Singer Elijah Picard-Hervieux’s Innu language at the heart of his music – 2017 North American Indigenous Games

For Elijah Picard-Hervieux, music has been the path to everything — his language, his culture, his voice.

It’s now taking the 18 year-old singer-songwriter to the North American Indigenous Games.

“Music allows me to get it all out,” said Picard-Hervieux, who is attending the Games as a cultural delegate. “Sometimes I have a hard time to express myself and socialize with people.”

Picard-Hervieux, left, and his grandfather Mitchell, right, have started performing together. (Courtesy Kim Picard)

The Games are the largest sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous peoples across North America and bring together more than 5,000 participants and 2,000 volunteers.

“Nass apu tsheldeman tshekuan nepa issishuan” is Innu, meaning, “I really don’t know what to say.”

It is also part of the chorus of a song Picard-Hervieux’s will feature in Toronto, called Nitinniun (My Life), written in French and Innu.

Picard-Hervieux comes by his love of music and performing honestly. He is the grandson of Willy Mitchell, an Algonquin musician who formed the Desert River Band, popular in the 1970’s and co-organized the 1980 Sweet Grass festival in Val-d’Or, Que.

The recording of that concert was included on the compilation Native North America: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016.

“My grandfather is really a nomad,” said Picard-Hervieux, who has started performing together with him. “Every time I see him, he tells me stories and I learn a little about his knowledge.”

Roots in Innu community

Picard-Hervieux grew up in Montreal and then Quebec City, far from his roots in the Innu community of Pessamit, Que., on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 650 kilometres downstream from Montreal. It was his mother, fashion designer Kim Picard, who made sure he stayed connected to his language and culture.

“I always tried to speak our language when it was just me and him,” said Picard. “It was quite a…

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