Ontario Presents and its member presenting organizations recognize the importance of presenting Indigenous artists, stories and culture as part of their presenting practice. As we continue to encourage the respectful presentation of Indigenous art, we will be featuring an Indigenous artist each month in our e-newsletter and blog. Our sincere thanks to Denise Bolduc for conceiving of and continuing to support this Spotlight Series. Spotlights are developed with the artist, and are intended simply to share the artist’s work and foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond.
This month we spoke with hip hop-electronic artist and motivational speaker speaker Cody Coyote
To get us started, can you introduce yourself and your artistic practice?
Aanii, boozhoo. Cody Coyote ndizhinikaaz. Odawa niindonjii, Ojibwe niindaw, Matachewan niindonjibaa
That was, “Hello and welcome, my name’s Cody. I was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and I am Ojibwe from Matachewan First Nation.”
I’m a hip hop-electronic artist, motivational speaker, workshop facilitator, and most recently a radio host for 97.5 ELMNT FM. We’re First Peoples radio based out of Ottawa and Toronto (106.5FM in Toronto). It’s the first commercial radio station that spins 25% Indigenous music, 35% Canadian content. It’s really achieving a huge milestone.
When it comes to the motivational speaking, I talk about how I found healing through art. I talk about being an intergenerational survivor of child welfare, as well as my sobriety and how I overcame the obstacles that I’ve had to face throughout my lifetime.
In regards to the music, I’ve been active since 2015. I was in the Best Rap/Hip-Hop CD and Single of the Year categories in the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards, as well as the 2018 for Indigenous Music Awards Best Music Video.
So how did you first get into music?
It’s something that began as an outlet and has remained an outlet for me. I started writing when I was facing bullying and racism… throughout high school…
One of my old teachers actually introduced me to a studio that was at the school. I started going in pretty regularly, making music. And then I had the idea a few years after graduation that I wanted to go back into the school and talk to the class about my journey and everything that took place after high school.
I led a lifestyle where I was in conflict with the law for a good three years. Eventually certain events happen that made me not want to be a part of that any more. And I decided that I wanted to initiate positive change.
Since then, I’ve been doing work with organizations such as Blueprint for Life. Most recently we were in the William Hayes Detention Centre here in Ottawa, it’s a juvenile detention centre. We were teaching young people about spoken word, but also teaching them to break dance and about the elements of hip hop.
[Working with Blueprint for Life]… we’ve had multiple kids who were part of gangs in Ottawa, putting all that stuff to the side, just coming into the same room, learning how to breakdance with each other. It’s really been quite tremendous.
I know you’ve spoken in the past about a disconnect from your cultural identity when you were growing up. How did that change for you?
For me this kind of ties into everything we’ve been talking about… I was in a gang for three years of my life and they were predominantly Indigenous males… they gave me this false representation of what it meant to be a warrior. I started thinking being a warrior means that I’m wearing certain colours and I’m walking around committing acts of violence…
Which is the complete opposite – being a warrior is taking care of people, honouring and respecting our women and children, and two spirit folk, trans folk, everyone, and just being able to take care of people… it’s also just doing acts of kindness and doing things that are honourable…
Part of why I started hanging out with the people I was hanging out with and doing the things I was doing was because I was frustrated with the fact that I didn’t have a cultural identity. And going into school day in and day out and being picked on for something that I couldn’t change, it was quite difficult for me.
When I went through this justice program, when I had been charged when I was younger, they brought me around what they call a healing circle, which consisted of different elders, my case worker, my probation officer, and my parents. And I just got to vent about everything that I had been carrying.
After that they brought me to my first sweat lodge, and I kept going to sweat lodge after that. I started to go around pow wow, started to learn about my culture, learning my language, learning teachings, about ceremony. I also got my first regalia this past summer, so I’ve been learning how to do men’s fancy, which is a huge step forward for me.
Having that cultural identity, it’s been something that’s growing, and I’m still learning, but it’s also helped a lot in regards to my healing journey.
What’s next for you, what projects do you have going on now?
I’m actually working on a project for next summer… talking about the good and bad wolf that we have inside of us. This whole project is going to be dedicated to talking about anything from self-destruction to finding strength within ourselves.
… and there’s more language that’s incorporated into it. I’ve been learning a lot more of my language of Anishinaabemowin. The more than I’m learning, I’m incorporating it into my music, into my craft. So in that way, I can use it as an educational tool, but also as a tool to bring everyone together and learn about each other.
There’s also a music video that I shot in Los Angeles, in San Bernardino California. It’s called Chitter-Chat, that will be coming out in the new year as well.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your story.
Well thank you to for reaching out. I see it from the perspective, I’m just a human being. I think a lot of people in the music industry get egotistical… but for me, I don’t do this for money, I don’t do it for the fame or anything like that.
I just do it because I want to be able to initiate positive change for people and come to a place where we can just be like, “Yo, you’re a human being, I’m a human being too. Let’s just have fun, let’s jam, let’s vent, let’s cry, let’s laugh, let’s just be us.”