You ever hear of HellnBack? If you are anything like me, being a white dude who grew up in a predominantly white dominated community in rural Northern Ontario, you may have no idea who he is. Much like many of us from these small towns have grown up never being taught about the history of our first nations people, and the suffering they have endured over the course of time; though maybe I will speak my mind on that later on. Needless to say, download his latest album “#FOE:Family Over Everything”. (I’m not a huge hip hop head, but for me its full of bangers I have no problem rolling through Thompson with the windows down bouncing to it in my Jeep Cherokee…haha picture that). He’s a well known aboriginal hip hop artist and now motivational speaker along with his wife Lisa Muswagon. If you want to know what a real power couple should look like, this is the example you should follow. A couple that uses their experiences from the past and present, as well as their platforms they have earned to truly help other people and empower them to be the best and most beautiful versions of themselves.
When I first had the opportunity to meet HellnBack, he introduced himself as Karmen Omeasoo, shook my hand, and quickly and humbly said “but some people call me HellnBack”.
I immediately knew that when the time came for him to speak in front of dozens of Cross Lake, MB youth at the ONR Gymnasium that I was going to be all ears. He and his wife Lisa Muswagon, and her sister Tamara, had all travelled from the Winnipeg area on their own dime to speak and perform to the youth amidst the declaration of the suicide crisis (Lisa and Tamara are originally from Cross Lake).
If someone ever wants to get my attention, there is only one thing they need to display and that is a humble nature. As he spoke to the kids, he did so with such conviction and motivation that it left me with goosebumps. It was amazing to see the young ones pay such close attention to what he was saying, as he inspired the masses to ride out difficult times, to never be afraid to ask for help and to always follow your dreams and aspirations whatever they may be. At the end of the entire evening, Karmen also put on a show for the kids, and many of the young ones got on stage with him and were bumpin’ his music along with him. It was really something you had to see in person to appreciate. That evening I went back to my hotel room and downloaded #FOE: Family Over Everything”, Helly’s new solo album and after listening to the entire album, I must have went back and listened to the song “FOE” a half a dozen times; it just resonated with me how important my family truly is to me through his powerful lyrics. Whenever I am thinking about my family 30 hours away, I can throw this track on and feel good. Music really is a great source of mental well-being.
There were also other people on stage that evening, talking about their experiences and performing as well. Another part of the evening that I really took a lot away from was the performances and conversations led by Lisa and Tamara Muswagon. They played the hand drum and sang and it was unbelievably moving and beautiful. They talked about growing up in Cross Lake as well as Winnipeg and the struggles they had to face and overcome. It was a message of having faith in oneself, to be strong in ones beliefs, to convey confidence and to be resilient. Again, goosebumps. One message really stuck with me and it was a story that Lisa told about how one of her mentors told her that if she wanted to make something out of herself, that it would take G.U.T.S. This meaning you need to “Get Uncomfortable to Succeed”. You need to get outside of the box you have lived in for so long and you need to try new experiences, be engaged in new things you would otherwise never think of doing , and stop dreaming and start doing. Man! I left that gym that evening so pumped up! Never before have I sat through a workshop or motivational speech and been so determined to have GUTS! haha. Again, you really had to be there to truly appreciate it, and I am so thankful for the wonderful learning experience and being welcomed into the community as well as this evening. A few weeks later I started this blog; part of an idea that I had several years ago but never put into action. So I guess, thanks Lisa!
Now back to what I meant in the opening paragraph ( and I am going to be very blunt). I think much of the Canadian people are ignorant towards first nations/indigenous issues. I do not think it comes from a place of hate, but rather a lack of education of the history of first nations peoples. And yes, I am primarily talking about white folks ( I am allowed to call us out!) It took me until age 26 to begin to be taught about indigenous issues, and I had to move to Thompson, MB to be able to be taught by friends, elders, and experiences.
I am a firm believer that the culture, beliefs and traditions, as well as the history of first nations peoples should be taught in all schools in Canada. I think this would eliminate the ignorance and replace it with empathy, understanding and love. I wish I could have taken the small town I grew up in of 1200 people and placed them in the gymnasium in Cross Lake that evening and just told them to shut up and listen and learn. Unfortunately, the issue is not that simple I suppose.
I guess what I want to say to many of the white folks still actin’ a fool is to educate yourselves, attend pow-wows, ceremonies, youtube throat singing or drum circles or anything to do with aboriginal culture. To see any of the aforementioned in person is so amazing and moving and touching!!! Believe me!! Begin to break down the barrier that divides us known as “ignorance”. There are so many different and equally beautiful beliefs and traditions throughout the many aboriginal cultures in our country.
There are so many successful and amazing indigenous people that ALL Canadians can look up to and should be extremely proud of. If you want somewhere to start, please look up the three young adults I mentioned in this post this evening. A dad, a successful hip hop artist and motivational speaker in Karmen Omeasoo aka- HellnBack. A mom, a successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, drummer and singer and motivational singer in Lisa Muswagon. And a mom, a successful career counsellor, singer and drummer, and motivational speaker in Tamara Muswagon.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with me, it will stick with me for a long time.
Today there are three heroes. Thank you Karmen, Lisa and Tamara. You really are an inspiration to indigenous youth, but also just all people in general; including myself.
ps- I decided to add a piece to my family arm this evening after being so moved by the song and all of your stories and messages of hope. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery no? Its a good reminder, that family comes first.
PPS- Kendall Robinson is a boss! ill tell about him later.
Tattoo by Jasyn Lucas