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12 Days of Feminists: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power

This month, we’re celebrating the relentless women whose work helped us to resist, persist and get the f-ck through 2017. Today, Anne Thériault sings the praises of Inuk vocalist and activist Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq feminist: Tanya sings at a concert in a red plaid dress.

(Photo: Shelagh Howard)

As the end of 2017 approaches, I’m frankly not feeling too sad about this atrocious year being consigned to the dustbin of history. I know that I’m not alone in bidding 2017 goodbye and good riddance, even if New Year’s Eve is just an arbitrary date on the calendar and there’s no real promise 2018 will be much better. Sometimes we need those arbitrary dates to get us through!

If there’s a silver lining to dark times, though, it’s that they tend to highlight the real-life heroes among us. While 2017 has been brutal and oppressive in many ways, it has also shown just how brave and selfless people can be—all of which makes it difficult to pick a favourite feminist of the year. That being said, after looking back at the past 12 months my choice is unequivocally Tanya Tagaq, whose work on women’s rights and decolonization have become even more crucial in the year of #Canada150 and #MeToo.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just generally don’t follow the Canadian music scene), Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk vocalist who won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize for her album Animism. In 2016, she released her fourth studio album, Retribution, to widespread critical acclaim. And while it would have been easy to coast on that success for a while, she has spent 2017 building on the foundations that she has laid. Tagaq, who is from Cambridge Bay, Nvt., and is a residential school survivor, has long combined the personal with the political in her work—but her latest album is by far her most overt confrontation of social issues. To describe it succinctly, you could say that it’s an album about rape, colonialism and trauma.

In an interview with Pitchfork last year, Tagaq said of her album:

“I wanted to draw a line with non-consensual land grabs and non-consensual, non-renewable resource development and the day-to-day horrors we inflict on each other and in particular, women. That kind of violent, unscrupulous and unethical way of dealing with what you want and what you can have.”

The last track on Retribution is a powerful and haunting cover of Nirvana’s 1993 song “Rape Me;” it was this song (along with the song “Retribution”) that she performed at the 2017 Polaris Music Prize gala alongside dozens of women in red dresses. It was an incredibly brave and vulnerable choice, one that reflected not just the broader issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, but also Tagaq’s personal fears.

“My daughters and I are four times more likely to be murdered or have violent acts upon us,” she told CBC when Retribution was first released. “I don’t feel like I’m OK with that; I don’t feel like you’re OK with that…. I don’t feel that anyone’s OK with that. So why not discuss it? Why not bring it out? Why not make it normal?… I just want equality. I want people to live an equal life, and I want safety for people.”

Tagaq has always used her platform to promote the rights of marginalized people, and we are so incredibly fortunate to live in a world where people like her are putting themselves out there to make these kinds of conversations more “normal,” especially considering the current political and social climate. Tagaq constantly challenges social inequality with unflinching truth, courage and wit and it’s more than time that every Canadian recognizes how fortunate we are to have a voice like hers in our social and political landscape.

With 2018 so close on the horizon, I find myself crossing my fingers that the new year will see more people following Tagaq’s lead. If and when they do, it will be because they’ve been empowered by people like her.

More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 2: Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Day 3: Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem

Day 7: Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist and Entrepreneur Jen Agg
Day 8: Jennifer Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante