Ted Whitecalf Receives Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal

NCI’s Dave McLeod is well known among Winnipeg Indigeni for interviewing all the best guest celebrities, so it’s an honour to share his notes from meeting Ted Whitecalf, whom we congratulate on his recent recognition with the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal (Saskatchewan). 

Ted Whitecalf has a passion for culture and powwow; he is Cree from the Sweet Grass First Nation (Saskatchewan) and has became a recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for three-decades of commitment towards powwow music within the recording industry.

Ted is the owner of Sweet Grass Records based in Saskatoon; he began the label in 1993 when CD’s were making their debut. The label is groundbreaking as being Indigenous owned and led with an ear to the ground for traditional and contemporary powwow music.

Sweet Grass Records has been operating now for nearly 30 years and has released over 200 albums!

“I was honoured to receive the award; it was a humbling experience to be with the other recipients. To be recognized is very special. You think you’re spinning your wheels and suddenly this happens.”

“I also hope the youth see that if I can do it, so can they. To also never forget who you are and where you come from. The opportunity is always there to go for it, you’re never alone with Creator.”

Background

Ted truly stands out as a unique individual within the country’s recording industry landscape for his multiple talents as a studio engineer, knowledge keeper of traditional music, promoter and photographer.

“Long ago, growing up, my uncle from the Buffalo family in Hobbema, Alberta visited with a hand drum. I used to pound that drum and learn about the culture. Then, I later thought, there’s hardly any powwow recordings? And if those people can do it, I can do it as well.”

“I remember going to the Fort Battleford Pow wow, the first powwow I went to. It was put together with just a handful of people. They were making a start of it, you always gotta make a start of something.

Ted’s early career began in communications at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre where he was the Director of the Audiovisual Department; he also worked with the (former) Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations as the Technical Coordinator responsible for television programs focusing on First Nations Issues. His interest in media landed him audio/visual certification at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario.

“I wanted to bring quality to the recording industry, for the quality of our singers, for our music makers.”

JUNO Nod Out of the Gate

Within Sweet Grass Records first year, it received a 1994 Juno nomination for Stoney Park by the Stoney Park Singers in the then-new category of Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording.

Powwow Receives National Distribution

Ted further placed Indigenous music on the Canadian map through a major partnership in 1993 with EMI Records which distributed traditional music at a national and international level. The agreement saw Ted travel in 1996 to Cannes France to meet with industry leaders to market Indigenous music throughout Europe, particularly from Germany.

“I wanted to uplift our singers. They are professional in their own way and I wanted to always bring it up a few notches, it might be the CD cover or something else. the need to be recognized. It’s important to promote tradition and spoken word. Our people are talented as anyone else out there.”

Ted also travelled to Arizona to meet with area distributors, always looking to build bridges and understating of the music and for the artists themselves.

Major Collaborations

Buffy St. Marie wrote, composed, and recorded her widely known round dance song “Darling Don’t Cry” with powwow singer Edmund Bull in Sweet Grass’s Saskatoon studio in 1996. The single was instantly popular across North America and has become a staple within Buffy’s live concerts.

“I remember when we recorded Edmond Bull, he was the collaborator of that theme, his songs were a part of (powwow)social gatherings. When Buffy did that song, it was a special collaboration, especially with that beat. It turned out great. We did the video for it in the foothills of Alberta.”

During a JUNO show in 1996, Buffy happened to be sitting next to Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan, during the chance meeting Jim was introduced to the Stony Park Singers. This led to a collaboration with the Barenaked Ladies’ album Born on a Pirate Ship, again Ted’s studio was again utilized for the session.

At the 2004 Juno Awards, Nelly Furtado invited the Whitefish Jrs to join her on her national broadcast, Ted beamed with pride as the historic occasion was again connected to his label.

Stories and Languages

Ted has made major efforts to record and honour Elder stories through audio and book forms. The goal is to ensure that Indigenous children will be able to hear Elder voices, learn stories and Indigenous languages.

The Award

The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal (Saskatchewan) began on February 6, 2022. The commemorative medals honour those who have demonstrated a commitment to community within Saskatchewan. The award was presented by Russ Mirasty, Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor on Oct 23rd.

“It’s an award not just for me, it’s for others I’ve worked with too. It gives you encouragement to keep going, that you’re doing something right.”

Ted Whitecalf loves & respects the musical circles within NDN County (yo).

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