ST. PAUL, Alta — For Fawn Wood, attending her first Juno Awards event was nothing short of surreal. The Northern Alberta singer was nominated in the Traditional Indigenous Artist of the Year category - and won.
Sitting nearby at the award's event, which was held on May 14 and 15, was another musician from the St. Paul area - Brett Kissel. While it wasn't Kissel's first time attending the Juno Awards, he too was successful in bringing home the award for Country Album of the Year.
Speaking about his win just days after the awards wrapped up, Kissel says one of the moments that stood out to him was witnessing Wood's success, and seeing her surrounded by her family at the event. The pair walked the red carpet near one another, and Kissel says he was proud to represent the area alongside Wood.
"I thought, how cool is this?" says Kissel.
Compared to past events, the Indigenous culture in Canada was even more visible, and that in itself was exciting to see. “There’s a lot of pride obviously, I really loved it," says Kissel.
It was amazing to see Indigenous cultures from all areas of Canada represented at the Junos, says Kissel. And to see Wood do such an "extraordinary job to tell these stories" is exciting.
For Wood, the award night was nerve-wracking, with her category being announced second last on Saturday night.
"It sure felt like a dream," says Wood. She adds that the experience was "busy but amazing," and her trip to the Junos is something she will remember forever.
"It was really fast pace, but to be among Canada's elite in music sure was an honour."
Growing up singing traditional music in Saddle Lake, Wood says it was a long-time coming to see the new, Traditional Indigenous Artist category added to the Juno lineup.
"I wanted to make sure that if I had that chance to speak on the podium that I would say the right words. This very category represents both the struggles and the triumphs of Indigenous people to keep our traditional music alive, and for me to be able to speak on that after winning was a huge privilege," says Wood.
"This is more than just winning an award or being nominated in a category. This goes to show that my own personal family, community, tribe and people - and all of our Indigenous ancestors who kept our music going - their work wasn't for nothing, because now what they had to fight to do, we are being celebrated for."
One of her favourite parts of the weekend - other than winning the award - was mingling and meeting other like-minded people.
"I also had the opportunity to play a part of Junofest Indigenous Showcase, and that was really cool as I was the only traditional Indigenous artist that was part of it," explains Wood.
Posting photos of her experience on social media, it was clear that Wood put some extra care and attention into her appearance, using the national stage to showcase Indigenous style and culture.
"I saw this is a chance to showcase not only myself as an Indigenous artist, but I have a lot of very talented Indigenous designer friends and I thought being amongst everybody here I wanted them to see me representing our people authentically. On the first night, I wore a very beautiful jewellery set made by Joseph Roan of Hatsumomo Florals," explains Wood. "On the second night, I wore everything head to toe from different Indigenous designers. A lot of them were from our Treaty Six area. My dress was from Nitanis clothing, jewellery was from Cold Water Trading Post, belt and cuffs were Longwhisker Brass, and moccasins from Nita Mcadam."
Wood's most recent solo album, Kâkike, was released in 2021.
Wood's younger sister, Tia, was also part of the Juno Awards. She was given the opportunity to introduce superstar Avril Lavigne to the stage.
What Is Life?
Speaking further to his success at the 2022 Juno Awards, Kissel says winning the award for his album What Is Life? brought up different feelings compared to when he won in the past.
“I know I was a lot more vulnerable in terms of the choices I made,” says Kissel, speaking about the creation of the album itself. While he's proud of all the records he's produced, often it was about chasing commercial success. This time, "I cared a lot more about caring less.”
Instead, he focused on the true meaning behind the songs. The focus wasn't to sell records or get a trophy - but it appears that “the less I cared about commercial success, the more commercial success I ended up achieving.”
His favourite song on the album is the hit single Make a Life, Not a Living. It is the essence of what the album stands for.
But, the last track, Kindness, holds its own special place.
"Obviously, it speaks to everything you think it would," says Kissel. The track was recorded on his iPhone, and his producer decided to keep it to that recording, allowing it to be even more vulnerable. When people listen to the track, “You're actually hearing my actual iPhone," says Kissel.
Further explaining why the 2022 Junos felt different for Kissel, he uses one of his favourite past-times to draw a parallel - hockey. Winning awards early in his career was similar to winning the Stanley Cup in a hockey player's first season with the NHL. You only realize later, that these things aren't easy to achieve, and they have much more meaning at that point. Kissel says he is simply more grateful this time around.
This was Kissel's third Juno win.