Music, Memories and Something More: Dakota Shepherd’s Journey on the Powwow Trail
“It started off with music, just the love and passion of music,” recounts Dakota Shepherd. His stage name is Decoy and he’s a White Bear First Nations member who grew up in Saskatoon. A grass dancer, music artist, small business owner, public speaker, videographer, photographer and motivational speaker, he’s also a father of four. During the summer, he loves to travel to powwows, dancing, networking and promoting a healthy lifestyle as someone who is five years sober from drugs and alcohol.
As a child, he was a breakdancer, into skateboarding and anything that would get him active. Grass dancing is something he always wanted to do as a kid but growing up in the inner city, raised by a mother who struggled with alcoholism and didn’t have a car, they couldn’t afford to travel the powwow trails or regalia to dance. Pursuing that passion as an adult helped him stay sober because as a grass dancer, using substances is frowned upon and there’s an expectation of living a clean lifestyle.
He went to a powwow to make money raffling and he was there with his aunt who traveled with a troop of champion powwow dancers. He wanted to honour his brother’s memory and heal in a way that wasn’t destructive, by focusing on something positive. His aunt told him that if he danced in the circle, his brother would be there to watch him dance during the whistle ceremonies. During those songs, people come together and heal, praying and smudging together. Shepherd told her he would dance at the next powwow and she gifted him a grass dancing regalia. The next week, he was out grass dancing.
His music journey started earlier, when he was a pre-teen. His friend had keyboards and microphones and on the weekends, he fell in love with making music from scratch and listening to his creations. “I would sit there all night, pretty much just playing the same song that I've just made a couple days ago over and over and over and it was just a feeling of purpose and fulfillment,” he recalls.
“There's something about listening to music that draws inspiration and makes everything feel possible.”
He went on to learn audio engineering, mixing music for a more professional sound. Video editing came next, to create visuals to go with his music. In his basement studio, he loves being creative and the sense of purpose it brings. “I hope to pass it down to the younger generation and inspire other people to just follow their passion and their love… even when I'm gone, I want to leave a legacy that you could still hear my voice,” he shares. He draws inspiration by listening to songs for hours, thinking about his goals and where he wants to be in five years.
When it comes to his education journey, Shepherd dropped out of high school in grade ten. He had just had his first child and he started working in construction to provide for his family. He never went back and everything he’s learned since has been from Youtube tutorials and online courses.
Something he struggled with was getting away from the crowd he hung out with because they were into things that weren’t good for him. Living in an impoverished inner city neighbourhood was also hard. “Our paradigms were molded to a lack of abundance, a lack of self worth. Mental health issues were a big obstacle and not only that, just the struggle in general of trying to start a business from nothing and trying to raise brand awareness,” he recounts.
Learning from audiobooks and drawing inspiration from uplifting, positive content, Shepherd worked to overcome his mental health challenges. Instead of spending time partying and on social media, he would go to ceremonies and powwows, trying to find new ways to make money and find financial stability. Exercising, getting out in the sun and music brought him purpose, too.
When the pandemic hit, Shepherd had been working in the event industry, setting up stages. He had been looking forward to attending the Juno’s but instead of a once in a lifetime experience, he was laid off when events were shut down. His musical performances were put on hold.
Depressed, unemployed and filled with uncertainty, he would go for jogs, connect with friends and started an online business. He learned about dropshipping and ecommerce, continued making music and made a mini documentary for TakingITGlobal about racism in Canada. “If it wasn't for the pandemic then there's a lot of lessons that I wouldn't have learned and a lot of opportunities that I would have missed if I was just working a regular job,” he relays.
His advice for students thinking of leaving their community is, “Don't be afraid to leave the community… to leave your friends behind. Don't be afraid to fail, because failure is a learning lesson towards success."
In all that he does, Shepherd draws inspiration from his kids and family. He wants to stay on the right path, stay sober, and live a healthy lifestyle for them. He also looks to his musical and grass dance heroes, his successful friends and where he could be in five, ten and twenty years by staying on the Red Road. His desire to become a champion is rooted in purpose and a desire to build a legacy. He’s inspired by the newcomers to Canada who live in his neighbourhood and who are carving their own path. Audiobooks, self help books, and motivational speakers inspire him, too.
In closing, his advice is "if you're in a position where you need change, then don't be afraid to chase after what where you want to become. It's hard to start from scratch and start things from nothing but the biggest companies in the world, like McDonald's, the biggest rappers, everybody started from scratch so don't be afraid to start small."
It started off with music, just the love and passion of music and Dakota Shepherd built a brand and a name for himself. He found a way to make his childhood grass dance dreams come true, honouring his brother’s memory, he’s leaving a legacy of his own so his voice and message endures forever.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.