Interview: Annie Humphrey / “Decolonize Thanksgiving” Show At The Hook And Ladder
Annie Humphrey is an Anishinaabe singer, songwriter, and environmental activist from Leech Lake in Northern Minnesota. She’s currently on tour in support of her new record The Light In My Bones (stream/purchase) which will come to the Hook & Ladder on 11/24 (tix/info). Humphrey was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her background, new album, and “Decolonizing Thanksgiving” show at the Hook.
More on The Light In My Bones From Annie Humprey:
“The Light In My Bones” was recorded in a lightning-quick live session by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Ani DiFranco) at The Hive in Eau Claire, WI, and produced by multi-instrumentalist and renowned guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Grace Potter). The record features contributions by Bon Iver drummer and vocalist Sean Carey, Minnesota bassist Liz Draper (Iris Dement, Charlie Parr), Warm Springs Nation singer and John Trudell collaborator Quiltman, guitarist Mark Shark, Minneapolis folk singer David Huckfelt, Iranian-born vocalist Aida Shahghasemi and more. The new work features 11 new songs filled to the brim with powerful Earth-first urgency, with Annie’s off-the-grid and off-the-cuff immediacy entwined and elevated by stunning musicianship and lush production.“
RV: You grew up on the Leech Lake reservation – can you tell us a little bit about your path growing up and how it led you to where you are now?
AH: I come from a family of 8. My dad worked for the Indian Health Service and my mom stayed home and took care of us. My dad played guitar and sang old country songs in the evenings. He sounded just like Johnny Cash. My mom is a poet, writer, visual artist and activist. Put these things together and you get a singer/songwriter/activist/artist!
RV: Your press release includes a great John Trudell quote: “When one lives in a society where people can no longer rely on institutions to tell them the truth, the truth must come from culture and art.” Can you tell us how this ‘telling the truth’ intersects with and informs your artistic process?
AH: I think that the people believe the lie. Think about it. You go to work everyday, maybe you take family vacations to spend time together, but you don’t eat at the dinner table. Maybe you worry about your retirement or who will take care of you when you can’t do it yourself. Maybe you believe. Maybe you have forgotten to use your own intelligence, because once you believe, you stop thinking for yourself. I think that art and culture need to help tell a truth, whatever it is. I write my own truth. I write about what I think is right or wrong. I think that there is good in people. I only speak for myself. That is the cool thing about art. It’s self expression, man.
RV: It feels like we’re starting to hear indigenous voices and stories in popular culture more – I am thinking of examples like Killers of the Flower Moon, Reservation Dogs, Joe Rainey’s internationally acclaimed album Niineta, for just a few recent examples. I am curious if you have an opinion on what this means for the kinds of activism you have been working for? Is it helping raise awareness and in turn, contribute to change? Is it too soon to tell?
AH: Activism in Indian Country has been going on for many years. Your question may be directed at non-native folks. I have been living inside an activist culture since I was born. My parents did a great job of helping me keep my identity as an Earth/power connected being intact. So when my dear friend John Trudell came into my life, he was saying things I knew as a 9, 10 year old child. It was the first time I heard someone speak the words. Change happens inside a persons head. That is where it can begin. Not in actions. In your head
RV: In your current tour there is a real emphasis on community engagement and social action (including several benefit concerts as well as activities by local non-profit Honor The Earth). Can you tell us a bit more about this? What might people expect in this regard at your upcoming 11/24 Hook and Ladder show?
AH: There is a real emphasis on community/art and relationship building. Honor The Earth is going through a big change. That is all I will say about that. The tour stop at Hook and Ladder is happening on Black Friday, the day after Thankstaking. It is an action about decolonizing. Come to the show and we can talk more about change that must take place in your head in order to understand what my truth is and then you agree or disagree. Putting on a show on Black Friday isn’t decolonizing. It is a vehicle to get people to ride in on to hear about a new/ancient perspective. Does that make any sense at all? I give myself a headache sometimes.
RV: Can you tell us a bit about your recently released record The Light In My Bones?
AH: The Light In My Bones is what the word “Wisdom” translates to in Ojibwemowin. The cover of the record is a photo of me squatting, eating with my fingers. What you may not consider is that I am in the bush. I am not sitting on a chair, I don’t have a fork. I am eating wild rice that was cooked in the bush. I gathered that rice the fall before. Behind me is the roof structure my dad taught me to build, using no fasteners or rope. We are boiling sap to make our maple syrup for the year. It’s all wisdom and life. It is not a hands-on cultural demonstration. It is in my bones. I been gathering my light for 57 years.
RV: The tour ends at the end of the month – what comes next?
AH: After the tour has ended, I will be holding information meetings on my Rez about building with Hemp. I am in cahoots with Daniel Desjarlait from Lower Sioux. He is the Hemp Construction Project Manager down there. During covid, I returned to college and took up carpentry. I wanted to look into building sustainably and saw a youtube video that showed a house being insulated using hurd (hemp product). I was homeless with my children back in 2000ish. We are in a housing crisis on the Rez. Actually the state is in a housing crisis. I just heard on MPR that veterans are being foreclosed on because the VA won’t honor the 6 month grace period vets were given during covid to make payments on their loans. These are loans that are guaranteed when you separate from whatever military branch you served in. I got a certificate for a VA loan when I separated from the Marine Corp in 1994. It was for $38,000.00. I was very pregnant when I separated. I got out and went to live with my Grandma in Cass Lake. I knew I had to get a place before my baby came. I took my VA guaranteed home loan certificate to a bank and sat down with a loan officer. He apologized to me saying, he couldn’t approve a loan for this amount because I didn’t earn enough money and my credit history wasn’t good. He got up and opened his office door and thanked me for my service. So my pregnant ass filled out section 8 apartment applications saying I was homeless (I sorta was) and got a ghetto apartment just in time to deliver my son. Sorry, I was very thankful to get my own place.
I want to build affordable homes for people who are in need of a house to make a home for themselves and their babies. They can be poor. I need to figure it all out because it takes money and intelligence and heart and work and love and sometimes all of those things are hard to gather up into one spot.