Indigenous Artist Spotlight: Shawnee Kish

Started in 2018, the Indigenous Artist Spotlight series is intended to foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond. Find all of our past Spotlight interviews here. This month, we spoke with Shawnee Kish.

Headshot of Shawnee Kish

Shawnee Kish’s powerful soul voice is why hearing her is a one-of-a-kind experience. Shawnee’s journey in music has been one that she attributes to her strength, survival, and inspiration during her struggle coming out as Two Spirit and her struggle with depression as a child.

The Mohawk singer-songwriter from Canada was a 2022 JUNO nominee for Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year, tied to her acclaimed self-titled debut EP. In 2023, she released her highly anticipated follow-up EP, Revolution, which landed her another Two JUNO nominations in Adult Alternative Album Of the Year, and Contemporary Indigenous Artist Of The Year. Revolution features her powerhouse vocals and introspective songwriting, as well as songwriting and production collaborations with industry luminaries, including Arkells frontman Max Kerman, Serena Ryder, Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara, and Dan Wilson (Adele, Taylor Swift).

She was the winner of CBC Music’s Searchlight competition in 2020 and was subsequently one of the winners of the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class program for artist development in 2021. A voice of determined passion, Shawnee is driven by empowering youth around her to use music and continues to honor healing and empower strength using her journey in music. Shawnee was the creator of “Music Is My Medicine,” a symphonic work performed by Shawnee and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa for the CBC Gem show Undisrupted, highlighting the voices, stories of struggle, and talents of indigenous youth.

Watch the interview here.

Transcript of Interview: 

Hello, I’m Shawnee Kish and I am a Two Spirit singer songwriter. I am Mohawk on my mother’s side who has status on the Six Nations Grand River. And I have always used music as medicine, I feel like I was almost born with the spirit to share my life experiences through song, through voice, through art. I discovered it in my teenage years when I was struggling with my identity. I didn’t quite know my culture yet. I didn’t quite know what it meant to be Two Spirit. And I definitely didn’t feel a sense of pride and belonging with who I was. So I struggled deeply. And I leaned heavily on music and creating and songs to heal through that time period. And I still do today. So it’s very important to me to be able to share those experiences but also advocate for, what I like to say my younger self, but I see that in so many young people today who also need to know that they’re important and we can use music to share that.

In 2023, you release your highly anticipated second EP Revolution. Could you tell us a bit about the themes of this EP and what inspired this work?

My latest release was my EP Revolution and it’s very eclectic, I would say. It’s a blend of different collaborations. I worked with Serena Ryder, Max Kerman from The Arkells, Sara Quinn from Tegan and Sara. I would say it’s very eclectic purposefully. I wanted the chance to experiment. Part of being an artist is growing, you know who I am now is not who I’m going to be next year, who I was yesterday is not who I was five years ago. So with this EP, I wanted to embrace experimenting. But the message remains the same. You know, I wanted to celebrate who I am and how far I’ve come in my healing journey. And however, we painted that with whatever brush. It was different for every collaboration. But it was a chance for me, I wanted to celebrate a bit. There’s some serious moments where I get to express and cry every time I sing this song For Me, because it’s very personal to my journey of self acceptance. But it was also a time to celebrate. And I wanted to do that. And I got to do that. So the songs are very eclectic, for sure.

You are nominated for two JUNOs in 2024, Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year. Congratulations! What does it mean to you to have received these nominations?

I feel honored and I feel grateful to be nominated at this year’s Juno Awards for Adult Alternative Album, as well as Contemporary Indigenous. It makes me think about how purposeful everything in my life was. Everything had meaning and even if I didn’t know what at the time, how it contributed to where I am today. How important it is to continue growing and learning and how uncomfortable that is at times. But to keep on that journey because platforms as an artist, to have a platform, we’re lucky. And there’s power in that. There could be a lot of good done with that stage and that platform. And that is what I think about with this platform and this stage, to hear my name and to know that that could be used to share what I believe in, and what I want to accomplish in this world, which is to leave a trail. To leave a road that somebody might need to use in their life. The same way that I have used many artists when I was younger and needed a sense of hope or belonging and I used the path of other artists who I’ve got, you know, the opportunity to listen to and hear. So it means a lot. I’m very grateful.

What is your favorite song to perform? Why? Is there any performance in particular that stands out to you?

My favorite song to perform since I was a little girl has always been What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes. It’s an anthem to pull people in, no matter what walk of life, no matter how you’re feeling that day, no matter where you come from, or what you’ve been through. What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes has power to change your mind, to include you, to sing along, to feel, to think. I think it’s just the greatest song that has ever been written? That’s my opinion. I love singing it. I wish I wrote it. Maybe I’ll write something like one day. It’s my favorite song

Which song would you recommend to your first time listeners?

A song that I would recommend to a first time listener I think would be a song from my recent EP Revolution called For Me. It’s definitely the most personal song I’ve ever written. I cried when I wrote it. I cry sometimes when I sing it because it’s so true to the journey.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? Do you have any upcoming work that we should look out for?

Well, thank you for taking the time to spend time with me. I hope we get to cross paths at some point in person in the future, maybe at a show. I am really excited about continuing to grow as an artist and I’m working on a debut album, which is terrifying and exciting all at the same time. I have many dates this summer coming up across Canada with live shows. So I hope to see you out there and take care.

Keep up with Shawnee Kish