• Artist Project

How Deantha Edmunds Weaves Activism into her Work

Mar 31, 2023
by Deantha Edmunds

This article contains a brief mention of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S+). Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by MMIWG2S+ or who may be triggered by content dealing with MMIWG2S+. The national crisis line is 1-844-413-6649. 


In my work as a composer and performer, I don’t just want to create and sing “nice”-sounding songs. I hope my words and melodies will go straight to the listeners’ hearts and make audiences consider how we are walking through this world and who and what we carry with us. I want my work to encourage people to have hope, to feel empowered, to spark change and inspire action.

I’m creating new works to encourage this change in 2023.

Living in St. John’s, NL, I am minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean, and I draw much inspiration from being by the water, gazing at its immensity and hearing the music of its gentle lapping and its lush, fierce waves. 

This aquatic inspiration has led me to create music that reflects the sound of the ocean, in order to address environmental and societal challenges. There is a direct relationship between how we treat Mother Earth’s greatest resource and her life-givers, and only through raising our voices together can we make a difference. 

My father came from Hopedale, on the north coast of Labrador, in Nunatsiavut, NL. Hopedale’s original Inuktitut name is Arvertok, which means the place of whales. As I listen to the ocean, I have been thinking: whales know so much more than us. Ancient knowledge lives within them. Their songs travel far, since sound travels faster in water than in air, and it evolves over time.

Whales know the danger ahead of us, and call to us to take better care of the ocean and its creatures. It is taking so long for humans to acknowledge the damage we have done to the environment and take action. 


âllop nipinga (whale song)
nâla (listen)
nilliatiginnalugu ikKasomilautta! (continue the song on, let us care more)
Carry the song on

These thoughts led me to create Song of the Whale, a combination of soundscapes, spoken word, solo singing and choral singing. [1] I wrote the lyrics and had some translated into Inuttitut by Sophia Tuglavina of Makkovik, Nunatsiavut, NL. I also wrote the melody and a map of how the piece should be performed. I want the people who hear this music to refuse to let what the whales are saying get lost in the ocean, to join their song in calling for respect and reciprocity.

Song of the Whale will premiere in June underneath the skeleton of a blue whale in the atrium of the new Memorial University Core Science Facility, where I will perform with an excellent local high school group, HHM Chamber Choir. A professional music video will be created from the performance with the hope that it will reach a wider audience and inspire action to protect the world’s water.


Iglu selfie in Hopedale, NL, February 2020
© the artist

Beyond the ocean, we are made of water. Women, as lifegivers, carry their babies in water. Water holds memory. The water we drink and use today is the same water our ancestors used, it has been on earth for almost 5 billion years and is continually recycled through the atmosphere. 

These thoughts inspired Angmalukisaa, another water-themed piece that I’m currently putting the final touches on, whose name means “round” in Inuktut. [2] Translated by Inuktut interpreter and translator Mary Nashook, this multi-song cycle has a theme of rings: the rings that tell the age of a tree, the spiral structure of an iglu, concentric sound rings and ripples of water. Angmalukisaa will be premiered at the opening concert “Affairs of the Heart” at the 2023 Stratford Summer Music Festival in Ontario in July.


Within the gnarled trunk,
Ever measuring time.
Steadfast roots, but
Constant looping at its core,
Telling the age of a tree,
Only after it has expired.
Boughs murmuring:
Respect. Reciprocity.
how life circles. 
Iqqaumaluta inuusivut angmalurninganik.
The trees,
Shaped by stars, 
As are we. 
Light incarnate.
Aaqqigtausimyut ullurianut,

Angmaluqsisimajut ippigusutsiarnikkut.
Snow blocks form a dome,
the family winter home. 
Protected from the cold,
We gather ‘round the qulliq,
Encircled in care. 

Sound waves,
Spread out over time. 
Our voices are vibrations.
Kinaup tusaarniaqpaatigut?
Kina naalakpa?
Uqausivut anivut,
Amma pilirisimajavut isuqangittumut akiurniaput.

Aullarami nagliniq siammakpuq
Saqqippuq ilumit
Uummamit pijuq.  
Our love ripples 
Like a teardrop falling onto still water,
Giving the water energy. 
Our love energy travels outward. 
Live it from within. 
Let it rush out, and overflow in waves. 
When strong enough, 
Love will swell 
From the heart, 
And connect to all around. 
Aullarami nagliniq siammakpuq
Saqqippuq ilumit
Uummamit pijuq.  

Angmalukisaa comes from a very personal place, and will speak to how we relate to one another and our planet. I believe that our treatment of the land, the water and each other will reverberate throughout the universe for eons. We can all do more to care for ourselves, one another and our environment. We need our call to action to resonate, reverberate and rebound, a legacy left in honour of our descendants.


Bowhead whale jawbone in Utiaqvik, Alaska, July 2018
© the artist


Chanting, drumming, our serenade,
Our offerings before you laid,
Way down on the ocean floor,
You lie in wait for even more.

Why on earth should you provide?
Betrayed and hurt and lost inside,
And so we lay our thousand, thousand hands
Upon your head, your tangled strands.

Peace and warmth and gratitude,
We aim to soothe your troubled mood.
Unravelling knots with fingers splayed,
Lovingly we start to braid.

Relief washes over one and all,
As Sedna then begins to call,
“My creatures, leave the underworld.
The People’s hunger I have heard.”

Generations, centuries float by,
Twisting through the darkened sky,
The mountains bleed, the glaciers melt,
Our seas and rivers cry for help.

Poison and garbage and women and girls.
Sedna is drowning, her ruined underworld
Dishonored, trashed, tortured and used,
Lied to, betrayed, forgotten, abused.

Why will no one take the blame?
The violators must be named.
Oh Spirit of Truth,
Through tears and smiles,
What will it take to reconcile?

Drop by drop.
Voice by voice.
Turn the tides.
Make the choice.
Waves of compassion.
Ebb and flow.

We adapt, survive, forgive and grow. 

I often think about ancestry and legacy, and how traditional Inuit legends can teach us such valuable and timeless lessons. These legends have been told for thousands of years, passed on from one generations to the next. 

Alongside Angmalukisaa and Song of the Whale, the third piece I am working on right now is Sedna is Drowning, which was initially inspired by the legend of Sedna, Goddess of the Sea. [3] I felt moved to use my voice to shed light on two of the causes that mean the most to me, using a combination of weaving, story and song as a beautiful call to protect the water as well as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S+). 

According to legend, when Sedna’s gifts go unappreciated and are uncared for, and if no honour is given to her with gratitude, then she will withhold the hunt. I wrote a poem set during a time in the near future when we have mistreated Sedna so badly that she is immobile, sunk, lost, powerless. The waters have been polluted, wasted and taken, just like our lost and stolen MMIWG2S+. 

Sedna is Drowning is an intergenerational project. I am collaborating with young Inuk artist Ella Jacque, a prominent student in Nunatsiavut who learned grasswork art from her grandmother. Seagrass weaving has been done for thousands of years and brings to mind the gifts that the ocean gives us. Jacque will teach me and two throat singers, Jennie Williams and Amena Harlick, how to weave, and we will later create a performance piece weaving together our voices in those different styles: classical, contemporary, throat singing and spoken word. That it is a young female Inuk artist who will teach us speaks to Indigenous pride and a hope for change in our caretaking of the water and each other. We will be seeking guidance from Inuk Elder Ellen Ford to ensure that we are working in the right way. This blending of Inuit women artists, all with roots in Nunatsiavut, combines Inuit cultural and musical traditions with contemporary ideas and issues.

My dream for this project is to later make it into a video, filmed by the ocean, with the soundscape of the water rippling among our voices, and featuring some of the seagrass pieces we create. It is my hope that this intergenerational artistic exchange will shine a bright light on the future and encourage others to join us in our call for change. 

Non-Indigenous people need to acknowledge the truth: how terribly Canada has harmed Indigenous peoples, from stripping them of culture and language to abusing their traditional territories and bodies of water to the genocide that is MMIW2S+. Inuit, First Nations and Métis need to raise our voices together to wake people up and change the way we treat each other and our land and water, before it’s too late. 

Indigenous artists have the opportunity to use their work to amplify these messages. I am honoured and grateful to be able to do this kind of work. It is a privilege and a responsibility to have a platform, and it fuels my spirit to share my concerns and to release my emotions and intentions through my singing voice. 

Deantha Edmunds is Canada’s first Inuk professional classical singer, an award-winning writer and performer who aims to use her work to empower Indigenous people and share their stories. She is currently based in St. John’s NL.



[1] Song of the Whale was commissioned by Dr. Jane Liebel, Professor of Voice at Memorial University of Newfoundland School of Music in St. John’s, and is a collaboration with non-Indigenous Newfoundland composer, Bill Brennan.

[2] Angmalukisaa was commissioned by Mark Fewer, Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in Ontario. 

[3] Sedna is Drowning is made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts

This story was made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Suggested Reads

Related Artists