D&W Spotlight: Iron Nation - Past, Present & Future

(Artwork Credit: Mike Desjarlais)

Welcome to the Dancers and Warriors Spotlight where we celebrate the people that promote and protect our traditions and way of life. These features will be recurring on a monthly basis. In this inaugural feature we are going to shine the spotlight on the drum group known as “Iron Nation”.

Remember the last Pow-Wow you attended. You parked your vehicle and grabbed your lawn chair from the back. It was a sunny day; you could feel the warmth on your skin. You begin to walk by the rows of vehicles, each step getting you closer and closer to the arbor. The smell of leather, campfire and food vendors fill the air. You hear it, it gets louder with every step. You feel the pride begin to swell inside and you start to land your steps with every beat. It’s the heartbeat you are hearing and feeling, the heartbeat of mother earth. 

Iron Nation proudly represents Big River First Nation from Treaty No. 6 territory. The group was formed in 2016 and was inspired by “The Red Bull Singers”. Their name comes from oral tradition, it can be found in their CD liner and reads: Long ago, Elders from many different Nations envisioned the resurgence of a traditional alliance between the Cree, Saulteaux and Assiniboine peoples to be known as Iron Nation.

The lead, Bobby Rainey and his brother Sheldon started the group. They learned to sing by listening to a tape recorder. Bobby and his brothers would listen to tape over and over while practicing and developing their skills. As the lead Rainey has a lot of responsibility, he is the one calling out the songs and leading the rhythm. When they’re not singing, he is scheduling practices, teaching new singers, admin work and driving duties. Iron Nation started its drumming journey by preforming gigs in the cities and smaller communities. Iron Nation is made up of Bobby Rainey(lead), Sheldon Weenonis, Brent Ahenakew, Clayton Keenatch, Nipin Almightyvoice, Theron Almightyvoice and Brian Bear.

The life of a singer must be challenging, countless hours on the road, fast food, unknown sleeping arrangements, being away from family and little privacy. However, being part of a drum group is special, you get close to a group of men and women who become family. The shared experiences, inside jokes, nicknames and stories solidify their friendships. One story from the Pow-Wow trail that Bobby shared was while they were travelling through Alberta. They were heading to a Pow-Wow and stopped along the way to purchase a roof-rack carrier for their luggage. After the carrier was attached and the luggage was loaded, Bobby began to drive. After a short while driving, Bobby didn’t see his nephew and immediately thought they left him at their last stop. Bobby asked where his nephew was, and all the boys began to laugh. He knew they were up to something, so he stopped the vehicle. Once stopped he could hear knocking, it was his nephew knocking from the carrier. They got him down and they all had a good laugh. It’s all those hours spent together in a vehicle passing the time with stories and laughter that create a deep bond.

Along the way Iron Nation has had many iterations with lineup changes and some founding members moving on to pursue other opportunities or being unable to hit the trail due to life’s responsibilities. It has always been Bobby and his brother that have been the constant, choosing to grow the group and make Iron Nation what it is today. Bobby hopes that in the future his nephews will carry on the tradition and continue with the drum group. He hopes that Iron Nation will bring good music to the people for years to come.

Presently, Iron Nation can be found at Pow-Wows in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The group released a CD in 2020 called “Iron Nation - Past and Present”. Show the group some love and check out their CD. The CD can be purchased at the SICC online store. https://store.sicc.sk.ca/collections/audio-cds/products/iron-nation-past-and-present-cree  

If you would like to get in touch with Iron Nation contact Bobby Rainey on Facebook.