have closed, the trauma of being ripped from your home, abused and your identity taken is impacting an entire group of people. And will continue to have impact for generations to come. Help them to help our young Indigenous creators like Kelly find support, so that suicide is not the only way to stop the pain.
Goodbye Kelly. I will miss you.