I celebrate who I am, Akwesasne singer-songwriter charts his punishing path

doyle deanI celebrate who I am, Akwesasne singer-songwriter charts his punishing path

He was a star athlete in high school with professional prospects. But years of alcohol abuse and life on the streets followed. A chance encounter at a halfway house led to the musical creation and career he now has. But even after decades in the business, and a few NAMMY Awards, he is still getting used to his role as an artist.

I spoke with Atsiaktonkie (pronounced: ah-gee-ach-DOOn-geh) in the spring of this year. He’s excited about his band’s new album December Wind (produced by the legendary Keith Secola) and he told me that he was ready to do more, that he had written about sixty songs since the beginning of the year. He added that his path was not straight, but it led him to know now who he is and why he is here. (This piece first aired in March 2022).

Please press the play button above to to listen Atsiaktonkie’s lyrics and music.

Atsiaktonkie with guitar. Photo: Evan Lauber.

Atsiaktonkie: A true warrior is a warrior who comes into himself and fights himself. And when he comes out, he can look anyone straight in the eye with compassion and kindness, because he already comes from darkness.

Doyle Dean: Take me back, when did you start playing music? When did you get the call?

ATSIAKTONKIE: I think I always had it. I just ignored it because I was a real top athlete when I was young. Hockey was my thing, hockey and boxing, and pretty much every sport I played. For me it was simple. I drank all the time. I was a party animal, you know, and it was just cool to party all the time. And I drank a gallon of rum a day, a case of beer a day, and four packs of cigarettes. It was crazy. And the DTs (delect tremors alcohol withdrawal), bad, you know. It was almost as if I had to drink or I would be dead. So I lived a long time in this world. And believe me, it wasn’t fun.

You know, I was like on the streets wondering what I was going to do with my life because I had ruined a boxing career and a hockey career, NHL and everything. I was in a halfway house. And I met this guy who later became my lead guitarist. I decided to get into music because I always heard music in my head. And it turns out that everyone who came to the table was born in December. That’s why we created December Wind.

DEAN: How old were you when it happened?

ATSIAKTONKIE: I was much younger than those guys. I was in my twenties. And six months later, I had a recording contract. And I could barely play the guitar

A Medicine Man said the music wasn’t ours. He said it’s the ancestors, who use us as a tool for the world to hear the music. ‘Cause I’m like, I was an athlete, man. And all of a sudden I’m acting, writing songs and making music. It was weird.

DEAN: Is it still weird?

ATSIAKTONKIE: When I talk about that, yeah (laughs).

DEAN: What does it mean to be a big boy?

ATSIAKTONKIE: Being a big boy means I face myself. And I came to realize, hey, “I’m supposed to be that.” And it’s like, wow, I’m a big boy. It doesn’t matter if I discover it at twelve, twenty, eighty, ninety, there is no age limit. But when I find out, you have to celebrate who I am.

December Wind Studio Crew, (clockwise from selfie) Atsiaktonkie (vocals, guitar), Terry Terrance (bass), Rich Mattson (engineer, guitar, cello), Keith Secola (producer), Chris Petrack (drums).  Photo: Atsiaktonkie.

December Wind Studio Crew, (clockwise from selfie) Atsiaktonkie (vocals, guitar), Terry Terrance (bass), Rich Mattson (engineer, guitar, cello), Keith Secola (producer), Chris Petrack (drums). Photo: Atsiaktonkie.

Learn more about december wind. Check out the lyric video for “Imma Big Boy” (below).

Atsiaktonkie would like to thank George Strong of Bois Forte Tribal Community Radio KBFT 89.9fmto Nett Lake, Minnesota for all their help with the new album due out this summer.

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