"Poignant, powerful imagery and messages sung and spoken over a sonic landscape that work extremely well together, creating an immersive listening experience. I’m very impressed and moved by the album Craig has created, an important and enjoyable piece of work."
- Russell Broom, JUNO/SOCAN/WCMA/AMPIA award winning producer/writer/musician
“Ginn’s album is a moving expression of Indigenous beauty and resistance in the face of ongoing colonialism. His songs compel listeners to learn more about the relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples, from the activism of Louis Riel, to the displacement of the Sayisi Dene, to the contamination of Grassy Narrows. I found “Walk With Me” to be an especially moving tribute to the resilience of the Métis that just might become a classic Métis anthem.”
- Dr. Monique Giroux, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Music, Culture, and Politics/Assistant Professor
(Music Department) University of Lethbridge
"Craig Ginn's Songs of Justice Project offers a deeply moving perspective on colonial histories and Indigenous strength. Honesty and realness are in both the lyrics and his voice, sometimes with anger as in "Let Justice Roll" or with hope as in "Voice of Tradition." The guitar-based arrangements have some ear-catching surprises. Naming only two instances, I enjoyed the mandolin and cello pairing in "Voice of Tradition" and the touches of grand piano in "Walk with Me."
- Dr. Beverley Diamond, Professor Emerita Memorial University/Former Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology/SOCAN Foundation-CUMS Award of Excellence for the Advancement of Research in Canadian Music
Ten notable albums from Calgary-area artists in 2021 | Calgary Herald
Metis musician Craig Ginn, an instructor in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary completed an album entitled Songs of Justice. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia.
Craig Ginn, Songs of Justice
Having an academic write an album’s worth of songs exploring Canada’s uneasy history with its Indigenous people might sound a little too, well, academic. But U of C prof and Metis musician Craig Ginn’s knack for assured, poignant melodies talk-sung in a rich baritone help make Songs of Justice a smooth musical ride that is never overpowered by its messaging. That doesn’t mean the urgency of his messages is lost, of course. Songs such as Let Justice Roll, which addresses Sir John A. Macdonald’s role in the residential school system, and Voice of Tradition, which celebrates the wisdom of Indigenous elders, swell with anger and pride.
Songs of Justice offers a 'choir' of responses to Canada's colonial past
- Randy Nikkel Schroeder, Author/Musician/Professor of English, Languages and Cultures
at Mount Royal University - August 31, 2021
"If I had to choose one word to describe Craig Ginn’s Songs of Justice, it would be “choir,” not because the album sources choral music—though it does—but because “choir” is a wonderful figure for the balance and diversity of multiple voices. There are many voices here, from the rage of the Old Testament prophets to the eloquence of Louis Riel to the multiform emotions and insights of Ginn himself.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the prophetic traditions of the Bible would form an uneasy duet with contemporary, justice-seeking indigenous traditions. But on Songs of Justice these various traditions harmonize, descant, and form counterpart with each other, partly because much of the album takes its cues from the visionary rhetoric of Riel himself, and partly because Ginn’s lyrics are poetic and judicious, both sturdy and delicate.
The music, too, puts me in mind of choral diversity and balance. Ginn’s selection and orchestration of instruments and musicians is wonderfully deft, almost airbrushed. Legato instruments like viola and slide weave in with the more percussive contributions of mandolin and piano. The drums often support with perfect tempo, feel, and groove. A simple yet funky trumpet figure, supplied by Ginn himself, begins the album with a persistent earworm.
The track list pulls from traditions of rock, folk, roots, country, and Americana, all delivered in Ginn’s resonant and emotive baritone. Songs of Justice is at once a deeply personal and tensile political project, by turns curious, questing, melancholy, outraged, and hopeful. It gets better with every listen, this choir of an album."
Compelling Calgarians: Craig Ginn
Barb Livingstone • for the Calgary Herald Publishing date: Jan 03, 2022
University of Calgary professor Craig Ginn is exploring Indigenous people’s relationship with animals through the Animal Kinship project, while continuing to examine Canada's relationship with Indigenous people through his Songs of Justice Project. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Craig Ginn grew up alongside eight-foot-tall polar bears in Churchill, Man. But his first song, written at age nine, was about geese soaring in the blue sky overhead.
This year, the 59-year-old University of Calgary professor of Metis ancestry is taking those childhood experiences to explore Indigenous people’s relationship with animals.
The Animal Kinship project will follow the Department of Classics and Religion instructor’s 2020 Songs of Justice Project, which featured 10 original songs and lyric videos on the historic relationship between Canada and its Indigenous people, including five on the significance of Louis Riel and the Métis people.
Ginn grew up among the Dene, Inuit and Metis, always connected to music. He started university as a music major but a compromise with his grandmother — who wanted him to be a minister — began an academic interest in theology leading to a bachelor of arts in religious studies, a master’s in history and a Ph.D. in theology. He helmed church music programs while also teaching (from Asian Religions to religious perspectives of death and afterlife, to the intersection of religion and music).
In 2012, Ginn moved to Calgary with his family to teach full time.
Angered by uncritical evaluation of John A. Macdonald (who as prime minister introduced residential schools) and sanitizing of his legacy, he spoke out. Instead of writing an academic treatise, he wrote a song.
“Once I recorded the first song, something opened up inside — that creative space — and I wrote another, and another.”
The Songs of Justice Project, with U of C funding, will roll out more videos this year and Ginn hopes to raise more funds for charitable partner CUPS (www.songsofjusticeproject.com).
This year, besides teaching, Ginn is co-writing songs for The Animal Kinship project, about polar bears, eagles, snowy owls, bison and wolves.
He’s started six songs of an anticipated 10, and will partner with a charity supporting educational — and environmental — messages.
“Students often ask why animals, like sacred eagles, are so honoured by Indigenous Peoples. That starts the conversation about traditions.”
Métis Singer-Songwriter Partners with CUPS for Songs of Justice Project.
September 28, 2021
Along with other voices of social justice for Canada’s Indigenous people, Métis singer-songwriter Craig Ginn’s latest album was released before the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Songs of Justice Project was born out of anger towards the uncritical eye and admiration some continue to use toward Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, despite a legacy of trauma. Yet, the album also includes songs that are celebratory of Indigenous traditions.
Ginn, a Senior Instructor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Classics and Religion, picked up his guitar after hearing a colleague overlook severe criticism of Macdonald in an archived CBC debate.
“(I hope) we’ll rethink the uncritical veneration that is given at the expense of the memories of Indigenous people,” he said, noting he wishes for people to speak honestly about Canada’s past.
On one song, Let Justice Roll, Ginn sings of Colonial Man, “they will not judge his past sins by the virtue of today…”
The 10-song album is free to download, yet any voluntary donations go towards CUPS. Ginn learned about CUPS, which assists people living with the adversity of poverty and trauma in becoming self-sufficient, from his wife Carla. Concern for others is “central to the DNA of CUPS,” he said.
The U of C’s Faculty of Nursing, where Carla is an Assistant Professor, has long engaged with CUPS as a partner, particularly through the work of Dr. Karen Benzies.
“It’s caring for people in a wholistic way, and I honour and respect that,” he said, noting CUPS, which has been in operation for 32 years, is engrained in the fabric of Calgary as a trauma-informed service.
As for the song, In the Blood, it speaks to “pride and strength” through embracing Indigenous lineage, Ginn said. Growing up in Manitoba, he said it was a time when people did not speak about being Métis.
“Macdonald was the hero and (Louis) Riel was the traitor,” Ginn said.
People whose lineage came from the Métis of the Red River were silenced, he explained. In fact, Ginn said his grandmother intentionally kept his own heritage from him as a form of protection. Yet, it was his uncle who gently pushed back that it was important for his nephew to know.
“(In the Blood) comes out of Riel’s poetry where he embraces his own heritage, looks back to his grandmother and her advice for him to be strong,” Ginn added.
Another song, Voice of Tradition, is a celebrative vow that First Nations people will no longer be silenced. The lyrics were co-written with Michael Hart, Vice Provost of Indigenous engagement at the U of C. The song is a vow… a promise… “We won’t participate in silencing the goodness of the knowledge that has been passed on through Ancestors, Elders and Knowledge Keepers,” Ginn said.
As for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, Ginn shared that he’s approaching it from a position of hope, combining opportunities for commemoration, as well as solutions. “It provides space to be contemplative, (as well as) active,” he said, noting this is a day to consider Indigenous people who have been, and continue to be victimized in our society, and think toward hope and healing.
Please visit https://www.songsofjusticeproject.com/ to download the album, or donate to CUPS.
Classics and Religion instructor takes on Canadian colonialism with Songs of Justice
AUTHOR: Heath McCoy, Faculty of Arts September 29, 2021
Online album by Craig Ginn inspired by Canada’s dark historical treatment of First Nations
Craig Ginn has released the album Songs of Justice, inspired by Canada's historical treatment of First Nations.
Photo: Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Even though he entered university as a music major in the early ‘80s and went on to record a handful of independent gospel/R&B albums in the years that followed, Craig Ginn, a senior instructor in the Department of Classics and Religion, hadn’t written a song in over 15 years. At some point his career in academia simply took precedence over his musical pursuits.
It was a moment of anger that reignited his long dormant songwriting passions.
Ginn had come across an archived political panel discussion on the CBC, from 2017, on the topic of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and his troubling legacy with respect to First Nations people. Two historians and an Indigenous rights activist debated about whether Macdonald’s statues should be taken down and his name removed from schools and other public institutions. One of the historians argued against such steps, calling for a “timeout” to further assess Canada’s first prime minister.
Ginn, who is of Métis ancestry, felt his teeth grit. “I think we have enough history to go on by now to make a fair assessment,” he says. “I was angry, and I picked up my guitar, which I hadn’t done in a long time.”
Ginn wrote the song Let Justice Roll, a dark folk-rocker and scathing indictment of both Macdonald and those who would absolve him of the steps he put in place which proved catastrophic for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
While mixing the song in Calgary’s StudioD, Ginn was encouraged by engineer Steve Dierkens to develop a lyric video for the song, and to continue writing songs born of the intense frustration he was feeling. Slowly, Ginn began accumulating the 10 songs on his album Songs of Justice, which he released online last month, free of charge.
Songs tackle injustices — and strengths
While many of the songs tackle the grave injustices suffered by Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, others, like Voices of Tradition — co-written with UCalgary’s Vice-Provost (Indigenous Engagement), Michael Hart — highlight First Nations’ strength.
“It’s a song that recognizes the rich tradition of Indigenous knowledge,” says Ginn. “When I was writing it, I wanted Michael to review the lyrics and help me articulate some of my ideas. He was such a solid consultant and collaborator on the song. And, along with Marica Cassis (department head, Classics and Religion), he was so supportive of the entire project.”
Ginn notes that his wife, Carla Ginn, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, and Derek Pulliam, engineer at Dog in the Window Records, also collaborated with him on the album’s lyrics.
Another standout track is There for the Money, which takes prime minister Justin Trudeau to task for his mocking, dismissive treatment in 2019 of an activist from Grassy Narrows First Nation, long plagued with mercury poisoning in their water supply.
The intersection of music and religion
A series of songs on the album also address the controversial history of Louis Riel. Some of these songs are informed, in part, by Ginn’s academic research.
“My focus has often been at the intersection of music and religion and the way in which music can express and influence religious belief, doctrine and theology,” he says.
“In some of the Riel songs I incorporate his actual poetry, and if you look at that as a lyric-based medium you’ll find a lot of belief. Some of the poetry was written when he was facing death and it shines a light on both his Christianity and his Indigenous spirituality.”
It’s well worth noting that Ginn wrote the album’s songs before the discovery of unmarked graves on residential school grounds, which has been ongoing since May. Even he never dreamed that Songs of Justice would feel as powerfully relevant as it does today.
“We’re progressing on a post-colonial path, both as a university and as a society,” Ginn says. “We’re making strides, and I thought these songs might be a very small part of the conversation. But I think the discovery of the unmarked graves has awakened a broader base of people, with a stark reality that was really horrifying.
"Perhaps these songs will fit into the urgency of the current conversation more than I had ever anticipated."
Indeed, Ginn has been approached by both high school and university teachers who feel that Songs of Justice might be adopted as an effective teaching tool. “I’m working towards creating videos for every song on the album, which would enhance that teaching experience, I feel,” he says.
“To bring some of these songs into classrooms where they could be studied in a historical context, with decolonial interests in mind — that would be very rewarding.”
With inspiration from Louis Riel, U of C prof tackles colonialism, discrimination and genocide in new album.
Eric Volmers - Calgary Herald - Publishing date: Aug 06, 2021
Metis musician Craig Ginn, an instructor in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary has completed an album entitled Songs of Justice. He was photographed at the U of C campus on Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Photo: Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia
In 2019, Craig Ginn was watching an archived political panel discussion on the CBC from 2017 that delved into the prickly topic of our first prime minister’s dark legacy.
Ginn, who is a senior instructor in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary and of Metis ancestry, said he watched with interest as two historians and an Indigenous rights activist discussed the topic. The host asked the panel their thoughts about having Sir John A. Macdonald’s name removed from schools and buildings and having statues of the man taken down. Two of the panellists acknowledged that Canadians who are aware of their country’s history and committed to truth and reconciliation should no longer be uncritically celebrating Macdonald. The third, who Ginn doesn’t name, said he “strongly disagreed.”
“One of the history professors was very defensive of Sir John A. Macdonald and he teaches at the same university as I teach so I thought ‘man, I’ve got to push back on that somehow,’ ” says Ginn. “I thought maybe I would write up an article or something. But it almost caught me by surprise. I had a little bit of a creative season with music and started writing songs rather than go the academic route. In the end, I’m hoping the music will have an educational message for people.”
Anger can be a powerful muse. And Ginn admits there was more than a little fuelling his creative burst. It began with the song Let Justice Roll, which addressed Macdonald’s role in the residential school system and targeted those who want to continue celebrating him with the powerful opening lines: “Hear the case of history plead for more time to show the trophies of a venerated man outweigh his crime. They will not judge his past sin by the virtue of today. They promise truth and reconciliation in the same breath that they sing his praise.”
But one song led to another and before Ginn knew it, he had an album’s worth of material that he recorded as The Songs of Justice, which was released last month. The 10 songs all cover historic and current relations between Canada and its Indigenous people. Some, like Let Justice Roll, target the “apologetics of colonialism” and address discrimination, genocide and the residential school system. Others, such as Led My People and I Cannot Escape, draw from the history of Louis Riel, adapting some of the Metis leader’s own poetry. Some songs, such as the stately Voice of Tradition, highlight the wisdom of Indigenous elders. There For the Money recalls an encounter between a Grassy Narrows First Nations activist protesting water contamination and Justin Trudeau in 2019 at a Liberal fundraiser, which ended with the Prime Minister sarcastically thanking the protester for her “donation to the Liberal Party of Canada.” (He later apologized for his lack of respect.) Hercules chronicles the plight of the Sayisi Dene in Ginn’s native Manitoba, who were forcibly relocated by the government in 1956. The 250 community members were flown to a barren area outside of Churchill without their boats or traps and were housed in tents and shacks.
The songs veer from specific stories from Canada’s past and present to more general musings about the country’s relationship with its Indigenous people. Yes, it’s something Ginn could have easily addressed within the bubble of academia. But he hopes this approach will reach more people.
“An academic article, let’s be honest, how many people actually read them?” Ginn says with a laugh. “Even if you do get an article in an academic journal, only your closest colleagues are probably going to read it. The upside to music is that if it does get into a more popular platform, then arguably more people will listen to it. It’s not going to be as jargon-based as an article, more of a storytelling approach, the narrative methodology. We as humans tend to respond to story and tend to get drawn in a little more to a story than an academic article. Our culture listens to a lot of music. We’re listening to hours and hours of music a day.”
Ginn began playing guitar in his early 20s and produced a few gospel albums but for the past two decades had been concentrating on teaching. While many of the songs are angry, the production is polished and the playing first-rate. The music takes stylistic cues from ’70s and ’80s rock and ballads and folk music, while Ginn’s rich baritone and talk-singing delivery recall one of his musical heroes, Mark Knopfler.
There is certainly overlap between Ginn’s academic and musical lives. Born in Manitoba, Ginn has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies, a Master of Arts in history and a Ph.D. in theology. He has taught courses in Asian Religions, religious perspectives of death and the afterlife, the Bible as literature and the Christian response to modernity.
“Teaching in religious studies you become aware of, especially in the case of Christianity, the intersection with colonialism,” Ginn says. “That’s not to say that Christianity was necessarily colonialist but it certainly was used in a colonial way and co-operated with colonialism when it came to French and British colonialist enterprises. So, you see the power of Christianity over culture when you teach religious studies. And you become aware of your own country a little bit more when you think of the missionary enterprise in Canada and how it (had) such a colonialist stripe to it.”
Interestingly, he also teaches a course about the intersection of religion and music. The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts and Department of Classics and Religion provided grants and allocated research funds to help offset most of the costs of the album. He has partnered with the Calgary Urban Project Society to help raise funds for the organization through this project.
When Ginn was writing the songs, the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves near residential schools in Canada had not yet become headline news. So, while the topics Ginn addresses in his songs have been on the forefront for years, particularly since the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were published in 2015, these developments have only added to the urgency of Ginn’s messages.
“In the last seven, eight years I think there’s been an increased awareness,” he says.”But if my album can add to that awareness and be part of the conversation, that’s certainly one of my goals: to educate and motivate, if I can, through the lyrics.”
Songs of Justice is now available. Visit songsofjusticeproject.com to download the album.
Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage inspires songwriter’s tribute to healing and hope.
By Andrew Ehrkamp, Grandin Media, Catholic Alberta, July 29, 2020
Craig Ginn says attending the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage with his daughter Aron and his wife Carla inspired him to write a song about the annual event. Courtesy of Craig Ginn
The Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage had such an impact on Craig Ginn, he created a song and video about it.
“I was at the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage and was so impacted by it that I thought, that’s a story that I can retell in a song,” said Ginn, who teaches religious studies at the University of Calgary and writes and records songs in his spare time.
“I was really quite moved by the spirit of genuineness and vulnerability that is there.”
The annual Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage normally attracts thousands of pilgrims, mostly First Nations and Metis people, to the lake west of Edmonton. While the pilgrimage itself is more than 130 years old, Indigenous people considered it a sacred place for generations before that. They come to Lac Ste Anne in prayer, seeking St. Anne’s intercession and healing for themselves and their loved ones.
But this summer the COVID-19 pandemic forced the July 25-29 pilgrimage to go online.
The Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage song “Walk with me” is part of a series of 10 songs Ginn, his wife Carla and others have written and recorded. They are in the process of making videos to go with each. How they will be made public is yet to be determined, but they will be a part of the University of Calgary’s Indigenous engagement strategy.
Other songs and videos Ginn created include “Let justice roll,” which was influenced by his work at an Indigenous youth orientation event at the U of C, and a TV panel discussion on the mixed legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, in his relations with First Nations.
“I thought I’d write these songs, do some videos for them, and then be able to do educational presentations,” Ginn explained. “That was really the extent of what I thought they would be. When I saw that the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage was going to go virtual, I thought maybe I could offer a song to that community. Maybe it could be a helpful resource.”
Ginn had visited Lac Ste Anne in the past, but last year was his first visit to the pilgrimage along with his wife, daughter Aron and a group from Region 3 of the Metis Nation of Alberta. He wrote “Walk with me” soon after that visit.
The video was created by Monique Riel, a research assistant funded by the U of C and Rupertsland Institute – affiliated with the Metis Nation of Alberta – through the Indigenous Summer Student Program. The images used in the video include archived photos from past pilgrimages; many are from Steve Simon, author of the book Healing Waters: The Pilgrimage of Lac Ste Anne.
Prior to attending the pilgrimage, Ginn viewed the healing that pilgrims experience there from an academic perspective, allowing only that “I believe that you believe what you believe.”
That changed when a pilgrim, a stranger to him, asked if Ginn could make phone call on his behalf.
“I didn’t even ask him why. He said he wasn’t allowed to use a phone right now or own any form of technology because he was working through an addiction episode in his life and he wanted to call his mom.
“That was not an academic moment for me. That was a very personal moment where I lent him my phone,” Ginn said. “And he said, ‘Actually can you dial the number and get my mom on the phone and tell her it’s me?’ Then academics was just pushed aside for me. I saw the real journey in his eyes. He was there for healing and hope. It was a very different perspective – the personal, the real, the vulnerable.”
In the last few years Ginn, a Metis from northern Manitoba, developed a growing interest in working with Indigenous students and scholars at the U of C. The institution’s Indigenous strategy encompasses the entire university from the lands it sits on to curriculum, supporting scholars, policies, and student and community engagement. Roughly 900 to 1,000 students claim Indigenous heritage, or about three per cent of the student body. The hope is to grow that number.
Michael Hart, the university’s vice-provost of Indigenous engagement, hope the songs and videos – including the one on the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage – raise questions and prompt viewers to want to learn more about Indigenous issues and culture.
“It impacts you in terms of having an emotional connection to the pilgrimage,” said Hart, although he hasn’t attended the Lac Ste Anne event personally. “You get a sense of community, a sense of acceptance, and a sense of people coming together to connect in a supportive kind of way.”
“I’ve kind of found a niche in a surprising way through music,” Ginn said. “Most songs take me a long time to write. I get up early in the morning, pick up my guitar, grab a cup of coffee and go down into the basement. My wife will often join me and we’ll think through ideas.”
It took about six to eight weeks to write “Walk with me” along with Carla and a friend who is a singer-songwriter and recording engineer. That process took Ginn back to his pilgrimage visit.
“I’m so aware of so many failures of Canadian governments, provincial and federal, failure of Christian denominations and traditions, in the missionary impulse in forcing religion and in many cases abusing Indigenous communities and individuals,” Ginn said.
“The darker side is in the back of my mind, and then to get to a space where there is a more cooperative spirit, where you have Indigenous pathways and ways of knowing honoured by the Catholic Church in that setting, that was an impression I still have.
“It’s like I was there yesterday seeing it for the first time,” Ginn said. “They’re walking in a good way here and we need to see more of that and hopefully nurture more of that.”
Ginn hopes to visit Lac Ste Anne regularly and – barring COVID-19 restrictions – to attend the pilgrimage in person again next year.