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Cody Coyote is a hip-hop artist, radio host, motivational speaker and advocate from Ottawa. He is of is of Ojibwe/Irish descent with ancestry from Matachewan First Nation. Cody has been active in the music industry for the past five years and has been nominated for many awards. He travels across Canada and the United States extensively to perform and facilitate motivational workshops. We were able to catch up with him to talk about mental health, recovery, music and much more!
If I had to narrow things down to who my biggest musical influences are I would certainly say Litefoot for starters because he allowed me to realize that there was a place for Indigenous people in Hip-Hop and has been influential to me as a leader who also does public speaking. Another person who has been influential for me is Common because of his activism and powerful lyricism.
I’m not going to lie, the journey wasn’t easy and it’s hard not to give a lengthy answer to that question. As someone who is an intergenerational survivor of child welfare and grew up with little knowledge of his culture resulting in loss of cultural identity I felt very lost. The fact that I had been bullied in school for having long hair and for the way I looked didn’t help matters either. After facing racism and bullying I began drinking as a coping mechanism.
It was hard enough when the boys in school would bully me but when the girls would bully me it lead to feelings that were far more embarrassing. Being called “ugly” made me feel worthless and made me extremely uncomfortable with the way I looked, which is something I carried for quite some time after enduring those experiences. After completion of high school, this resulted in me feeling a huge loss of self confidence and using steroids to try and feel better about my outer appearance.
During this time of my life I was very angry and lost and found myself hanging out with the wrong crowd who nurtured that. I found acceptance in a gang in Ottawa’s east end which brought me down a path of violence, partying, crime and self destruction. There is no simplistic way of describing how I got away from that lifestyle because the reality is that I received numerous threats, my family had been threatened and looking over my shoulder while walking on city streets became a norm for me.
From living this lifestyle I felt trapped and after a night of drinking and having an argument one night with someone while under the influence of alcohol, I was told to “Go kill myself”. This has lead to me going to a remote location alone, breaking windows to a nearby window and a suicide attempt. Still to this day I don’t know how my brother knew where I was but he had shown up and prevented me from being successful in my attempt. The morning after the police had arrived to charge me with mischief under $5000.00 and had also brought me to the hospital because I was still feeling a mix of negative emotions. Being able to get up and walk out of the hospital after meeting with a therapist allowed me to understand that there is much needed help in the Canadian healthcare system in regards to how they treat Indigenous people.
After I was charged, I had gone through a diversion program at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and was the first to complete the program. Having previous charges as a youth I had gone through the regular probation program which was solely based on completing community service hours and had no support for mental health. While being involved with the diversion program at Odawa, I was brought into a healing circle where I was able to poor my heart out and finally be heard. This lead to me going to my first sweat lodge and being exposed to Indigenous culture, traditions, teachings and ceremony.
I continued on the path of going to ceremony and have been able to add positive tools to my “tool belt”. With this mino bimaadiziwin means to live in a good way, to love myself and those around me, to forgive myself and those who have hurt me and to continue to understand those who are suffering. Mino bimaadiziwin for me means to live the best life that I can live and to be remembered for the good that I can do in this world.
While many people aren’t ready to openly talk about their experiences with negative body image and steroid use, I have come to a place of understanding that with vulnerability comes strength and with this I hope to help others who have faced or are facing similar challenges that I have. As a young Indigenous man unfortunately growing up in a patriarchal, colonial Canadian society that has toxic masculinity deeply embedded within it, I faced many experiences that lead to me feeling like I wasn’t allowed to show my emotions, to have to look a certain way to be accepted and if I wasn’t ready to be the stereotypical average male then I wouldn’t have a place in this world.
With this life journey I have come to know what self love is and have gone from a place of not being happy with the person I see in the mirror to loving the man I see when I look into one now. If I was able to have a conversation with a guy who is struggling with his body image, I would tell them that Gitchie Manidoo (The Great Spirit) only created one of them in a very unique, special and beautiful way. With that they don’t have to change their image or who they are for anyone other than themselves if they wish. I would let them know that if we’ve been hurt by the opinions and voices of others in regards to our body image, to ignore them to the best of their abilities. Self love may take time but even if it starts by looking in the mirror and saying “I love you” to the person you see in the reflection it will come and when it does, it will be the most uplifting experience and will allow the way we view ourselves to be displayed in a beautiful new lense.
As mentioned previously I first connected to ceremony through the diversion program I was in and since then I have continued going to sweat lodge. Having access to my culture now and being able to learn teachings, my language and to go to sweat lodge has been a huge support for me. These are all things that I grew up without, due to my father being adopted in the 60’s, but having to been able to begin reclaiming that I feel that having my culture as a support has been a vital part in my recovery and I am now in a place where I can pass down and pass up the knowledge that I have learned to my family.
Knowing that with suffering comes healing, when I’m in a sweat I go there to pray and let go of any negatives I have been holding onto. When I go to pow wow grounds, I dance for myself and focus on the drum as it represents the heartbeat we have inside of us, reminding myself to give thanks for this gift of life. When it comes to recovery, self care practices are a must and learning more about my culture has been a strong one for me.
While learning how to deal with strong emotions my coping strategies became (1) writing my thoughts down through poems and lyrics, (2) going for walks and (3) exercising regularly. These three strategies are still my go tos if I’m ever feeling upset and having them in my head helps but sometimes writing them down and putting them somewhere visible helps as well.
At times it is very difficult to be the bigger person and to rise above the hate that people in this world can dish out. I’ve seen it from a spectrum of being an Indigenous person in Canada and undoubtedly there are days where I feel like I am so angry because I just can’t take it anymore. Knowing that my father experienced racism growing up and that I have as well makes those feelings of being upset amplify at times as well.
I think when it comes to giving advice, the more we speak our truth and utilize our voices, the more we will see change. Challenging direct racism, systemic racism and racial narratives does not need to happen alone and I feel in order to start doing so we need to call out racism when we witness it happening.
For coping strategies I know everyone has their own way to do so but in hopes to inspire others to find theirs, I know what worked for me was utilizing my keep safe’s of writing down my thoughts, going for a walk or going to the gym when able to. Doing these three things allowed me to (1) express how I was feeling, (2) take a breather and to clear my head when needed and (3) to physically push out the anger I was holding onto.
There is a lot in the works for me right now which I am both super excited and grateful for! On August 7, 2019 I will be releasing a new single entitled “Manidoo Dewe’igan” which means “Spirit Drum” in Anishinaabemowin and it will be off of my upcoming album “Ma’iinganag” which is set to be released on August 17th, 2019 and will be available on all platforms. “Ma’iinganag” means “Wolves” in Anishinaabemowin and with that, this album will focus on the teaching of the good and bad wolf that we all have inside of us. Lastly, a music video is currently in the works for another song off of “Ma’iinganag” entitled “Chitter Chat” which was filmed in various locations of Los Angeles California, USA and San Bernardino, California USA
Photo by Ilaria Zuzak
mindyourmind speaks with advocates, authors, musicians, athletes and other people about their own opinions and life experiences.