By Rebecca Chartrand
For over 50 years, NCI FM Radio has been a vital source of news, culture and entertainment for the Indigenous community in Manitoba and beyond. As the first Indigenous-owned and -operated radio station in the province, NCI FM has played a pivotal role in promoting Indigenous voices and music, and has become an important part of the province’s media landscape.
For many years, Indigenous Peoples were excluded from historical records, maps and other forms of documentation. This exclusion contributed to the erasure of Indigenous Peoples from history, making it difficult for them to connect with their past and understand their place in the world—a painful reality that cannot be ignored.
NCI FM Radio is an essential tool in the fight against this erasure. By providing a platform for Indigenous artists to share their stories and experiences, the radio station is helping to preserve Indigenous history and culture. It is also helping to educate non-Indigenous people about the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, which is essential for building understanding and reconciliation.
Dave McLeod, the CEO of NCI FM Radio, is the man behind the music. His outgoing and engaging character has made him a beloved friend to many in the community, always at local events and using social media platforms to illuminate the great things that are happening all around Winnipeg. He celebrates musicians, artists and community do-gooders, keeping him insightful of what’s happening in Neechi country.
McLeod’s love for his community is evident. He’s a true believer in the power of community, and he works tirelessly to bring people together and celebrate the things that make his community unique.
Under the leadership of McLeod, NCI FM has grown and expanded over the last 20 years, reaching more listeners and providing a platform for Indigenous artists and musicians to showcase their talents. McLeod and his team are responsible for the NCI FM Jam Talent Showcase which provides aspiring singers with the opportunity to perform live and record one of their own songs
One of the hallmarks of NCI FM is its dedication to promoting Indigenous music. The station has featured many talented musicians from Manitoba and other parts of Canada, including William Prince, Don Amero, Indian City, Tanya Tagaq, Buffy Sainte-Marie and A Tribe Called Red. NCI FM has also been instrumental in promoting Indigenous music festivals and events, such as the Manito Ahbee Festival and the Indigenous Music Awards.
Tracy Bone is an artist who has benefited from winning the NCI FM Jam Talent Showcase in 1998 in Thompson, Manitoba. Since then, she has dedicated her time to music. Today she is a beautiful light in the music industry. Her spirit names are Saskisow (Ignites The Fire/She’s On Fire) and Peta Awanyanke (Keeps The Fire). Born and raised in Manitoba, this Anishinaabe musician has been spreading soulful messaging through her music for years. Her songs are not only catchy and punchy but carry a powerful message that resonates with youth.
Growing up, Bone used music as an escape from her immediate surroundings. She found solace in the melodies and lyrics that she created, and it wasn’t long before she realized that her music had the power to touch others as well. Her favourite self-penned song, “Woman of Red”, is a testament to this. It’s a song that emerged from her ponderings about her journey as a young Anishinaabe woman, and it’s a song that honours the strength and resilience of her ancestors despite the trauma they endured.
But her music isn’t just about honouring the past, it’s also about shining a light on the issues that our communities still face today. Another favourite original song, “Survivor In Me” carries a powerful message. It speaks about addiction and sexual abuse, and the types of issues that became part of our families and communities as a result of Residential Schools. Bone’s lyrics are raw and honest, and they speak to the experiences of so many of our youth today.
Bone is not just a musician, she’s a role model. She’s someone who has overcome incredible obstacles in her life and uses her gifts to inspire others to do the same. Her music is a beacon of hope for youth who might be struggling with their own traumas, and it’s a reminder that no matter how hard things might seem, there is always a way to survive and thrive.
A spiritual force to be reckoned with, Bone believes in the power of energy and the importance of connecting with others on a deeper level. It’s this spiritual connection that she taps into when she’s on stage, and it’s what makes her performances so captivating.
Despite her success, Bone admits that she still gets nervous before going on stage. But she’s found ways to manage her anxiety and channel her energy in a positive way. She spends time preparing and visualizing her performance, and she also takes time to connect with her band members and focus on the message they want to send.
For Bone, performing is more than just a job, it’s an expression of her soul. She loves nothing more than connecting with her audience and feeling the energy in the room. One of her most memorable performances was at the Boyle Street Shelter in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2017. The audience was captivated by her music, and the appreciation they
showed her was overwhelming. It was also her birthday that day, and the entire crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to her. It was a moment of reciprocation that touched her heart and reminded her why she does what she does. If you haven’t heard her music yet, you’re missing out on something truly special.
This year, Crystal Hillman, a talented female Indigenous singer, won the NCI FM Jam Talent Contest. Hillman, who hails from Sandy Bay First Nation, about 200 km north-west of Winnipeg, grew up in a French Métis community called St. Francois Xavier. She now lives in Selkirk, Manitoba, with her husband and has been there for 14 years.
Hillman is deeply honoured to have been included in the talent lineup at NCI Jam and hopes to continue making her family and people proud. She also hopes to inspire other youth to follow their dreams and always challenge themselves for future growth.
The entire experience at NCI Jam was everything Hillman had imagined it to be, and the rush she felt on stage was indescribable. Feeling honoured and accomplished, she’s proved to herself that she is progressing as a live performer, and growing as an artist and person.
Hillman loves being on stage and the feeling she gets when she successfully captivates the audience. A song can make people feel happy and uplifted, or remind them to remain strong. Hillman channels her emotions and expresses herself through music. She wants the crowd to feel every note and word she sings, and when the crowd is silent, it’s just her and the song. Winning first place at the NCI FM Jam Talent Showcase has left Hillman sitting on cloud nine, and she wishes she could relive that feeling one more day.
Hillman has been fortunate to learn from powerhouse musician Tracy Bone and is grateful for her kind words and useful advice. Hillman can relate to Bone’s style, which is bluesy and country-rock, and loves how Bone closes her eyes to feel the emotional and/or important parts of the song and then bursts with energy when necessary. Bone’s voice hits the back of the room, and that is what Hillman aims to do as well.
Hillman recently performed at the Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg, and she is excited about being able to perform live throughout the summer. She is deeply grateful for the opportunity to share her music with the world and hopes to inspire other youth to follow their dreams.