A comment about Indigenous artists pawning trophies prompted a Saskatoon musician to speak out about what he sees as ongoing discrimination in the country music industry.
Jarrid Poitras says he was hurt by a colleague’s comment during a meeting last week on the absence of the Indigenous Artist of the Year award at the Saskatchewan Country Music Association’s (SCMA’s) awards show.
“Somebody made a comment about ‘why should we give them an award when they’re just going to pawn it off anyway?'” Poitras said.
“I left the meeting in anger knowing that that comment was directed toward First Nations people, basically stating that we would pawn off our award for money.”
Poitras, whose stage name is Jarrid Lee, is second vice president for the SCMA. The meeting was for an SCMA committee to discuss preparations for the 2021 awards show.
Poitras said the comment was made by Reg Wilke, who sat on the SCMA board of directors and the SCMA awards Committee. SCMA President Wes LaBrash said Wilke has since apologized and resigned from both the board and the committee.
Poitras said he left the meeting and later detailed why in emails to the vice president, president and Wilke.
“[Wilke] called me in the morning and apologized and said some things to try and back up, saying it was just a joke. But to me, it didn’t feel like a joke,” he said.
Poitras said he doesn’t believe Wilke meant intentional harm, but that doesn’t reduce the harm done.
Wilke did not return CBC’s requests for comment. As of Tuesday, Wilke’s social media accounts were deactivated.
If people knew that there was a problem, why didn’t it get addressed a long time ago?– Jarrid Poitras
On Monday, the Board of directors for Regina’ community radio station CJTR FM released a statement saying Wilke’s Pickin’ It Country program would be removed from the schedule and that it had “provided anti-racist and decolonial resources for the host to learn from.”
Poitras said reflecting on what happened stirred up troubling memories of racism.
“It kind of brought back all the inequalities I felt growing up as a native person, especially in hockey, schooling, whatever I did in life, I knew that it wasn’t going to be equal. I’d have to work twice as hard just to be recognized,” he said. “When I look back at the comment, it was hurtful. It made me feel less than, almost less than a human being.”
Poitras said people need to educate themselves about systemic racism and the issues facing First Nations people.
“Whether you’re in a professional setting or hanging out with some friends, the comments like that — you don’t know if they’re going to hurt people,” he said, adding people should start learning through the 94 calls to action laid out in the national Truth and Reconciliation report.
“People really need to educate themselves on the systemic racism that we face here in Canada, not only that, but the true history of what happened here, with residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, as well as what’s happening with [child] apprehensions to this day.”
SCMA president LaBrash said he has also reflected upon Wilke’s comment. He said someone had asked why the association offered a bursary instead of a physical trophy for Indigenous Artist of the Year.
“Somebody speculated maybe it’s a cost thing: it’s not fair to others if we give them a $200 trophy and a bursary — which is not true — but that was speculation and unfortunately, that led to a comment from one of the participants about — and he didn’t direct it at Indigenous people, he was just saying I agree with that like a trophy is worth cash. You could pawn it and get cash.”
LaBrash acknowledged that Wilke made the comment during a discussion about Indigenous artists.
“Reg admitted it was a stupid comment. He apologized for it,” he said.
LaBrash later learned that in 2017 the awards were reviewed by a committee. It found two categories — Indigenous Artist and Roots — consistently didn’t have enough nominees. SCMA then amalgamated the Roots category and moved to a bursary to incentivize Indigenous artists. He said that decision will likely be revisited at this year’s annual general meeting.
LaBrash put out a public statement, acknowledging the systemic racism and discrimination “within Saskatchewan, within the country music industry, and within the SCMA.”
He said the organization will work to better understand discrimination — noting it is not always done in an overt nature — and contribute to positive change.
SCMA forms new inclusive committee
SCMA members decided Tuesday to create an inclusivity committee, which will involve Indigenous artists and people in the LGBT community. Poitras said it’s a positive first step. He said there needs to be more opportunities and support for local diverse artists.
The new committee will receive external support from Sask Music’s Indigenous music co-ordinator Darwin Roy, LaBrash said.
LaBrash is asking people in the industry to come together, learn from what happened and make the community stronger.
Poitras spoke out online about what happened. Since then, he’s heard from many people who have experienced or witnessed discrimination within the industry.
“Why did it take me coming up with this post or anything just to initiate the conversation, just to get the ball rolling? If people knew that there was a problem, why didn’t it get addressed a long time ago?”