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‘Break a barrier’: Indigenous artist to sing part of O Canada in Cree at Grey Cup

Teagan Littlechief to perform national anthem in three languages — English, French and Cree
Singer Teagan Littlechief stands for a photograph in front of Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. Littlechief will be singing the national anthem in the languages of Cree, English, and French at the 109th Grey Cup game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

When Teagan Littlechief sings in front of thousands of fans at Sunday’s Grey Cup game, she’ll be thinking about Canada’s Indigenous youth.

Littlechief, who is from White Bear First Nation on Treaty 4 territory in southeastern Saskatchewan, says she was often the only Indigenous person on stage when she first started performing.

“My thing is being able to show society that First Nations people are just as talented as any other race. I’ve always wanted our First Nations people out there to flaunt what we’ve got and show society what we have to offer,” the 35-year-old said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“I hope that what I’m able to do is maybe break a barrier down for our youth.”

Littlechief is to perform O Canada in three languages — English, French and Cree — at the Canadian Football League’s championship game in Regina between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts.

Only fluent in English, Littlechief has been leaning on a Cree teacher and French friend to help her practice the national anthem in the other languages.

“My Cree teacher today was giving me the lowdown of pronunciations and what would sound better with what words.”

Littlechief said she believes she may be the first to sing the anthem at a Grey Cup in Cree. Juno award winner Susan Aglukark, who blends Inuit folk music traditions with country songwriting, sang the anthem for the 1998 Grey Cup in Winnipeg.

“We’re always trying to bring recognition in everything that we do now, and I’m over the moon. I’m happy that people are starting to recognize First Nations,” said Littlechief.

Littlechief, who also works as an addictions counsellor and youth worker, has her own singing accolades to brag about.

She was named the Indigenous Artist of the Year at the 2022 Saskatchewan Country Music Awards. She took home the title of Saskatchewan’s Next Big Thing from the Pure Country radio station in Regina and performed at this year’s Country Thunder Music Festival.

She has also performed O Canada at games for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats.

Littlechief said has been in love with music since she was a child, when her brother would put headphones on her and she’d dance herself to sleep, but said the road to success hasn’t been easy.

She has struggled with alcohol addiction since high school, she said, and dabbled with heavy drugs.

“I always dreamt that when I had my first child … I’d raise them in a substance-abuse-free home, and that’s not the life that he got,” Littlechief said of her 11-year-old son, Gabriel.

“The first two years of his life he was having to deal with an alcoholic mom, who ditched him all the time.”

Littlechief said she went on her last bender in 2017. At the time, the boy was sick at home and without his mom.

“That day, I decided that was it. It was probably the hardest, hardest adventure – I’m going to call it an adventure – because I missed out on so much of my son’s life, and now I’m slowly able to make up for it.”

Her singing has taken off since she’s been sober. But most importantly, she said, it has brought her and her son closer together.

They often go on road trips together for her shows, she said, and he’s been her main support, along with her mother and stepfather.

“(Gabriel) is super excited. He’s always saying my mom’s singing the anthem and he says, ‘Mom, the kids at school know me.” Littlechief said of her upcoming Grey Cup performance.

“I’ve been practising, practising, practising. My son is actually getting tired of me singing it all the time. He’s like, ‘Mom the anthem is stuck in my head now.’”

While she’s feeling some nerves, Littlechief said she reminds herself of why she’s taking the stage on Sunday.

“I just want to be able to show the youth I work with that dreams are possible when you work hard and you put in effort in on all the things you want to do.

“And change happens. Beautiful things happen.”

—Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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