‘This gift … is like a medicine’: Indigenous musician helps create new award

Members of ArtsNB Circle of Elders at the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for High Achievement in the Arts Gala. From left to right: Hubert Francis, George Paul, Mariah Sockabasin, and Judie Acquin. (Submitted: Matthew Brown)

The New Brunswick Arts Board, also known as ArtsNB, has announced the creation of a fourth Lieutenant Governor’s Award for High Achievement in the Arts: The Indigenous Artist Award.

Beginning in 2024, this award will recognize the achievements of a visual, literary or performing indigenous artist working in New Brunswick. The award is issued every two years and is accompanied by a $20,000 prize.

ArtsNB committed to building Indigenous participation in their grant program in their 2022-27 strategic plan. This new award echoes that goal.

Hubert Francis, a Mi’kmaq rock artist and three-time Juno Award nominee, is also a member of the ArtsNB board and Circle of Elders, which was part of the decision to create this new award.

“Any recognition for an Aboriginal person has a great impact not just on the individual but on the Aboriginal community … I always say we need more Indian heroes,” said Francis.

Francis explained as someone who has been in the music industry for multiple decades, he did not experience the same support as an Indigenous artist that he sees in the New Brunswick arts community in 2023.

“I think they found out that we do have talent. We do have a lot to offer to the general community,” said Francis.

Francis hopes the New Brunswick community can extend their appreciation beyond the many artistic talents of the Indigenous community and look to them for their teachings and wisdom.

“The teachings that come from our ceremonies … they’re for everyone. They’re natural teachings, nature’s law. So I think the whole country could benefit if they only listened to us,” said Francis.

He hopes this award will act as an avenue for Indigenous artists to get more involved in the province.

“Our people need to be more involved in all areas, not just arts but in politics and environmental areas, even in education …. I think [this award] will open up some doors to these areas that need to be opened,” said Francis.

Francis said ArtsNB is one of the first arts boards to invite a circle of elders to be part of their organization and that their presence is important.

“We’ve been told what’s good for us by people that haven’t even set foot on a reserve or even know anything about us … so as a circle of elders, we can tell the decision makers that this is how it is,” said Francis.

The younger generation of indigenous people give Francis hope, as he said they are reconnecting with their culture and making their voices heard in the province.

“Your art and every talent given comes with obligations and responsibilities. This gift you’re given, to share and to help, it’s like a medicine,” said Francis.

Artists can be nominated to win this award, and nominations are currently open.