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20 Questions with Jenelle Duval from Eastern Owl, First Light

Jenelle Duval is a member of Eastern Owl and the arts and culture co-ordinator for the St. John's non-profit group First Light. — MADDIE MILLS PHOTO
Jenelle Duval is a member of Eastern Owl and the arts and culture coordinator for the St. John's non-profit group First Light. (Maddie Mills photo) - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Jenelle Duval's ties to the arts community are strong when it comes to both her day job and her musical pursuits.

The arts and culture co-ordinator for First Light (formerly known as the St. John's Native Friendship Centre) also performs with the popular St. John's-based group Eastern Owl. Known for its fusion of traditional indigenous sounds and contemporary music, the band has attracted lots of attention since forming in 2012. Eastern Owl is nominated for two 2020 East Coast Music Awards — Indigenous Artist of the Year and Inspirational Recording of the Year — for its second album "Qama'si," which came out last year. In Mi'kmaq, "Qama'si" means "stand up."

The group came together through gatherings at the centre where they bonded over a shared love of music. For Duval, the friendships built through that band are just as important as the music itself.

"Eastern Owl is really unique and special because we've formed really awesome friendships and sisterhood from that," Duval said. "We not only sing together, we are really involved in each other's lives and we care for one another."

In her role with First Light, Duval co-ordinates local arts programming. She has been instrumental in helping the annual Spirit Song Festival grow into a significant showcase for the Canadian indigenous arts scene. The 2019 edition of the event included performances by 2018 Polaris Music Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher and Canadian First Nations hip hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids.

Her dedication to the local scene was recognized earlier this month through a YWCA St. John's Women of Distinction Award for arts, culture, and heritage.

"I really wasn't anticipating winning the award," she said. "Winning that was really special, because when I looked around... there were so many women in that space who have supported me throughout my career and who I currently work with and admire."


Twitter: @CBNAndrew


1. What is your full name?
Jenelle Noel Duval.

2. Where and when were you born?
I was born in 1984 in Stephenville, but my home was in Seal Rocks, St. George's, Newfoundland.

3. Where do you live today?
I live in centre city in St. John's. It's a little further from downtown than I'd like, but I've moved here about a year ago.

4. What is your favourite place in the world?
There's this place in Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River called the point. It's like a little beach, and I visit there every July with my dad and we hang around on the point and have a fire ... It's a really beautiful place. It's got a gorgeous sunset. I was torn between that and this place my family used to go when I was a kid called Black Bank Beach in Barachois Brook in Newfoundland. I've got a lot of fond memories there. Anywhere where there's water ... Middle Cove around here is another spot I like to go to a lot.


View from Black Bank beach. Stephenville Crossing is in the background. from r/newfoundland

5. Who do you follow on social media?
I find myself following a lot of people who are doing pretty incredible work in communities. I follow a lot of non-profit organizations, and I also follow a lot of indigenous artists on Facebook. I always like to know and keep up with what people are creating and doing across Canada.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I don't drive, and I have no intention of ever getting my licence. It's probably more of a challenge for my friends who drive me everywhere. About five years ago, all my friends got together and secretly bought me a Young Drivers of Canada package. They were like, 'OK, that's it Jenelle, you're going to get your licence.' I went to the classes and started doing driving lessons with an instructor, and still didn't manage to get it.

7. What's been your favourite year and why?
Probably last year. I had a lot of really cool things happen in my career and in my music. I got to travel quite a bit. I think 2019 was an exceptional arts year for indigenous folks in the province. We got to pull off some really major events. Spirit Song Festival was one of the largest we've ever seen. We got to put that off free for the community, and there were a lot of youth involved ... One of the most memorable moments was being able to take my daughter to the Snotty Nose Rez Kids show. 2019 we released "Qama'si" with Eastern Owl. We got to see the creation of the Centre for Performance and Creativity with First Light.



8. What is the hardest thing you've ever done?
This? [Laughs] Talking about yourself and putting it out there publicly can be really intimidating. People often see me as someone who doesn't mind getting up on the mic and talking. I feel it's really important to put yourself out there, but at the same time, it's one of those things that kind of gives me social anxiety. I'm always nervous I'm going to say the wrong thing or somebody is going to interpret me in the wrong way.

9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
Everybody who is a mother would probably say that having their child is probably what changes your life the most. In 2006 I had my daughter Cassidy and have been raising her in St. John's ever since. I think being a mother definitely shifted how and why I do things that I do ... She changed my life for the better, for 13 years now.


I think being a mother definitely shifted how and why I do things that I do.


I get the opportunity to work with a lot of cool elders, knowledge-keepers from different indigenous nations across Canada. A lot of ceremonies I've attended have changed and shifted my perspectives on life and taught me a lot about humility and respect. I remember we went to a retreat on Woody Island — it was a women's retreat. We had a lot of shared circles, and myself and my friend Stacy have been gifted the teachings on a moon ceremony, and we got to do a moon ceremony for the first time out on Woody Island. It was a really beautiful experience.

10. What's your greatest indulgence?
I love getting tattoos. I've gotten a lot lately. My biggest indulgence right now is being able to go get new ink. I've been rediscovering traditional tattoo practices with my friend (visual artist) Jerry Evans. He's been gifting me some pretty cool art lately.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?
My favourite movie is "The Fifth Element" with Bruce Willis ... I'm not a huge sci-fi nerd or anything, but for some reason, I've always loved that movie. My favourite book is probably a childhood book that I remember and it was called "Ice Cream for Breakfast" (by Betty Jo Schuler). It was about this girl who wakes up one day and everything is completely backwards.



12. How do you like to relax?
I like to write when I'm relaxed. I like to sit down with my guitar and play music and drink tea.

13. What are you reading or watching right now?
Before all the pandemonium hit, I went to Chapters and looked up the Canada Reads books. I picked up Jesse Thistle's "From the Ashes" and I'm going to be reading that while I'm self-isolating for the next few weeks ... There's a few friends of mine, and I think we're going to have a virtual book club and read it together. I like mindless television. I find I spend the days working really hard and reading a lot online, and I do a lot of writing and administrative work, so when I come home, I just like to throw on really mindless stuff on Netflix — comedy.

14. What is your greatest fear?
[No pause] Frogs! [Laughs] I'm scared to death of frogs! I don't like people bringing them around me or touching them. I just have a irrational fear of frogs. When I was a kid, my cat was an outdoor cat, and he ate a frog. I think it traumatized me.

15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
Beads and mukluks. I really like to wear local artists' beaded earrings. No matter what outfit I'm throwing on, I'll definitely dress it up with a pair of dusters or dangly beaded earrings. I've got lots of pairs of Manitoba mukluks and moccasins.


Lady Cove Women's Choir and Eastern Owl: Warrior

Wow! We are thrilled to present this important and powerful video. “Warrior” is a collaboration between two of Newfoundland and Labrador's powerful women's musical groups; Lady Cove Women's Choir and Eastern Owl. It is the hope of both groups that this work will inspire and empower women to keep fighting for gender equity, as well as continue to look out for each other, and lift each other up. Eastern Owl is an eight-piece Indigenous-led folk band who are known for their combination of traditional Mi'kmaq drum singing, rich harmonies and modern arranging to create their own innovative sound. Since 2012, Eastern Owl has been celebrating traditions, composing new works, and collaborating with dozens of artists to create music with themes of culture, social justice, and hope for the future. Lady Cove Women’s Choir was founded in 2003 by Kellie Walsh. The name Lady Cove is representative of the spirit and philosophy of the choir: a community of women – a haven where members come, not only to explore their own musicianship but to share their lives and experiences in a sisterhood. The choir’s mission is to reveal the potential, strength, and versatility of women’s choral music."

Posted by Choral Stream on Monday, March 9, 2020

16. What is your most treasured possession?
Probably my little home recording studio, which I'm learning how to use and write new music while this is all going on.

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
One unique thing that my family has is the Muise nose. No matter where I go in Newfoundland, people know that I'm related to my aunties, to the Muises, because they can tell by looking at my nose ... It keeps me tied to my family. My parents are really incredible people. The trait I'm most glad that I got from them is generosity. They're really loving and they're super open.

18. What three people would join you in your dream dinner party?
If I were to have a dinner party with anybody, it would probably be my grandparents. They're all since passed, and unfortunately, I was relatively young when they all were gone. I never got to build great memories with them, both on my mother's and my father's side. When I see people spending time with their grandparents and telling stories about them and getting to know them and know about their histories ... I'm always really envious.

19. What is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
I don't know how to answer that one. It feels like a typical interview question, isn't it? You go into a job, and you just want to lie and be like, 'I work too hard.' [Laughs] ... I wish my friends were here right now so I could be like, 'What's my best quality?' And I'm sure they'd all say something loving. Then when I ask them what my worst quality was, they'd probably shelter me from the answer so they wouldn't hurt my feelings.

20. What is your biggest regret?
I honestly don't have any regrets. I think I've lived my life the best way that I can, and sometimes I made really good decisions, and sometimes I made really poor decisions. That's just a part of being human ... I think that every single thing that I've done or that I've said has led me to exactly where I am today. I just use every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.

NOTE: Some answers have been edited for length.


No programs? No problem! First Light will be live streaming Virtual Men’s Drumming on Monday, March 30th at 6pm. You...

Posted by The St. John's Native Friendship Centre on Saturday, March 28, 2020

Twitter: @CBNAndrew

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