Difference Makers: JB the First Lady spurs reconciliation through hip-hop, activism, and education


Difference Makers: JB the First Lady spurs reconciliation through hip-hop, activism, and education
  1. Difference Makers: JB the First Lady spurs reconciliation through hip-hop, activism, and education
    www.straight.com
    For nearly a decade, Jerilynn Webster has been hitting the stage as one of B.C.’s only female, aboriginal M…
    Music

This weekly column features community-minded Vancouverites that are making a difference at a grassroots level.

For nearly a decade, Jerilynn Webster has been hitting the stage as one of B.C.’s only female, aboriginal MCs. 

Using her voice to uplift indigenous communities and shed light on important issues, the hip-hop and spoken word artist, activist, facilitator, teacher, and single mother is better known as JB the First Lady.

It’s a title she earned in her early beat-boxing days for always being eager to perform first at shows, but she tells the Straight that it’s significant for another reason, too.

“For me personally, it’s a reference to the rightful owners of this land—not the queen, or the president’s wife—but indigenous women,” she says.

Wearing a shirt that bears the word rematriate, a call for indigenous women to stand up against the appropriation of their cultural identities, it’s obvious that Webster is committed in thought, deed, and even her threads, to bringing Canadians closer to reconciliation.

The member of the Nuxalk and Onondaga nations says it was hip-hop that helped empower her to reclaim her own identity, but the path to finding her voice was one fraught with adversity.

As a kid, Webster moved frequently, sometimes facing homelessness, and was often the subject of racism and bullying in the classroom.

In other major Canadian cities she had lived in, she felt invisible, but in Vancouver, she felt ostracized for being visibly indigenous.

“Stereotypes really crushed my belonging and my identity,” said Webster.

“My whole life, I was trying to decide, which is better: to not have an identity at all, or to be stereotyped?”

It wasn’t until she started attending Vancouver’s Aboriginal Friendship Centre as a teenager that she found a connection to her culture through other young people who were on a similar journey. It’s also how she was introduced to hip-hop. 

“I started to connect with these people who were proud of who they were; of where they came from,” she said. “I did feel alone, and very heavy, but I told myself that one day, I would do what those people did for me, for other kids.

“No one should feel like they don’t belong.”

With four studio albums under her belt, including the Indigenous Music Award-winning Indiginized by Enter Tribal, a collaboration album with Chief Rock, Webster sees her songs as a way of capturing oral history, and isn’t afraid to write lyrics that speak to challenging subjects like residential schools and missing and murdered indigenous women.

“In my song, 'We Were Children', I talk about imagining a community with no children. Imagine your child going to residential school,” she says.

In another song, she talks about looking for her missing sister. 

“When you break it down for people like that, racism and stereotypes don’t get in the way, and you can connect to it more,” says Webster. 

“It’s bringing these issues to a level of relationships, instead of race.”

Though music and activism have given her plenty of opportunities to travel, lately, she’s been spending more time using her voice within her own community—more specifically, at Grandview elementary, her son’s school—where she gets to share poetry, spoken word, and traditional singing and drumming with the students there. 

“Our school has, from what I’ve seen, really taken hold of the truth and reconciliation recommendations, and tried to apply them,” says Webster, who, since the release of the TRC report regularly speaks with groups like the B.C. Nurses' Union and the Hospital Employees’ Union about indigenous knowledge and history. 

“I get to talk with not only our First Nations youth, but with our immigrant, refugee, and non-Native communities…

Tags: #JBS
  1. Raz Fresco Reportedly Shot

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.17 / 19:14 exclaim.ca
    Toronto-based rapper and producer Raz Fresco informed followers on social media that he was forced to visit the emergency room early Tuesday morning (January 17), hinting heavily that he had been shot. The BKRSCLB founder broke news of the incident to followers through his Twitter account. "Can't kill me," he wrote at 2:45 a.m. EST before saying he was "In the taxi on the way to the ER smokin this Backwoods blood drippin out my chest, aim better next time." A photo posted through the…
  2. ​Weezer Plot Tour of Western Canada

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.17 / 17:51 exclaim.ca
    Weezer returned with another self-titled album (a.k.a. The White Album) last year, and now the long-running rockers have revealed plans to bring their latest tunes to Canadian fans.   The band will rip through the western provinces this spring, starting in Saskatoon on March 31 and hitting Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Dawson Creek, before wrapping things up in Penticton on April 8.   The full string of dates will feature the Trews and the Flatliners as support.   Tickets for the up…
  3. ​Canadian Screen Awards Announce 2017 Nominees

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.17 / 17:32 exclaim.ca
    The Canadian Screen Awards will return in 2017 to honour the best of Canadian film and television, and the nominees for this year's prizes have just been revealed.   Orphan Black leads in the TV categories, picking up an impressive 14 nominations, while Schitt's Creek earned 13 of its own, and Kim's Convenience snagged 11.   Also among the most honoured titles in TV are Vikings, Letterkenny, The Amazing Race Canada, Mr. D and the special live broadcast of the Tragically Hip's Kingston s…
  4. Sled Island Announces Flying Lotus as Guest Curator for 2017 Edition

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.17 / 17:31 exclaim.ca
    Calgary's annual music, arts and film festival Sled Island is gearing up for its 11th edition this year, and festival organizers have just announced their guest curator for 2017. Revered producer and newly-minted filmmaker Flying Lotus will curate this year's fest, with his curatorial selections joining over 250 additional bands, comedy acts, films and visual art projects in over 35 venues across Calgary. A press release notes that as a guest curator, Flying Lotus will help "set the d…
  5. Jazz was Nat Hentoff’s teacher as well as his chief pleasure, while he gave it both shape and importance

    Canada.com - Music
    01.17 / 15:49 www.canada.com
    Robert Fulford: His close connection with jazz began when he was a teenager and became a friend of Duke Ellington, whom he often called 'my…
  6. Lin-Manuel Miranda Releases Tribute Rap for 'The West Wing'

    Aceshowbiz.com - Music
    01.17 / 10:37 www.aceshowbiz.com
    The 'Hamilton' actor and creator proves himself as 'The West Wing' biggest fan by writing rap lyrics about the drama…
  7. Margot Robbie Is Unrecognizable as Tonya Harding

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.16 / 22:03 exclaim.ca
    Before she revisits her Suicide Squad character Harley Quinn in DC's upcoming Gotham City Sirens, Margot Robbie is hard at work on a biopic about ice skater Tonya Harding. Today, the first images from the film have leaked online and Robbie is downright unrecognizable. Kudos to the makeup and costume department, who have utterly transformed Robbie into the notorious '90s athlete. They've nailed everything, down to the light denim. As previously reported, the film I, Tonya will follow t…
  8. Weezer to play Grey Eagle in Calgary in April

    Canada.com - Music
    01.16 / 22:03 www.canada.com
    American rock group Weezer will be coming to Calgary this spring. The band, best known for songs like Say It Ain’t So, Buddy Holly, Island in the Sun and Hash Pipe, and  announced Monday they will play the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, joined by The Trews and The Flatliners. Pre-sale tickets start Wednesday. General ticket…
  9. Dany Laj and the Looks Unveil New Album 'Alive & Kicking'

    Exclaim.ca - Music
    01.16 / 18:37 exclaim.ca
    Two years on from delivering Word on the Street, Montreal's Dany Laj and the Looks are gearing up for a spirited return to recording and the road this year. Laj and company will release their fourth full-length Alive & Kicking next month. Ten tracks in length, Alive & Kicking was recorded in Montreal and produced by Laj himself. A press release promises the group's "signature power-pop hooks" will be present, particularly on first single "Sweet Pretender." The track will arrive on a 7-in…
  10. Weezer at MTS Centre in April

    Winnipegfreepress.com - Music
    For the first time in their more than 20-year career, Grammy Award-winning indie rock foursome Weezer are coming to Winnipeg. The band is touring in support of their newest record, Weezer (the White Album) — which is their 10th studio album and fourth self-titled album — and…
  11. Let’s talk about... Michael Cunningham's extraterrestrial Bowie collab, gold-rich Prince, and broke ass Chris Brown

    Straight.com - Music
    01.15 / 21:00 www.straight.com
    The Straight presents this week's most talked-about music news with a healthy side of…
  12. Will Donald Trump pump up the punks of America and beyond?

    Straight.com - Music
    01.15 / 20:58 www.straight.com
    If anything good will come out of a spray-tan-orange shitstain taking over the White House, it’s that we’ll finally know once and for all if punk rock is dea…
  13. John Paul White gets back to business on Beulah

    Straight.com - Music
    01.15 / 20:54 www.straight.com
    The former Civil Wars member aims to balance family duties with life as a touring…
  14. The world was changed by the cross-cultural music friendship of Ravel and Gerswhin

    Canada.com - Music
    01.14 / 12:49 www.canada.com
    The surest way to make something popular is to tell people they can’t have it. Or that it’s terrible for them. The Adam and Eve story with the apple has to be considered Exhibit A. Slightly less well known is the story of how Frederick the Great made the potato into a thing: he ordered…