Notes of Inspiration: Musician Hayley Wallis Creates Songs and Community Connection
“If you're looking for change, whether that be physically in your living environment, or mentally, spiritually, if you're not challenging yourself, you’re not changing. It's really important to push through the hard times and get through it because there's goodness on the other end,” shares youth worker and musician Hayley Wallis. She’s from the Kitasoo Xais'Xais Nation on her mother’s side, with settler ancestry on her father’s side. Once the youth coordinator in Klemtu, she hosted community events and tried to create connection between youth, elders and community with a view to integration.
Now a resident of the unceded territory of Tsleil Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish Nations, she works for the urban Native Youth Association as a youth care counselor in a classroom setting. She helps support youth in her community and makes music on the side. “It's probably the first time I've ever actually taken my music career very seriously and it's been pretty incredible,” she beams. A mother of two musically talented kids under ten, her days are full. Moving to the city and doing this work has been rewarding, but not without challenges.
“I think one of the big losses I had when I moved to Vancouver was losing my sense of community”
Wallis struggled with the adjustment to a larger community, not waving to people on the street and visiting together often. She tries to create that feeling in her work, explaining, “I feel like I'm working for an organization that creates community for the urban indigenous families here in Vancouver.” The culture shock of moving to the city was significant.
“I couldn't imagine like what it's like for our indigenous youth that like come from the reserve, and go to like college or university in the city. It's a huge, huge adjustment.”
Her advice for youth moving to the city is practical. “I would say reach out, learn your resources. There are so many resources out there…you're really never alone. Although it might feel like it, just reach out,” she suggests. She hasn’t attended university, learning informally from experience. Life experience is where she learned music too.
“I've been singing since I could speak, says my dad. But I grew up in a really musical household,” she remembers. The youngest child, the only girl with five brothers who each played an instrument, she was raised by a musically gifted father. Later, N'we JinanRecords would come to town and do a residency with the youth and she ended up signing with them. She has an album coming out in the spring.
“I love to create things when I'm feeling happy, when I'm feeling sad when I'm feeling angry, because I feel like creation is like a reflection of you and what you want to put out in the world.”
Wallis believes in sharing the whole spectrum of emotion. “I'm not only ever going to show just like one side of my emotions, I want to be able to tell a story,” she explains. She also uses music to bridge the feelings of homesickness. “I feel like music is something that brings people together. It creates community. You could be a million miles away but if you're hearing a song, that makes you feel connected,” she reflects.
While she found moving and uprooting her kids from everything they knew was hard, she feels it was ultimately worth it and she had a plan to return if it didn’t work out. She got through it by believing in herself. “Moving was terrifying, but I just needed to have trust in myself that everything was going to be okay. Things will workout. If you continue to work hard and have good intentions, do things with a good heart, I firmly believe that everything will always work out,” she recounts.
She is pleased with how her story has turned out. “Thankfully, I landed an amazing job and allowed me to like support my family, which is really wonderful. I'm fully immersing myself in music now. I will have my EP out, I have some songs ready to go but I am inspired to write more. Music right now is a huge thing in my life and I'm going to continue to do my work at UNYA and get all the youth excited about art and creation as well,” she smiles.
Hayley Wallis might be far from home but she’s creating community through music and connection. Inspired by her young children and the youth she empowers at UNYA, she is making the world a more supportive, musical place, with notes of inspiration for generations to come.
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.