Elexa Dawson has been on a journey to explore her Indigenous roots through song.
Dawson, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a descendant of the Cherokee Nation, is a longtime member of the local music scene. In 2018, she was awarded a fellowship from First Peoples Fund. First Peoples Fund was founded in 1995 to honor and support the Collective Spirit of First Peoples artists and culture bearers. Collective Spirit is “that which moves each of us to stand up and make a difference, to pass on ancestral knowledge and simply extend a hand of generosity.” The fund recognizes the power of art and culture to bring about positive change.
A founding member of Weda Skirts, Dawson released her first solo album, “Music Is Medicine,” on Lost Cowgirl Records in December 2019. The album was created through the experiences she had during her time as a First Peoples Fund fellow.
“For that project I was really wanting to put together my music with my passion for reclaiming Indigenous knowledge,” Dawson said. “Our Anishinaabe prophecies talk about the ‘seven fires.’ It’s thought by many that this is the time of the seven fires, when the people will retrace the path of the ancestors and reclaim those things that got left behind or taken away.”
That’s why Dawson’s album features seven original songs exploring generational connections, relationships and experiences she captured during her fellowship. Dawson was able to spend time with her relatives in Dowagiac, Michigan, spending time not only getting closer to her family, but also so the foods and recipes of Indigenous cultures. Many of those experiences inspired songs on the album, and as such, the songs are an “emotional journey” in many ways.
“I wanted to go up there and experience that because my relatives there still work with birch and maple and wild rice and those are some of the basics, along with berries, of our recipes,” Dawson said. “It was really great to learn more about Indigenous foods throughout that process. I was a little nervous about going at first because it’s a very tight community, as chefs and foods producers. My purpose as going was as a home-gardener and a lover of plants and a musician, so, it was a very interesting position for me to be in. But people were very welcoming.”
Portions of that experience inspired “Circle Song.” This week, Dawson and Lost Cowgirl Records released a music video for that song, which was filmed at Dawson’s Chase County home and features footage of Dawson cooking Indigenous foods with foods from her home garden.
The song represents a call to return to earth, to reconnect and embrace what strings us all together.
“With ‘Circle Song’ I was really thinking about how humans have recently decided that we are above nature,” she said. “I really feel that we really need to be in the circle and we are not really above or below. We are all in the circle.”
Dawson said it made sense to incorporate food and gardening into a video for “Circle Song” because it has kept her busy. Usually on the road touring and playing shows, Dawson is one of the many performers who has been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I had to recenter on home and hearth and do those things that connect me back to the place of food,” she said, adding that she had also attended another food summit in Taos, New Mexico in the past. The summits gave her glimpses at different styles of Indigenous cooking. “This year through stay-at-home, I really have been able to commit a lot of time to my garden. I really wish I had a garden like four-times the size of my garden.”
Dawson said she was thankful to Lost Cowgirl Records for supporting her work and providing a platform for her music.
“They are doing really great things with Americana and folk music,” she said. “They understand that I want to be authentic in my work and they have been a really great support and really good business partners.”
For more on Dawson and a link to her video, visit www.elexadawson.com.