SOCAN is mourning the loss of Cree country singer-songwriter Shane Yellowbird, who has passed away at the age of 42. The cause of death has not been released. Close friends say he had a history of health problems, including epilepsy. Originally from Maskwacis, Alberta (about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton) Yellowbird became an award-winning artist after a speech therapist suggested he start singing to help control a stutter – which led him to a career in music.

The Calgary-based Yellowbird is best known for the song “Pickup Truck,” which won him the Rising Star Award at the Canadian Country Music Awards in 2007, and “Life Is My Calling Name,” which was nominated for a JUNO Award in 2008 for Country Recording of the Year. He also won three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards in 2007, and “Pickup Truck” was one of the 10 most played country music songs in Canada that year. In 2009, he became one of only three Indigenous artists to ever perform at the Grand Ole Opry in  Nashville, where he was overjoyed to meet and chat with his hero and fellow stutterer, country superstar Mel Tillis.

Yellowbird is fondly remembered by blues and country artist Crystal Shawanda, who met him  in 2008. Shawanda says he was a trailblazer to Indigenous country music singers, and was like a brother to her, always supporting her career. “What he accomplished is huge,” Shawanda said. “No male Indigenous country music artist has yet to do what he has done.”

Louis O’Reilly, who signed Yellowbird to his record label in 2003, and worked with him until 2013, said Yellowbird was “authentic through and through,” and added that he was a “real cowboy” who always stayed humble. “He was grateful for everything he had,” said O’Reilly.

Several Canadian country artists and fellow SOCAN members also paid tribute to Yellowbird. “He had this shy, humble demeanour, yet exuded confidence and star power the minute he got onstage,” Brett Kissel told The Edmonton Journal. “He always believed in me as an artist and songwriter, long before a lot of people. A truly beautiful soul,” wrote Aaron Goodvin on Instagram. Aaron Pritchett said, on social media, “You will be missed by so many, buddy.”

SOCAN extends our sympathy to Yellowbird’s family, friends, and fans.

As part of SOCAN’s ongoing journey toward understanding the impact of residential schools in Canada, the organization’s Equity Task Force arranged for a virtual tour of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, presented by the Woodland Cultural Centre, on April 21, 2020.

With SOCAN’s Catharine Saxberg moderating, Trisha Kelley, Development Co-Ordinator, and Chris Ashkewe, Associate Director, of the Woodland Cultural Centre, discussed the school and its 140-year history.

The event included a room-by-room video tour of the building, guided by Lorrie Gallant, which offered a powerful and poignant account of the horrific abuses suffered there, and testimony from five survivors. It was a moving, at times disturbing, but valuable way to understand the facts about what happened at residential schools.

In an extended question-and-answer session with Ashkewe that followed the video tour, he addressed possible reparations and accountability for residential school abuses; how we might move towards reconciliation; including residential school history in our current scholastic curriculum in Ontario; and more.

To find out more about what happened at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, click here. To register for a viewing of the video, click here. To donate to the Woodland Cultural Centre, click here.

Alexisonfire filled the History club in Toronto on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Check out our photos from the event below!