Canadian musical group Digging Roots open up about the importance that comes along with being the recipients of Canadian Music Week’s 2023 Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award.

Ahead of receiving the award on Saturday, June 10 during a special presentation at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle — in recognition of their longstanding commitment to charitable initiatives — the two-time Juno Award-winning husband-wife duo, Sho-Shona Kish and Raven Kanatakta, tell ET Canada how they reacted to the exciting news.

“I thought it was amazing, just given the circumstances of what’s been going on in the country,” Raven told ET Canada’s Jed Tavernier, “because receiving the award is directly related to the findings of all the little children across Canada stemming from the fallout of residential schools.

“So receiving that I think was quite emotional,” she continued, adding that, “It was also powerful because there’s a lot of talk of reconciliation in Canada and not a lot of action. I was sort of viewing this award as the Slate family contributing to that act of being an ally.”

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As part of the award, the Slaight Family Foundation will make a sizable donation towards a charity of Digging Roots choosing — and they’ve chosen to donate equipment to the Indigenous population that has “a tangible impact”. 

“We really wanted there to be some direct action, something that had a tangible impact. And so we talked about purchasing these scanning machines that allow communities to look for their ancestors at residential school sites,” Sho-Shona explained. “That felt like a really powerful thing to make available to communities.”

Digging Roots, who were the first in their families to not have to go to residential school, believe it’s important for Canadians to understand this history so that as a country we can “start seeing the other side.” They emphasize that in order for the “healing process to come together… all of the truth [has to] be known.” Part of that understanding involves comprehending the misconception regarding the timeline of residential schools. 

“The last school closed in 1997, so we have peers that attended residential school and I think we would all be much more comfortable if it was this distant past. But it really is very present,” Sho-Shona told Tavernier. “There are more children in the care of the state now than were ever in residential schools. So I think there continues to be a policy around this that we need to collectively be aware of, because I know people care when they know about it. And I know that we want to, like, dream our best selves together, you know?

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“I think it’s really important to put truth and honesty there for each other so that we can begin that healing work,” he continued. “We need to think about the seven generations before and the seven generations yet to come. I think this is such a powerful and beautiful concept that grounds us in the now in a way that is like this is our moment to lift up the things that have come before us and look to the future and [ask], ‘What do we ourselves want to pass forward?'”

Upon serving as the face of a movement for Indigenous people, Digging Roots said that, as musicians, they’re “sponges” whose ability to raise awareness comes amid being “products of what’s around us.” 

“I grew up on a small reserve, and I’m a reflection of that place and space. Then as we travel the world, you know, we’re influenced by music, food, people, and that all gets sort of clumped together. But I think that at the end of the day, in relation to the humanitarian award, [it] still affects me in a way,” Raven shared, elaborating: “There’s over 10,000 little children that have been found so far, and that’s only 10% of the schools that have actually been surveyed, which is why we wanted to put this forward and really get this out there.

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“I feel that there’s so many families there that are feeling unresolved because they don’t have that connection to those little ones that they lost,” she further explained. “So we’re in an important time right now. And again, I want to lift up the Slate family for stepping forward on this because, as I mentioned earlier, this is a healing process and it’s going to take a long time to go through this.

“I think that as soon as we start moving forward and [taking] these baby steps like we’re doing now, the better it’s going to be for everything,” she added.

In addition to receiving the honourary 2023 Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award, Digging Roots will host the Canadian Live Music Industry Awards on June 9.