The Northwest Territories’ Leela Gilday has won the Indigenous artist of the year Juno Award for her fifth album, North Star Calling.
The announcement came on Friday evening at the Juno Opening Night Awards, which sees some awards given out before the main show that took place Sunday night.
Gilday said she got the news while surrounded by family who gathered together to celebrate her nominations, no matter what the outcome was.
“It was an emotional day, it was wonderful,” she said.
“Everybody was just really happy and really proud of all the hard work, so when we won it felt like a win for everyone.”
She said she “actually didn’t expect to win” because of all the talent in both categories she was nominated in, and was taken by surprise when her album was named the winner.
“It truly is just an honour just to be nominated because there are so many artists out there that make powerful, life-changing music that are nominated or didn’t win the award,” she said.
“I was a little bit at a loss for words – I had written a speech, just in point form about half an hour before the ceremony … just in case.
“I didn’t even get to say half of it because I was so flustered and overwhelmed and emotional.”
This year marked Gilday’s first time being considered for an award outside of the Indigenous artist category at the JUNOs.
She was also nominated for the contemporary roots album of the year, which ended up going to Rose Cousins for the album Bravado.
Gilday won Indigenous songwriter of the year for North Star Calling at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in April.
She said all of her music comes from listening to what her heart is saying.
“The messages and music that came during that time to me were really introspective and very sort of potent and emotionally vulnerable,” she said.
“I think it really resonates during this time because it’s a very reflective record and people are taking the time to really examine what their values are and what’s important to them.
“Some of the messages on the album have really been brought home this year – I talk a lot about connection to the land, which is a very Dene worldview … and then I talk about mental health and healing and destigmatizing the conversation around mental health and how that’s connected to colonial trauma.
“They’ve all been brought to the forefront by the pandemic.”
She also incorporated different sounds from her family’s community of Délı̨nę into the album which she collected using a digital recorder in 2003.
This isn’t Gilday’s first JUNO Award.
In 2007, Gilday won the Juno award for Aboriginal recording of the year, now known as the Indigenous artist or group of the year award. She was also nominated for the same award in 2003 and 2015.
That award’s name was changed in 2019, to “consider the broader work of Indigenous musicians,” according to the CBC.
Gilday is set to be a headlining act at this year’s Folk on the Rocks festival set to take place in mid-July.
She said she is “really looking forward” to playing more live shows in front of audiences, as opposed to the virtual ones she’s been doing throughout the pandemic.