When the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards are broadcast live from Winnipeg’s MTS Centre this Friday, you can be sure members of the Alexander First Nation will rooting for one of their own.
Dallas Arcand, 34, a high-energy, world champion hoop dancer, singer-songwriter, musician and filmmaker, received three nominations for his April 2012 CD release.
Sacred Sweetgrass is a 12-track cedar flute instrumental fostering a spiritual connection to the land. It is lauded for best instrumental, best flute CD and best album cover design.
In addition, Arcand will play the first album track, Pisim (Sunshine), on the APTN nationally televised event.
“It’s spectacular. They (awards organizers) always set the bar higher. I’m looking forward to it,” says Arcand. “But I don’t get too excited about it. I’m past that point in my career.”
Also on tap are pop band Indian City, blues singer Murray Porter, country singer Donny Parenteau, pop singer Shy-Anne Hvorka, rock band BODM Bruthers of Different Muthers, and fiddle player Wesley Hardisty.
Arcand feels a special connection to the cedar flute, and in some ways it is not a surprise that the Calgary-based, Cree Nation storyteller is once again nominated as a flautist.
“The flute is special because of its spirituality and the stories we tell. One of the things we talk about is how the flute is used to court women. The Sioux used to use it in love ceremonies. A man would play a song every night for a woman. If the woman liked the song, she would move closer and the warrior would reveal himself. Once she fell in love and they had children, he would play ballads for the children. For me it is relaxing and I find endless possibilities in it,” says Arcand.
Before diving straight into hoop dancing in 2005, Arcand had a checkered career. As soon as he was old enough to work at 16, the teenager travelled the Pow Wow Trail.
“It wasn’t really like leaving home. You see old family and friends and make new friends. It was going full circle.”
One of his uncles working in forestry found a job for him fighting fires during the summer high season and soon Arcand was posted on stand-by in Swan Hills.
“I was scared to go in the plane. I’d never been in one, but once it took off, it was great,” he said.
The need to survive taught the young Cree to become a hands-on jack-of-all-trades, but the desire for a broader education kept percolating. Taking a different direction, he enrolled at Mount Royal College to obtain a business degree but discovered that his attention deficit disorder interfered with his studies.
“That’s why I wear so many hats. I do as much as I can. That’s how I cope with my disability,” he said.
An advisor recommended Arcand transfer to a safer route in education. By the time he graduated college in 2004, Arcand was teaching hoop dance workshops for children and has since been a frequent visitor to St. Albert’s International Children’s Festival.
His career exploded and just this year he was featured as part of the premier’s entourage performing at Canada House in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2010, Arcand was invited to participate in the Olympics opening ceremony and two years earlier he was a featured performer at the Juno Award ceremony.
As an artist, Arcand continues to diversify his talents. At the moment he’s editing an as-of-yet untitled documentary film on hoop dancing. For the Cree dancer, hoop dancing is a way of life and the reality film is a way of preserving aboriginal culture for future generations. Borrowing ideas from reality TV’s model, Arcand used both planned shoots and guerilla style recording.
“I want to share my stories and experiences. Not everybody gets to go backstage. I wanted to show people how I live and I wanted to encourage them to do what they love,” he said.
In the short term, Arcand just keeps branching out with new ideas. But his big dream is to open a performing arts centre on Alexander, one that would cater to all native arts.
“That’s my dream for the future. Something with enough room to practice and teach youngsters to perform better than I do and to see dance troupes come out.”
The Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards ceremony is on Friday, Nov. 2. Check local listings for the time.
Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards
Friday, Nov. 2
Broadcast live on APTN
From the MTS Centre, Winnipeg