Introducing our Summer Artist-in-Residence: Chantal Chagnon

We’re excited to introduce our next Artist-in-Residence to our community, Chantal Changnon. She has been sharing her Indigenous heritage and culture with the Women’s Centre for many years. It was an honour sitting down with Chantal to get to know more about the journey that led her to being an artist and activist.

Click here to listen to the interview.
(Or, read the transcript below)

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am an Aboriginal drummer and singer as well as I sing rock, blues, jazz…pretty much anything people want me to sing, I will sing it. I have worked with multiple bands throughout my life. I’m not currently with bands, just collaborate with different artists and different projects. It’s been really fun and really nice. I’m hoping to have a solid project going by the fall of next year.

How did you get started in Calgary’s music scene?

It’s kind of different because it’s not a traditional music scene with that I do. So, with a lot of it, I started singing at different events throughout the city. I would just do traditional land acknowledgements, share traditional songs and storytelling…so that opened up a lot of avenues from a different area. Musically, on the other side of things like the music scene in Calgary – say, like jams and bands and things like that – we did a lot of jamming…lot’s and lot’s of jamming. I tend to go out to as many jams as I can…karaoke too.. I’m a singer, it’s fun. There’s no commitment involved with karaoke which is great but, definitely, the jamming with different people throughout the city has really challenged me and helped me uncover the fact that I’m really good at improve[sin]g lyrics. So, we’ll just create different songs and different melodies while we’re up on stage and that’s really one of the most fun things to do is to just improv lyrics and see what you come up with. I never remember anything but, it’s great while it lasts! [laughs]

What would you say Calgary needs to do in order to be more inclusive of Indigenous culture?

Well…I mean, there’s a long way to go. There’s a lot of acknowledgement that needs to happen, a lot of understanding of those wounds that came from the past that we’re still healing from not only as Indigenous people but, as a society. There’s so much guilt, I think, that a lot of settlers carry because as soon as they find out what was going on with the residential school system, with colonialism, the fact that treaties aren’t being honoured and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. All these major issues, as they come to the forefront, it’s traumatic to understand what your ancestors have done and that you’re living on the backs of genocide; it’s a very hard process. I think we need to come together as a society and really learn from each other and grow and heal and not point fingers. But, actually come to a place of understanding and move forward in a good way. A lot of the time, we tend to get trapped in the past and we need to work together to heal those wounds before we can move forward.

How well do you think the Women’s Centre is doing with including Indigenous culture?

It’s so inclusive here and everybody feels safe to share and nobody feels judged when they walk through the door. People of all walks of life and all backgrounds, races, and religions are welcome here. I love that fact that all women can come together. I’ve done drumming here before and women were just so inspired by that. I use drumming as a healing tool, as a growth tool, as a way to reclaim your power as woman. But, also the girls, when I do the Girl Power program here, they just love the drumming, they love the Indigenous crafts but also the stories and the history that goes with it because it’s so relevant. If you take those traditional teachings, they’re still relevant today you just have to translate them to a more portable format.

How did you first become involved with the Women’s Centre?

I was involved with the old [Bridgeland] location. I had come and done some drumming and singing at some of the special events as well as we came in and did a drum circle. Also, when Idle No More was at its peak, we’d have some teach-ins at the Women’s Centre and that was  really an invaluable tool because a lot of women were wondering: a) how they could help or; b) wanted to understand it a bit more. A lot of growth and a lot of really great friendships were developed in that process…it was really wonderful.

What are you most excited for about your Artist-in-Residency?

I’m the most excited about sharing, drumming and singing, about meeting more wonderful women, and being able to share and help people grow. And, also, to help people understand and heal because that’s what it’s all about. The Women’s Centre gives us an opportunity to heal as women and to find our own path and find our way and be proud of who we are and I love that because that’s kind of my message with all of my music and all of my traditional teachings. It’s about reclaiming your feminine power and honouring the mother, honouring Mother Earth, honouring the woman in us. And, also, feeling through the drum, through music, or through arts and crafts. I think it’s such a beautiful dynamic and beautiful gift to be able to share – every time you share, I always learn, so, it’s a great thing.

What does feminism mean to you?

Everything! I live my live in a feminist way…I’ve been leading so many marches, and rallies, and protests, and sit-ins and whatever else having to do with feminism because, as Indigenous women, we are so high at risk for being murdered or going missing or domestic abuse. The statistics are staggering and it breaks my heart, so, I can’t let that continue. I think, as a feminist, you need to be able to step into your power and not only support yourself and those around you but, give voice to the voiceless. There’s so many women that don’t have the opportunity to share their voice. If you step in and give them that support so that they can find their own voice and share it, you can help them move forward in a good way. I’ve also been in abusive relationships before and I know the impact it has on women; how you get so wrapped up and it’s really hard to leave the situation. Feminism helped move me forward and realize I was worth it, that I have value and it wasn’t what I meant to other people that gave me value it’s what I meant to myself.

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