Jade Harper

Jade Harper is Cree and Anishinaabe from Peguis First Nation, in Treaty 1 Territory in Manitoba, and she is currently working as the Indigenous Music Export Coordinator with Manitoba Music. In her role, she works to help Indigenous musicians develop their career, build their audience, and take their music international.

Jade has a long career working with Indigenous people, but the music industry is a bit of a new venture for her. “I’ve been doing this job for about a year and a half, and before that I worked for 17 years doing trauma work. I worked in the community, with community organizations here in Winnipeg that work with child welfare, or in child welfare and justice, but more on the heavier side of working with young people who have survived exploitation and human trafficking. I developed different youth programs for managing anxiety and depression and mental health. I’ve also done some suicide prevention and mental health promotion in Northern Manitoba.”

“After 17 years of doing that heavy work, I decided I needed to take a bit of a break, just because I think that everything has a shelf life. I wasn’t even entirely sure I wanted to leave that work as much as I knew that I needed a break, and so I committed to doing two years in an industry, or in a role that was completely different than what I was used to.”

“I saw that Manitoba Music was looking for an Export Coordinator, it had travel, it had supporting Indigenous people in Canada, it had everything that I was ready to take on. I don’t have a background in music at all, but interestingly enough they hired me. I think it’s more because of my program management and development skills, and my relationships in the community that got me the job. It definitely was not my knowledge in music.”

Coming from a background with a lot of challenges and barriers, Jade struggled with high school, graduating 8 years late, when she finally returned to Children of the Earth High School in Winnipeg to complete her diploma. But her real education came in a different way. “I always struggled with school, so going into the workforce is really easy for me. I started right away working for a community organization called the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Center.”

“I did a full circle at Ma Mawi. I was a kid in one of their programs first, so when I was 17 I joined their team, and then I ended up working there for about six years. That job was heavily weighted on the fact that I was a well organized person, that I had finished most of my grade 12. That organization really taught me how to leverage my personal experiences, or use my personal experiences to help other people. So that six years, I always say, was like my first degree, because I feel like they taught me a lot, and that’s how I ended up continuing in my career in community and developing programs.”

Although her natural skills made her a good fit in those organizations, working in the trauma field brought challenges. “Working in the community, you can’t really work with people in healing their mental health, unless you’ve dealt with your own stuff. When I was working with young people who faced a lot of trauma, and I hadn’t really dealt with my own trauma, I felt that in my work it was starting to come up, although I couldn’t tell you that, as much as I could tell you now that the biggest challenge for me was probably my own mental health, and making sure that I’ve dealt with my own stuff. And the way that I got over that was I was working with people who really cared about my success, and really cared about me doing well.”

“I also worked with people who saw value in the gifts that I brought instead of what I didn’t have, like a completed Grade 12 or a completed degree. I did a lot of entry level work based on the fact that I use my anxiety as a way of organizing, right? That would probably be one of my biggest challenges in that area, and probably one of the biggest reasons I ended up leaving that work after 17 years. I feel like 17 years is a good career to work in the community, but after that it was like, all right, I think there’s shelf life here and I’ve reached it and so I decided to step away.”

Although the nature of her work has now shifted with Manitoba Music, Jade still finds inspiration in the same people and places that she used to. “I get really inspired by the land. I feel like I have a close relationship with the land around me … I always draw strength from that ancestral knowledge and that relationship with the land, because I always know it’s solid. And that inspires me, …. I can tell myself the seven sacred teachings over and over again, but depending on what I’m focused on in life, they always just mean something different. And so I really try to pull inspiration from there.”

“I’ve had so many people who have inspired (me), but my mom probably — I use her as an inspiration the most, especially the older I get. She went through a lot when she was younger, and then she went through this phase in her life where she was surrounded by addictions and violence. And then she pulled herself out of that, and I just had such admiration for that strength, and now she’s a therapist and she does traditional work. Not very many people do ancestral work and therapy together. She definitely inspires me.”

Jade’s new role with Manitoba Music has taken her around the world, bringing Indigenous musicians and their work to new audiences at conferences and music festivals internationally. But her community in Winnipeg, especially the North End, remains key to her identity. “I moved around a lot, but there’s a culture in the North End here. There’s a culture in our community down on the streets that people consider dangerous, and neighborhoods that people don’t ever go near, but there’s a sense of culture and community there that I don’t see anywhere else. And at one point I thought, ‘oh, there’s got to be something better than this.’ You always have this sense of I can do better or I need to do better, this needs to look different. But I love that I can just always go back to my community and they’re there.”

“I’m just so proud of my community. It’s changed a lot, a lot of it hasn’t changed, some of it seems really silly … Now I understand it differently, but there’s so much strength there.”

“But you can bet that my solid footing, my solid ground is here in Winnipeg, it’s in the North end and that’s the reality.”

Special thanks to Keith Collier for authoring this blog post.

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