A Conversation With Annie Humphrey

Equity coverage is supported by underwriting from African American Leadership Forum

Annie Humphrey (Ojibwe) is a grandmother, mother, singer, songwriter, and visual artist who was born and raised on the Leech Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota. She has been recording work for three decades and was named Artist of the Year at the 2018 Native American Music Awards. Her latest album, “Eat What You Kill,” was released in 2019. It is a meditation on accountability and gratitude.

Q: What are you currently working on? 

My family and I are getting ready for sugar bush right now. Music is a small part of my life compared to the rest of the work I do with my family year-round. I am live streaming some music. I recently finished a new record. 

I did some life shifting in 2018. I was in a car accident and broke my left wrist. At the time, I was doing activism work opposing the Line 3 pipeline. I was organizing here at Leech Lake. Looking back, this work took me out of balance. As my good friend John Trudell said, “When one lives in a society where people can no longer rely on the institutions to tell them the truth, the truth must come from culture and art.” 

After the accident, I stepped back and went back to songwriting. “Eat What You Kill” is the title of my record that came out in November 2019. I want this record to be a direction for my children and grandchildren. I sing, “show your babies all I know, live by the stories my mother told.” I am passing down stories and a way of life. One of my songs, “Heart Beyond Song,” is about being accountable for the things we say and don’t say. It is about how we should do more apologizing and be more accountable. 

Right now, I am feeling a need to be more in a survival mode, to help my family, with knowledge passed down. 

Q: What do you see for yourself in the future?

My first big contract [came when] I was working on a compilation and someone sent it to a record label. I started playing in coffee shops for two hours at a time, for tips, in Grand Forks. I was a college student, with a baby and toddler. I was interested in welfare reform because I had a hard time getting daycare. 

Regarding my work today, I have more songs I will finish. I don’t have a plan in the music field. I’ve never marketed aggressively. I just plan to keep writing and playing.

Q:  What do you see for Native women, for women, and for the future in general?

My mother and father taught me to be strong. My father was very knowledgeable about ricing, sugar bush, netting. That is where my passion for environment and social justice came from, my parents. 

For the women in my family, my daughters know how to be self-sufficient. They know how to run a chainsaw. They know how to work. The European concept of being a woman is not ours. Physically, the women in my family know they can do all kinds of things. 

One of my songs, “Now She Dances,” is about sexual assault. The song is also about climate change. I think the way women are treated, and the way the earth is treated, are the same.  

Watch Annie Humphrey talk about her 2019 release, “Eat What You Kill.”

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