A charismatic, impassioned speaker, Ian draws attention to societal inequalities while promoting discussion and sharing of knowledge to help bring about change. He is political, articulate and keenly aware of the power of his art.
Inspired by parties for Korean and South Asian youth in the Ottawa region, Ian and friends began to host parties known as ‘Electric Pow Wow’ in 2007. The events feature a mixture of powwow recordings from his youth mixed with electronic music rhythms set to the backdrop of multimedia shows that re-contextualized stereotypical depictions of Aboriginal peoples from films and television shows. This was the founding of A Tribe Called Red.
The group is best known for their unique style, known as ‘Powwowstep, which combines both tradition and modern innovation. The genre fuses modern hip-hop, traditional pow wow drums and vocals, along with edgy electronic music production styles.
After recording several EPs, the group officially debuted in 2012 with their full-length self-titled album, which found the trio longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Their sophomore effort, 2013’s Nation II Nation, also made it onto the Polaris shortlist, finishing in the final ten. In 2016, ATCR returned with their third full-length album, We Are the Halluci Nation, featuring guest appearances from rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), indigenous Canadian drum group Black Bear, Australia’s OKA, and others. In November 2017 Ian decided to step away form ATCR to focus on mentorship & advocacy work.
Ian is one of a group of emerging aboriginal thought leaders who are building what he calls a “civil rights movement” for their minority community. Ian promotes inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice. He believes that indigenous people need to define their identity on their own terms.
In 2013, Ian successfully filed a human rights complaint against an amateur football club in Ottawa that had been using “Redskins” as its club name. The team is now called the Nepean Eagles. He advocates for the need to have a policy drafted on the use of indigenous identities and imagery in sports.
In addition to his music, Ian is equally engaged in his family project, raising three children with his strong partner and living on a ranch just outside of Ottawa where they grow their own food and some livestock.
“I am a role model for a lot of indigenous people and there are a lot of health issues with the food that we’re eating.” Aboriginals have high rates of obesity and diabetes, and “if I can try and change and show that just by dropping fried food, just get a salad or something like that, it makes a big difference.”