Ian Campeau, also known as DJ NDN, is co-founder and former member of the music group A Tribe Called Red. Through a powerful combination of art and activism, Ian has emerged as an Indigenous thought leader, building what he calls a “civil rights movement” for his community. He promotes inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice. He believes that Indigenous people need to define their identity on their own terms, and that writing and storytelling plays a vital role in that process.

Ian is an Ojibwe, Anishinaabe from Nipissing First Nation in Ontario, Canada, and he recently became CODE’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis Reading Champion. He’s featured on this issue’s cover wearing a Read with Me t-shirt, and he recently spoke with SAY Magazine to tell us about this great campaign and the new things he is exploring in his life.

SAY: Tell us what it means to be involved with CODE as a Reading Champion.

Ian: I’m stoked to be involved with CODE because storytelling is so vital to our culture. It’s a way to preserve our voices and demonstrate values through literature. It’s so powerful. Not only to read, but to write as well.

As CODE’s Reading Champion here in Canada, I want to get Indigenous youth excited and inspired to read books. When I was growing up, there weren’t many books where I could read about people like me. I don’t remember reading a book where the main character, the hero, was an Indigenous person. There are so many more choices now and so many great writers who are First Nations, Inuit or Métis telling stories that appeal to young people.

SAY: Why did you choose to leave A Tribe Called Red, and what other things have you been up to? 

Ian: When my youngest daughter was three weeks old, I had to leave to go on tour, and when I came back she was twice as old and had changed so much. I didn’t want to miss those moments anymore. I had to evaluate what was important to me, how life could be more meaningful and how I could better serve my community. I felt I needed to be more proactive in my life.

Now I have more time to spend with my family and really focus on the things that matter; like growing my own food and becoming more self-sustaining. There was a time when I was really depressed; I didn’t realize how taxing all the travelling and touring was on my mind and body. I’m happier now that I feel more anchored. I found comfort in being able to express myself and talk about my feelings, and now I have the opportunity – the privilege – of speaking to others about my passions.

SAY: What new goals have you set for yourself? 

Ian: One of my goals now is to educate people – to end patriarchy and gender-based violence. I want to encourage people to re-evaluate what it means to be “wealthy.” Wealth is not just currency. It is time, happiness, our connection to people and value in relationships. My kids are always asking “why,” and it really forces you to look deeper into the “why” of life. I want to start conversations and influence those in power positions to make change. It’s even more critical to reach out to our youth. I’m fortunate to be able to do that now through speaking engagements with the National Speakers Bureau and great organizations like CODE.

SAY: Why should young people read books?

Ian: Reading offers more than just facts or philosophies. It helps you become a problem-solver, to understand why people act the way they do and how people feel in different situations – you develop empathy. If you want to write songs, or poetry or learn your tribe’s language – reading helps train your brain. You’ll be better able to express yourself, to speak and write better, not just for school and not just in English. All of these are skills needed to be a good leader. I’m a more creative thinker because of reading.

I want to encourage anyone reading this to Read with Me this year… read something new, read something serious or funny, read something with pictures, like a graphic novel – anything that appeals to you. If you are looking for some great books to read, I can recommend picking up any of the Burt Award books.

Join Ian as a reading champion and join the Read with Me campaign today. Take a photo of you and your favourite book and tag @CODEBurtAwards #ReadWithMe on Facebook or Twitter. CODE is giving out prizes at the end of March for the best video/post/photo/tweet.

A complete guide to the Read with Me campaign is available on the Burt Award website at www.burtaward.org