Indigenous artist remembered for paving the way for Canadian country music

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Country music artists and fans are mourning the loss of an important Indigenous voice.

Shane Yellowbird, 42, died suddenly on Monday.

Singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda entered the Canadian music scene a year after Yellowbird in 2008. She said he always encouraged her and played a big brother role in her life.

” I am still shocked. I still can’t believe it,” she said of his passing.

“It was as if we had known each other all our lives. It was like a family. It was like we could relate to each other and felt safe with each other.

She said that with the two being Indigenous and breaking into the country music scene around the same time, they shared many experiences.

I have been in shock since hearing the heartbreaking news that country music artist Shane Yellowbird passed away. He…

Posted by Crystal Shawanda on Tuesday, April 26, 2022

“A lot of times you’re the only (Indigenous person) in the room,” she said at the time. “We could understand what the other was going through.”

This extended to how they understood each other, even coming from different backgrounds.

“You kind of know that we all grew up with the same kind of obstacles,” Shawanda said.

One of Yellowbird’s obstacles was a bad stutter as a child.

Shawanda said music became Yellowbird’s way of overcoming that speaking hurdle, but not before gaining an intimate understanding of what it’s like to not fit in. This allowed Yellowbird to find people who felt out of place, to make sure they felt welcome.

“I think that was one of the greatest things about Shane is how good a person he really was,” Shawanda said.

On social media, condolences to Yellowbird’s loved ones poured in, with many commenting on how much they appreciated his music or the kindness he returned to them.

One person shared that they were a fan and kept Yellowbird. One day he brought her an autographed CD he had bought for her as he had none of his own albums with him at the time.

Canadian musician Aaron Goodvin shared a post on Facebook about Yellowbird’s passing.

“He always believed in me as an artist and songwriter, way before a lot of people did,” Goodvin said. “A truly beautiful soul.”

RIP Shane Yellowbird. It hits hard. I still remember him playing me songs from his soon to be released 2nd album…

Posted by Aaron Goodvin on Tuesday, April 26, 2022

“I remember around 2003 when I was last playing Ranchman’s in Calgary and Shane was performing,” fellow Canadian artist Aaron Pritchett recalled online.

“That’s when this big, dark, handsome dimpled big ass came up to me (Shane, of course) and introduced himself and said, ‘You just wait. I’ll be up there a day with you!”

In its breakthrough year, Yellowbird won the Rising Star award at the Canadian Country Music Awards and won three other accolades from the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

“He was the first native male country music artist to achieve what he did,” Shawanda said, calling Yellowbird a “pioneer.”

Shawanda knows the importance of representation and she said the work that Yellowbird does and does is important.

“He represented all Indigenous people and let young Indigenous people know that you can be anything you want to be,” she said.

As part of her legacy, Shawanda said Yellowbird would like Indigenous youth to focus on their own healing — something she said they’ve talked about together many times — and pursue their dreams.

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