|Used by permission|
Madison-area singer-songwriter Kelly Jackson is seated on a comfortable couch, in the middle of female friends and family.
“I really like being home,” she says to the circle of kind faces. “It was a challenge leaving here and moving away from the rez. It’s a big change but it’s always nice to be back home and share time with my friends and family. This is like medicine to me.”
In this opening scene from Jackson’s first music video for her 2012 debut album, “Spirit of a Woman,” it’s easy to see where Jackson gets a lot of her artistic inspiration.
“My creative process is always rooted in who I am as an indigenous woman and how I can create a message others can feel and relate to,” she said.
As a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, she grew up listening to Pow Wow drums and classic country music artists like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Jackson describes her music as “Native Americana” - an infusion of rock, country blues, jazz and folk and Native American musical influences.
Born in Wausau, Jackson started writing music while in elementary school, and performed her first song when she was 11 years old. She took her longtime hobby to the next level when she became a mother and had time to pursue music. “It was a pivotal point in my life for me to make that decision,” she said. “It was sort of my own gift to myself. I wanted to conquer some of my own dreams and hopefully radiate how important that is to my own daughter.”
Jackson reached a career milestone in 2010 when she recorded the Lac du Flambeau Children’s Choir performing parts of her song, ‘Gaawiin Niiwii Izhaasiin,’ which tells the story of the difficulties of a Native child being forced to attend the nearby Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Government Boarding School Complex. This song also appears on “Spirit of a Woman.”
“It took me awhile to actually put things together,” she said of her album. “I started out with a collection of songs that I thought would be on the album and as the year progressed, I realized how important other women in my life were I really wanted to dedicated my album to all those inspiring women who shaped where I am today and gave me further empowerment to continue to record and write. The songs were selected for that reason.”
The album also includes a guest performance by her son, David Jackson, who raps on the song, “Where Have You Been?”
“Spirit of a Woman” was received so well that Jackson was nominated for several categories at the 2013 Native American Music Awards (NAMA), including Best Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and Best Historical/Linguistic Recording of the Year. Jackson won the NAMA award for Best Folk/Americana Recording for her album.
“It was exciting to be on the roster with so many talented singers and musicians, “ she said. “It was a striking recognition.”
Music is not the only area that impassions Jackson. She runs ‘Indigenous Networks,’ a consulting firm specializing in many aspects of tribal preservation. She was the coordinator for the nationally-recognized “Legacy of Survival: Boys Dormitory Interpretive Initiative,” an intertribal project to restore the Lac du Flambeau Boarding School Dormitory building and create exhibits, archives, an Ojibwe language program and other educational activities that center around the preservation of tribal culture.
She also is the Tribal Liaison for the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Jackson’s third and newest project is ‘Spirit of an Ikwe (Woman) Productions.’
“This is a personal and professional development organization which focuses on revolutionizing the image of women in media and music through training and workshops,” she said. Jackson’s 16-year-old daughter, Demisha, is also involved in the retreats.
Spirit of an Ikwe recently launched woman-friendly products, including a specially-designed t-shirt and jewelry made from recycled guitar strings, crafted by Madison musician Beth Kille. To help fund workshops for disadvantaged women, Jackson’s website also sells a gift package that includes the shirt, a piece of Kille’s jewelry, a CD and a special handwritten note from Jackson.
For Jackson, the future holds many more creative projects, including “Renditions of the Soul,” an album that Jackson is still working on.
“’Renditions of the Soul’ is slightly edgier, and a bit more rock-folk infused with some blues influences, and the content of the songs are not necessarily focused on the uplifting pieces, but radiate messages about being impacted by alcoholism in our community. There’s a song called ‘Walking with a Ghost.’ All of my music in the next chapter will be rooted in my native culture, so I intend to infuse the same sorts of influences like hand drums,” she said.
For more information on Jackson’s music and Spirit of an Ikwe, visit http://spiritofanikwe.com
-by Thomasina Merkel
-by Thomasina Merkel