Musicians form bands for many reasons. They might want to go on tour and earn some money, make an album, or simply enjoy the creative sparks that come from playing off one another. Some teenage boys think it might help make them more popular with girls. But Meeka Morgan’s band might be the only one in British Columbia that was born out of a 183-page master’s thesis.
It investigated how the Secwepemc people in the B.C. Interior maintained a sense of family in the 1950s and 1960s despite children being forced to attend church-run residential schools, often hundreds of miles from their homes. Morgan, born to a Secwepemc father and Nuu- Chah-Nulth mother, had a personal connection to this. Her father, Terry Morgan, attended the St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake, where unspeakable abuse was meted out by its principal, Hubert O’Connor, who later became a Catholic bishop in Prince George.
“I did my master’s thesis on impacts on families of my dad’s generation,” Morgan tells the Straight by phone from her home in Ashcroft.
Her band, the Melawmen Collective, was launched as an arts project in 2008 to provide workshops to Indigenous youths. Morgan was keen to teach them local First Nations history that wasn’t well-known at the time.
“They would process it through creative means, whether they would do writing, art, or music,” Morgan explains.
Eventually, that led the members to begin creating their own music—a mix of rock, country, jazz, reggae, blues, and country laden with hip-hop beats. In addition to Morgan, the lead singer, are her husband Rob Hall on guitar, beat boxer Geo Ignace (a.k.a. The Voice), and in recent years, Morgan and Hall’s 20-year-old son, Kiva.
“Of course, it’s always hard to keep a band together, especially in small, rural towns,” Morgan added. “So we often have revolving bass players.”
Nowadays, Morgan is also the artistic director of the third annual 2 Rivers Remix, a contemporary Indigenous music festival that normally takes place in Lytton, a.k.a. ’Q’emcin.
This year, it’s a virtual series of shows featuring more than 30 musicians, running from Friday to Sunday (September 4 to 6). Headlining the festival are Buffy Sainte-Marie, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Kinnie Starr.
“We’ve always wanted to bring Buffy,” Morgan says.
The Melawmen Collective is also scheduled to perform, along with Vancouver MC Ostwelve (a.k.a. Ron Dean Harris), Vancouver-based Curtis Clear Sky & the Constellationz, the Inuit throat-singing duo PiqSiq, two-spirit singer-songwriter Shawnee, and female rapper Eekwol, among others.
“What we’re working towards, what we’ve always been working towards, is creating an environment that is Indigenous-led, centred, and focused, that creates a feeling of acceptance, tolerance, and safety for the many generations of Indigenous people,” Morgan says.
She cites her father as an example. He attended the event in July 2019, two months before his death.
“It was probably the last music festival he went to,” Morgan recalls. “And it was the first time that I ever witnessed him be comfortable in a public situation. He was a residential-school survivor.”
The name 2 Rivers Remix refers to the Thompson and Fraser rivers, which were at the centre of a great deal of conflict during the 19th-century gold rush. Many British Columbians are unaware of the Fraser Canyon War, which was waged by U.S. gold miners against Indigenous people in the summer of 1858. The Nlaka’pamux agreed to a truce, allowing the miners to continue through the territory in search of precious metal.
“It almost became another state of the United States—if it wasn’t for Chief Spintlum,” Morgan said.
That was followed by a smallpox pandemic, which wiped out a large share of B.C.’s Indigenous population.
Morgan has been involved in the Indigenous sovereignty movement since childhood, so she’s well-aware of this history. Her father was very close to legendary B.C. Indigenous leader George Manuel, who cofounded the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
In fact, Manuel used to refer to her dad as his “fifth son”, she tells the Straight. And in the 1990s, Morgan worked alongside Manuel’s son, widely admired Indigenous sovereignist Arthur Manuel, and his friend, Mohawk intellectual Russell Diabo.
“They strongly believed in bringing…youth that were working with them everywhere…and [to] sit beside them with those meetings with government representatives,” Morgan recalls.
She thinks it’s not accurate when people talk about an Indigenous resurgence or an Indigenous comeback in the 21st century, notwithstanding the great strides being made in many fields.
“I feel it could be expressed differently—as a continued assertion of culture, identity, territory, and homeland,” she says. “Our culture was very much built and based on reciprocity. Anyone who came into our lands were treated as a guest.
“The Indigenous nations, especially in meetings, really had some beautiful visions of working together with the people that came onto these lands,” Morgan continues. “They had a beautiful dream that we could make this country great and good. And they went through many steps to continue that assertion, but it hasn’t been presented that way.”