This article appeared in Vue Weekly the week of Nov 23, 2016
It’s the Friday after the US federal election—Remembrance Day—and Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau of A Tribe Called Red is at home with his family in Ottawa. Along with friends Tim “2oolman” Hill, and Bear Witness, the guys are a week away from starting a cross Canada tour, and Campeau is having a hard time coming to terms with the outcome of a Trump presidency.
“It’s already showing signs of violence; it’s really scary. I have friends and family in the US and it’s real down there. I’m still trying to digest it.”
Indigenous activist John Trudell sets the tone on the title track of their latest release, We Are the Halluci Nation, an album heralded as a new masterpiece in Canadian music that’s as unapologetic in its delivery as it is timely. The social themes and upbeat tracks feel all the more important as this year winds down, both as a searing call to action and an escapist party album that many fans of the group feel they currently need.
Campeau tries to find a sliver of hope in the wake of the recent elections, knowing that history sadly seems to be repeating itself.
“Indigenous people, oppressed people, we’ve gone through these things before and we can still come through surviving on the other side”Campeau says. “It’s too bad that that’s what I see as success on the other end of this presidency, but it’s that bleak right now; we’re out for survival.”
The group’s growing international exposure has unfortunately not stopped the guys from being on the receiving end of ignorance. From overly eager fans showing up to shows wearing traditional Indigenous headdresses, to the antiquated expectations of what an Indigenous person should look like, Campeau reflects on a fan that stopped him after a show in France; he complimented their set but wanted to hear more of the group’s “Indian” music.
“Even if it doesn’t have powwow music it’s still Indigenous music because we made it.”Campeau says. “That’s the big thing that people need to understand: Just because we’re not in feathers or buck skin or in ceremonial regalia doesn’t mean we’re not Indigenous. I’m in jeans, a hoodie and a cap and I’m Indigenous, and I need to be recognized as such.”
A Tribe Called Red may have started out playing much smaller parties in their hometown of Ottawa, but they continue to push themselves creatively as a vehicle for social justice; breaking through the old stereotypes and neglected systems that have tried to silence, and continue to try to silence, many Indigenous people today. With the volatility of the current political climate, Campeau demands that allies step up and help marginalized people now more than ever.
“We have to shut this shit down and watch out for people like Kellie Leitch,” Campeau says, referring to the federal Conservative leadership candidate who proposes screening immigrants for Canadian values.
“It shouldn’t all be on us either. We need to convince all our white, liberal friends—the ones benefitting from this society—to fight and be as passionate as we are. The stakes are fucking real for us. It affects us differently. We can’t laugh this off.”