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Former Maskwacis resident lands first Juno Award

Joel Wood won in the Traditional Indigenous Artist category
Former Maskwacis resident Joel Wood recently took home a Juno Award for Traditional Indigenous Artist in recognition of his latest project Sing. Pray. Love. He’s pictured here with his wife Tonia Jo Hall. (Facebook photo)

Former Maskwacis resident Joel Wood is celebrating his first Juno Award, an honour he landed last month in the category of Traditional Indigenous Artist.

The award recognized his outstanding achievements reflected on his latest project, 2023’s Sing. Pray. Love.

“Music has been a part of my life for my entire life,” he said during an interview from his North Dakota home.

For Wood, an early memory shows how his passion for music was sparked.

“I have a ton of memories — one of the most vivid is going out on my parents’ front lawn, grabbing mom’s laundry basket, and turning it upside down as a drum. I don’t even remember what I was using as a drumstick, but I remember sitting out there kind of copying the big guys,” he recalled.

Some of those key early influences would include his father Steve Wood, who is part of Northern Cree — a powwow and round dance drum and singing group. Formed in 1980, the group has been regarded as one of the best and most well-known acts in modern Native American powwow music, having landed Grammy nominations over the years, plus several Junos.

The impact of this rich musical heritage is still having an impact today, said Joel.

“It brings me overwhelming joy to play traditional music. And if it weren’t for traditional music, I wouldn’t be living the life I’m living now,” he explained.

“It’s brought so much good and so many blessings to me and my family.”

As for bringing home a Juno Award, Joel said it was a thrilling experience.

“This was my third consecutive nomination. So this year, going into it, I just wanted to really take in the entire experience and just be ‘in’ the moment. I feel like that is what I did.

“I was really enjoying myself, and I didn’t have any stress about anything — I wasn’t thinking about who the award would be going to. I just wanted to be thankful for where I was, and I was just so happy with this project that I had worked on with my wife (collaborator and comedian Tonia Jo Hall).

“It’s a very beautiful album that we came up with. So when they announced the award and called my name, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a surreal moment that was filled with so much joy. As I was walking up there, it was almost like I had this out-of-body experience.

“I basically allowed the creator to take the wheel.”

Wood laughed as he noted he didn’t even recall what he said in his thank-you speech.

“I asked my wife if I had done all right because honestly, I don’t remember what I said. She reassured me that it all went well.”

For Joel, music is an essential part of his day-to-day life.

It’s not just to create material for each new album; it’s a part of his family’s experience virtually every day, he said.

“My wife and I sing at home quite often, whether it be a morning song, or a prayer song, or for a certain event happening within our family, such as a birthday, for example,” he said.

“It brings so much joy and so much healing. There is medicine within these songs. It makes me feel good, and from what I’ve heard, it makes other people feel good as well.”

He also has a vision of introducing more folks to the power of traditional Indigenous music.

“There is definitely a space for our traditional First Nations music out there,” he said. “I also think that it’s long overdue that we are finally getting this recognition at these events.”

Joel was born in Ponoka, and raised in Maskwacis.

These days, he and his family are based in Bismarck, North Dakota.

In the meantime, he also wants to encourage young people to stay true to themselves and to what they would want to do in life.

“You don’t have to try and be anyone but yourself. You are authentic.”

He also pointed to a quote from his father, who is also a retired educator, and who has had a profound influence on his son.

“I love to share this quote that he has always said. ‘If you believe in who you are, where you come from, your identity, your culture, and most importantly your language, it’s going to take you to places that you never even have dreamed of.”

For Joel, the full meaning of those words didn’t click with him so much in his early days.

But they do now.

Staying true to his artistic vision has opened doors to opportunities he wouldn’t have dreamed of, he said.

“And after all of the things that I have experienced in my lifetime — the travel, visiting the awesome people throughout my journey — all of that wouldn’t have been possible without the (music).”

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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