Nikky Ermineskin

Breaking Cycles and Breaking it Down: Nikky E Makes Music and Change

“I was one of those kids who didn't have a lot of faith and I fought through that, and I'm so happy I did,” shares Nicole Ermineskin. Her artist name is Nikky E and she’s from Flying Dust First Nation near Meadow lake, Saskatchewan. For the past five years, Ermineskin has lived in Victoria with her two children but she was born and raised in Vancouver. 

As someone with ADHD, nearly twenty years ago she picked an industry she could move around in: music. After high school, she got a diploma in audio engineering and production and wanted to be a rapper. Ermineskin ended up working with a Vancouver-based Indigenous youth organization for over a decade, starting off by helping them get a studio off the ground. 

Her work there centered around storytelling and healing through music and media. She took a break after having her son and started performing again during the pandemic, remembering how much she loved being on stage. Ermineskin decided to pursue that along with filmmaking  and event coordination. 

"Hip hop is such a powerful medicine, and it has been for Indigenous communities."

She’s found healing herself through hiphop after a life struggling with addictions, homelessness and not having her daughter for a period of time. Recently, Ermineskin coordinated the International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards. Her daughter fell in love with freestyling, rapping at the dinner table.

 “There was a point in my life when I decided to turn that pain into power and use that as a jumping board to do the things that make me happy, because my kids need a happy mom. I can't show them to be happy if I'm not practicing that. A big part of it was music, and still is,” she recalls. 

Working on a contract basis can be a financial rollercoaster of feast and famine but the less busy times afford her more time with her kids. She’s learned the ebbs and flows of the industry and to be strategic about which contracts she takes. Ermineskin recommends applying for any available funding. A career in the arts is something she always recommends to people she meets who are autistic or have ADHD because they can participate at their own pace, in their own way, as they feel inspired. She encourages youth to try out being an artist if it interests them, but she doesn’t rely on the industry for all of her revenue herself.   

“As an Indigenous woman, it's really amazing to see other Indigenous women do this work because it's a predominantly male dominated industry. I'm one of the few Indigenous women who actually perform on Vancouver Island in hip hop, and I want to see more. I want to see a lot of us … because our stories are powerful. You never know who's going to hear that,” Ermineskin dreams aloud. Her ancestors would have been arrested for doing what she does now so she considers it an honour and a responsibility to continue.  

Her advice for youth thinking about leaving their community to travel or move somewhere else is supportive. Ermineskin believes in experiencing life outside of your home community and seeing the world. Her own first international trip will be to record her album and she wishes had done so sooner. She counsels her daughter not to be afraid to take chances. Her own life choices have forced her to work hard to recover. She hopes youth will learn from her mistakes and make better choices, like going to university. 

“I always believe that our ancestors are always behind us and if we're doing something in a good way, they're going to support us in that, and those opportunities will come to you,” Ermineskin offers. Similarly, she finds herself pulled back onto her chosen path no matter where she ends up. That’s why she suggests youth follow their callings and ignore people who discourage them. 

"I just want to see more young people breaking those cycles. That's my wish. That's my hope and prayer. Break the cycles and do the things that make you happy."

If she could give advice to her younger self it would be to take school more seriously and to not be swayed by peer pressure and bullying. Giving into peer pressure changed her life and created many of her obstacles. She also wishes she had listened to herself more, recognizing parents and teachers don’t always give the best advice. In her twenties, she wishes she focused more on her career than going out and experimenting. That’s when she had the energy to pursue big goals and could have enjoyed the results. She would also tell herself, “It's okay to be successful. It's okay to be happy.”

To manage her mental health now, Ermineskin attends therapy, writes, walks, and plays PokemonGo. By integrating games, she’s able to walk a lot further than she would if she was just walking for exercise alone.  

"Breaking cycles is the most powerful thing you can do. The people that come after you are going to be so thankful and won't have to go through those things."

In closing, Ermineskin would like to say, “It's okay to walk in both worlds. It's okay to honor your culture, your ceremonies and your traditions and your language. I really think that's super important. But it's also okay to walk in the world that we live in now…. Don't feel like you need to go one way or the other. You can walk in both and be proud. Just be proud no matter what.” 

She also wants Indigenous youth heading to university to keep persevering and advocating for themselves. “We have to remember that a lot of these systems are just starting to listen now. Change isn't something that's going to happen overnight. But if we have the confidence to talk about these things, and work hard at the things that we want, we deserve everything just as much as anyone else does.” 

As one of those kids who didn't have a lot of faith, Nikki Ermineskin fought through that, and is so happy she did. Breaking cycles and breaking it down, Nikky E is healing through hip hop and sharing stories with youth.  Shining in a male-dominated industry, she’s found ways to stand out in a crowd while fitting in with her community and her peers.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    April 3, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
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