Julian Taylor writes about his Black Mohawk heritage after being nominated for five Native American Music Awards this week

East Toronto's Julian Taylor has been nominated for five Native American Music Awards.

East Toronto musician Julian Taylor has recently been nominated for five Native American Music Awards (NAMA).

Taylor has been nominated for the 2022 NAMAs in the categories of Best Debut Artist, Best Country Recording, Best Male Vocalist, Best Folk Recording and Best Country Video.

The honours are for Taylor’s album The Ridge, which earlier won him  Solo Artist of the Year at the 2021 Canadian Folk Music Awards, and was nominated for two Juno Awards in the categories of  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year and Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year.

The Native American Music Awards and Association celebrates the rich cultural heritage of first peoples across North America and the northern tip of South America. Established in 1998, the Awards pay tribute to Native American authored music of various genres.

“Native American, American Indian and Canadian Aboriginal music is the original roots music of the North Americas,” said the NAMA website. “Originally a traditional music which was an integral part of Native American life and tribal identity, Native American music has grown to encompass many contemporary genres such as: rock, pop, blues, hip hop, country and new age as well as have created some unique genres that remain distinctly Indigenous such as Waila or Chicken scratch, and Native American church music.”

In a post on his Facebook page announcing the NAMA nominations, Taylor wrote about his heritage as a Black Mohawk. A resident of the Woodbine and Danforth avenues, area, Taylor is of Mohawk and West Indian descent.

“I come from two strong oral traditions and cultures. One was stolen from their land and brought here and the other had their land stolen,” he wrote.

“It’s been an uphill battle ever since and the fight is far from over. These are the constructs of colonialism and I think that it’s important to tell all of our stories because that’s one truthful and real way to heal and come together and forge a better understanding of one another and how to grow as one together. The whole idealism behind colonialism is to divide and conquer and I refuse to be a person that falls into that trap.”

Taylor’s full post on his Facebook page is below:

“Very proud to announce that I have been nominated for a few Native American Music Awards. I am extremely grateful to The Nammy’s for this incredible honour and that my work has been recognized in such a beautiful way. Congrats to all the nominees.

“More importantly this has presented a unique and very important opportunity to discuss with you some of my thoughts on identity and inclusion and set the record straight for many who’ve had concerns about who I am and what I am and why I am.

“This is very difficult for me to address because it hurts. It’s something that I have had to deal with all my life and that has easily and often crippled me or brought me to tears. It’s something that my family has had to deal with as well. So it’s close to home.

“With that said I think that this is an important conversation to have even if some folks don’t like it because I believe people like me deserve a seat at the table too. If sharing these thoughts help anyone else who may be feeling this way then that’s worth more of a reward than any award.

“I’d like to first say that it has never been my intention to make others feel less or to try and take away space for their voices to be heard. In fact it’s the opposite. I try to do anything and everything that I can to help build others up, especially people like me who may have not had their fair share of opportunities and who’ve had to fight for them like I have.

“When I first received the news about my nominations I was very anxious. It felt bittersweet and I almost withdrew out of fear, but thanks to some close friends and family that I spoke to who showed me love and compassion I decided not to.

“Nia:wen to Gene Diabo, Raven, Joe Delaronde, Justus Polson-Lahache, Brendt Diabo, Dawn Maracle and Evan Redsky for your kindness, your support and for being there. I also thought about what my Grandfather would have said or done and I believe wholeheartedly that he would tell my warrior heart to stand up with pride, so that is what I’d like to try and do. I guess that I will start from the top…

“Hello my name is Julian Dean Ebonluwa Taylor. I was born in Toronto in 1978.

“I am a son, a brother, and I am a Grandson, I am a father and I am a cousin, I am a nephew, and an Uncle. I am a friend of the universe and a friend to many and I am a Black Mohawk.

“I did not recently discover my heritage, I was born into it and I am proud of who I am. Funny little story. I was actually born with straight black hair and on the day I was born my Grandfather exclaimed he’s got Native hair and that made him smile. After my first haircut it grew back curlier. There are many different shades of brown in my family, some are even closer to shades of white and I was raised by all of them. My Grandfather taught me about my Mohawk culture and instilled those invaluable lessons in me. We’d often sit on the stoop and do carvings and talk. He carved me my first talking stick for me there which I would later on give to my very own daughter at her naming ceremony.

“I promise that I am not trying to be something that I am not. I am painfully aware of what I look like and what I am not and while I’ve had a privileged life I can not and will not take that for granted because the people in my family before me suffered too much. I can not let their strength and the sacrifices that they had to make not to be taken in vain.

“I come from two strong oral traditions and cultures. One was stolen from their land and brought here and the other had their land stolen. It’s been an uphill battle ever since and the fight is far from over. These are the constructs of colonialism and I think that it’s important to tell all of our stories because that’s one truthful and real way to heal and come together and forge a better understanding of one another and how to grow as one together. The whole idealism behind colonialism is to divide and conquer and I refuse to be a person that falls into that trap.

“I did not grow up on a reservation. I have strong roots in Kahnawake which is a reservation in Quebec. I have family there and I’ve been visiting since I could crawl. I’ve never claimed that I was from Kahnawake and when ever asked I always reply that my mother’s family is from there. I am very proud of my family and of my Mohawk roots and I am equally as proud of my African roots.

“When the nominations came out for the Nammy’s it said that I was from there and it made me so uncomfortable that I requested that it be changed and was preparing to bow out if by some chance it wasn’t. They’ve since been changed to reflect the truth and I’m eternally grateful to everyone who helped make that happen. I am so grateful to The Nammy’s for hearing and responding in kind.

“Being in this body with the skin I have is a constant reminder of so much emotional, social and political stuff I can’t even tell you. Some are extremely positive like the fact that we are still here and others can be very depleting. One of the things that’s hurt me the most is that some of the discrimination I’ve faced happens to come from my own.

“Growing up I was never Black enough or never red enough and I know that others in my family have expressed the same but this is my story and they can tell their story if they want to. I remember being asked as a teenager if I actually had any Black friends or being told that I was the nicest black person that some white friends of mine had ever met. Not many others than close friends even knew I was also First Nations. I know that nobody was trying to cause me any harm but those comments did sting. They hurt so much that I did my best to abandon my culture and who I was because I was ashamed and nervous about it. So I started to rebel against my family and found other places to gravitate too. Many of which were detrimental.

“When I was a young boy though I had lots of Black friends and I loved reading books with my family and hearing stories about the civil rights movement and I loved hearing about.

“Skywoman and the creation story and such many more stories that would come to define who I am. I thought everyone knew them but as I grew up that just wasn’t the case. To be honest I even loved hearing stories about the bible as my Dad’s father was a Pastor. He just turned 100 years old by the way. I stereotypically sang in the church choir and I am grateful for those experiences because that’s one of the ways that I fell in love with music.

“I do believe in a higher power but my relationship with organized religion however is a bit estranged because I don’t believe that spirituality should be an institution but that’s another conversation for another time.

“All of my family’s teachings however on both the West Indian side and the Mohawk side have taught me that there is a universal truth called love that helps guide the spirit and I know that the universe makes no mistakes and I am not a mistake. My Grandfather taught me to be a warrior and mom taught me to listen to Mother Earth and silently listen to all that she has to say. My family taught me to be truthful and take care of our kin and to be thankful to The Great Spirit for all that is.

“You see all that I’ve ever wanted is to make my family proud and be able to support my family the way they’ve always done for me.

“I hope that we can all work each and every day and try to remove ourselves from another form of colonial colourist biases and ideologies. Which is essentially discriminatory behaviour.

“Indigeneity is very different for everyone. Blackness is different for everyone and being human is different for all of us. It is only our collective stories that can help teach and heal us and that is the reason I share my stories through music and writing. I agree that there is a very big difference between heritage and ancestry and lived experience and I have experienced both so far and hope to live and learn more with the time that I have left here. My lived experience is different from others but that is where the beauty is. That’s how we align ourselves with one another. Please share your stories.

“I hope this finds you well and if you did read all the way through. Thank you. I felt that it was an important time in my life to express some of these thoughts and just share a little bit more of my own story.

“I may be what some call a Mongrel and I am used to it by now but I am not a mistake and I am not laying claim to being something that I am not. I am a proud Black Mohawk and within my own spiritual existence and human experience lies the seeds to a new understanding of what it means to be. I am a tree. I was born to be free. I was born to breathe and I have roots that ground me.

“Nia:wen. Julian Taylor.”

For more information on the 2022 NAMA Awards, please go to https://nativeamericanmusicawards.com/

For earlier Beach Metro Community News stories on Julian Taylor, please see:

https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/20/east-torontos-julian-taylor-performing-virtually-and-live-releases-album-the-ridge/

https://beachmetro.com/2021/04/12/julian-taylor-named-canadian-folk-music-awards-solo-artist-of-the-year-also-nominated-for-two-juno-awards/

 


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