Orene Askew, also known as DJ O Show, is a DJ and motivational speaker. She is of Afro-Canadian and First Nations ancestry, and is from the Squamish Nation, where she is also an elected member and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation Council & Chief.
Music and performing has been part of her life since her early teens when she would put together mix CDs for her friends and add her own voiceovers and freestyles. She developed these interests into her career, attending the Radio Studies program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and then learning as much as she could as an intern at Beat 94.5 and working for mobile DJ companies in the Vancouver area.
But after learning the ins and outs of the business, she knew that she wanted to do her own thing in the music industry. But first, she had to overcome her own fears. “I have some business coaches, some female and some Indigenous and they’re like, ‘The first time you walked into our classroom, you were just this shy little girl and you told us your idea.’ And they told me it was totally doable, but I was really shy and I still get nervous. But you know what? If this is what you want to do, you got to get up there and do it.”
The support she got was crucial to getting started which helped her to overcome her doubts. “We’re our own worst critic… I’ve gone to DJ school, I’ve gone to radio school. I’m prepared for this, but then once you’re up there, you’re doubting yourself. It’s so much self doubt, but if you have those people who motivate you and tell you that you can do it. You just need that person… just one person to say that to you and it just works. It totally works.”
DJ O Show was also able to get some help from her community. “I was fortunate enough to get a business grant from The Squamish Nation. I submitted a business plan and I got the grant to buy some DJ gear. Luckily DJing is mobile, so I got my MacBook and my turntables, let go and out there in the world. And I DJ birthday parties, weddings, club nights, youth conferences, just anywhere where they need a DJ.”
Her work as a DJ has also helped her think about and connect with the changing nature of being Indigenous in Canada. “I think I really found my niche because I’m one of the only Indigenous female DJs in Vancouver. So I’m busy,” she says. “[Indigenous events are] so unique and so significant. We throw around the term ‘reconciliation’, but I’ve seen the change in Vancouver so much. Our emails are backed up because people want us there to do territory acknowledgements or they want to acknowledge us, which… I’ve never seen before, even 10 years ago. It’s changing so much.”
And being in front of audiences has led DJ O Show into other business opportunities as well. “When I started DJing, I started talking more and I’ve actually gone into motivational speaking now, because I told a story about when I first started my business. I was involved in a house fire and I literally just ran out with my DJ gear. I started telling that story and I saw the effect on people in the audience. And I was just like, ‘ding, ding, ding, entrepreneur bell was ringing’. It’s so simple and we all have a story. We all have a story to tell. I totally believe that.”
She has also gotten involved in community politics with the Squamish Nation Council. “I actually got elected in December of 2017 and I wasn’t really expecting to get in, but an Elder nominated me. So I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to try it out and see what happens’. And it’s been such a learning experience.”
“We’ve gotten to do a lot of work for Pride as well because I am two-spirited, and one of the things that I’m so proud of our council for doing is we have a rainbow crosswalk in our community. We were one of the first ones in the lower mainland to do it, and I love it. I drive by it every day and it sparkles in the sunshine. It just makes me so happy. And I get messages from the community, the kids just love it.”
Getting into local politics and governance has been an important experience for her. “The experience of learning about governance and the relationships with other municipalities, and learning how the system works. Even a few days ago I was at a social distancing barbecue and I was telling my cousins about certain things. And they were like, ‘We had no idea about that.’ So our messaging needs to get better for more people to know about what’s going on, but just knowing the system. It’s been a learning experience for sure.”
“I’m not too sure if I’m going to run again, but it is just such an awesome experience and I’m learning and being out in the community more. And I love the fact that I still get to DJ as well.”
And being there for her community is important to DJ O Show, especially those who are exploring the larger world like she did. “I know what a big deal that is because when I went to BCIT, that’s what they taught us, is that you got to go out there in the world and get your street cred and come back. But for me, I just stayed and said, ‘You know what, I want to work in the community because I feel like they need me.’”
DJ O Show continues to support other Indigenous youth as well. “I go to BCIT sometimes to talk to the Indigenous students there or talk to the radio students who start their first year or second year and tell them what I’m doing now. The faculty jokes about giving me an office there because I’m there so much.”
“I’m glad I can be there to be a mentor and a friend, and let them know it’s going to be okay.”
Special thanks to Keith Collier for authoring this blog post.
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