It’s friday night in Vancouver and the Rickshaw Theatre is packed with people lining up to have freshly screen-printed patches sewn on their clothing. The artwork is the new album cover for Tiny House Warriors Vol #1  by young Native American artist Jackie Fawn who has made iconic images in support of Indigenous Sovereignty, most notably Standing Rock in North Dakota.

Tiny House Warriors Vol #1  is a compilation album made up of 30+ artists (Including Come To Life Music Collective artist Rising Appalachia & Luke Wallace)  in support of Indigenous Peoples defending their traditional territories. Rick Buckman Coe, spearheading the event and album says “The album aims to raise awareness and funds for the Tiny House Warriors’ peaceful mission to stop construction of the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion with 10 mobile tiny houses.”

It can be easy to dismiss art and music as unimportant in the face of ecological disaster and the urgency of our changing climate. We have a tendency to separate what is happening to the natural world as something divided from us, unrelated to our personal psychology. We have become masters of separation even when we are trying to “make a difference.” Perhaps there-in lies the problem, maybe we don’t need to make a difference, we need to connect.

Speaking with Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc Indigenous rights advocate, birth-worker, mother and one of the powerhouses behind the Tiny House Warriors, I am reminded that creativity is the driving force behind all life. “When you connect close to Tqelt Kukpi, to creator, you become a vessel for something much bigger.”

Creativity helps us connect, connection drives social change and in the face of global environmental challenges – music can be a revolutionary act.

Hemmie: What do you think the role of artists and musicians is in activism?

Kanahus: If you asked me this question before we started the Tiny House Warrior Our Land is Home Project I wouldn’t know how to answer, but now I do. I feel that everybody has creative ability within them and no matter what we do in our life, whether we are stopping pipelines or we’re bringing babies into this world, we have to be able to use creativity.

I feel that artists, creators and musicians are a really crucial part of our movement because they have the ability to say things through an artistic avenue. They’re able to tell our story.  While we may be singing and crying and pumping our fists over here, they’re able to have the masses embody some of these feelings, embody and feel why we love our earth so much, embody and feel the urgency to protect our environment.

Hemmie: We don’t seem to connect what we’re doing economically to our ecology and psychology..

Kanahus: We are so lucky here in so called British Columbia, which is a massive landbase the size of Washington Oregon and California combined that is pristine. We come from a big land base but we have industrial developments that are ravaging to our lands and we have to protect it. We need to protect ecological biodiversity for the whole world, not just BC and not just for the Indigenous people. We are part of this ecological biodiversity so if our land goes, we all go, and that’s the urgency.

Hemmie: So how do you manage to stay positive and motivated?

Kanahus: We’re always fighting. How do you avoid burnout? Everything we do we make it fun and we make it creative, and of course we’re battling against a big tyrant. These big monsters that want to gobble us up!  If we just get immersed in that we’re going to go in a cave and wither and die. We can’t do that- we’re going to use whatever instruments and arsenal we have in our war chest to fight back and be successful!

The gift that artists and creators have is to be able to tap into something greater and more powerful. I feel that even connecting with Buckman Coe, and the artists and people he brought together to collaborate to make Tiny House Warrior Volume #1 successful and get out there,

I feel that is something very spiritual and very powerful and it’s something that nobody can stop- you can’t say ‘don’t let these people sing.’

And that’s what they did before in the past, they told native people ‘you cannot sing and you cannot dance and you cannot have your ceremonies where you sing and dance and give all your worldly possessions away.’

The federal government unilaterally approved the original Trans Mountain Pipeline in 1951, when indigenous peoples were prohibited from organizing on land issues and holding ceremonies. The original Pipeline went into operation In 1953 without the consent of the Secwepemc and the $7.4 billion expansion, more than doubling the amount of crude oil, refined and semi-refined products from the Alberta Tar sands to the B.C. coast, is set to run through 518 km of unceded Secwepemc territory.

Kanahus:We need the art and we need the creative people in the world if we’re going to build the hearts and minds and all the people power that we need. We need creativity to be able to wake people up because sometimes we can be shaking people, shaking people, shaking people and they sing along with the songs and they’re like- I get it.”

Hemmie: Music can have that ability, to go beyond the bounds of language, to communicate across cultures..

Kanahus:We have music all over the world. Every indigenous culture, every peoples and every race around the world has music and we are gifted with that. We all need that artistic element, we all need it and our people have done it traditionally through building our traditional homes, our traditional homes which were already a very advanced architecture! We have done it with our basket making, canoe making, our capes and our buckskin. Everything we did we put art and creativity into it and that’s why I believe the work we are doing with The Tiny House Warriors, it’s creating this whole culture of resistance and this culture for us collectively to come together. When you collectively come together and sing the women warrior song, for example,  you feel that power, you automatically feel that power because the songs are prayers. That’s something that my family always said to me growing up
‘You sing those songs, our traditional songs, you sing those songs- they are prayers for our people’ and the most powerful way that you can pray is through our songs.’

I don’t think it’s limited to just indigenous music and traditional indigenous music. Songs are prayers and those vibrations, the energy in those vibrations that these songs give is our collective universal language that we all understand, music is really powerful in that way. We know when we hear a song- it could not even be words, it could be a sound that brings tears to your eyes, this feeling within you that you can never feel through just basic everyday language.  All these artists, people that contributed their music to the album, I believe are their prayers for our clean water and for our land, to gather the heart and minds of the people- because we can’t do it alone. We are going to need everyone to step up in order for us to protect the land and the water and our existence here!

We can sing and dance, and we can sing and dance LOUD and we can join with people throughout the world to sing and dance together – and that’s a very powerful prayer because they never wanted us to do that.” – Kanahus Manuel

Kanahus and The Tiny House Warriors aren’t just building houses, they are creating a movement. The 10 mobile tiny homes will be covered in murals, installed with solar panels to model alternative energy, provide housing for elders and a space for indigenous entrepreneurs.

Click here to buy the album. To read more about the Tiny House Warriors our land is home project visit their website. Find out more about Indigenous led alternative energy projects here