Juno Award winner hasn't let fear stop him from trying different things

·5 min read

Lawrence Martin remembers standing behind the stage as Robbie Robertson was announcing the 1994 Juno Awards winner for Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording.

Martin did not expect to hear his own name.

Standing on the stage in front of the huge crowd and accepting the award, he started giving thanks but didn't know what to say. Hearing his children cheer from a balcony calmed him down a bit and he said a few words in Cree to give himself some time to put his thoughts together and to say something in English.

"The Cree language saved my ass there for 30 seconds," he says laughing.

Martin, 65, lives in Cochrane and is the manager for the Mushkegowuk Council’s marine conservation project. He’s also a board member of Five Nations Energy Inc.

Throughout his life, he’s held a wide array of positions in fields such as healthcare, police services and municipal governance.

Martin served as mayor in Sioux Lookout and later as mayor in Cochrane. He's also been the executive director of Misiway Community Health Centre, the Ininew Friendship Center and the Wawatay Native Communications Society. He worked for Nishnawbe Aski Police Services, Weeneebayko Area Health Authority and has been Mushkegowuk Council’s Grand Chief twice, among other positions.

Martin says his curiosity and fear are what led him to try himself in different positions even if he was scared or didn’t initially have all the required knowledge.

“I’m always moving because I just want to learn different things,” he says.

He grew up in Moose River Crossing, a small community where everybody knew each other and were mostly related. As a child, his aunt taught him how to play the guitar.

Moving to North Bay to attend high school at the age of 14 was a big change but he always had his music to carry him through lonely times and to help him to get to know people.

“Music is how I went by, met people, kept things going,” Martin says.

In his music career, he uses the name Wapistan, has released five CDs and has toured Canada, the U.S., Europe and Australia. As his songs are bilingual, singing in the Cree language abroad felt good and was an honour, he says.

Martin was nominated for Juno Awards two more times after his win in 1994.

“It was the ticket for me when I left Moose River as a kid to go to high school: having that guitar, that music. That’s the same ticket that carried me through to see the world,” he says.

For Martin, politics and music is almost the same.

“It’s like performing. Being up at the microphone, being up on stage, talking to the people, it felt like I was doing the same thing,” he says. “I was able to do well in politics because of that.”

In the early '90s, the friendship centre in Sioux Lookout asked Indigenous people to run for mayor and council. Martin says he didn’t really want to run, so he wrote his name on the ballot backwards.

He then thought there would be fewer chances of winning the mayor position than becoming a councillor, so he ran for mayor. Campaigning turned out to be fun and exciting, he says.

On his first day as the mayor, Martin remembers looking at the phone and hoping it wouldn't ring. But then, he liked the position and "got hooked".

“I did the job the best I could, learned to like it a lot. That’s why I ran again when it came to Cochrane,” he says noting being the mayor of Cochrane was easier and he enjoyed holding leadership positions throughout his life.

Martin has been married four times and he has six children and 13 grandchildren.

Sometimes he wonders how much further he could’ve gone with his music career. He turned down opportunities to tour more and produce more albums in fear his family wouldn’t be able to see him much.

“Sometimes, that’s a regret because I never really saw my music flourish to where it might’ve been able to go,” Martin says.

But he is happy he decided to stay with his family. He is also proud of having his family by his side whatever he does. Martin’s two sons, Jason and Neil, also play music with him sometimes.

“I’m proud they’re a part of my music in a way and the support I get from them when I get silly and run for politics,” Martin says jesting. “Whatever I do making sure I do with my family is a big thing for me. No matter what job it is.”

Nowadays, Martin also promotes and sells Wabimeguil Art made by his ex-wife Betty Albert. He says he is also working on developing a virtual reality art gallery using bitcoin and blockchain.

Martin plans to continue doing music and see how his gained knowledge can be shared and used by other people. Moving forward, he also wants to make sure his family is nursed and taken care of.

“I feel blessed to have done so much in my life and to find a place for my fear instead of allowing fear to stop me from doing things,” he says.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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