A Dene musician from the Northwest Territories says her Juno award win Friday night comes amid a "difficult year" and that it's "really beautiful" to be recognized by her peers.
Leela Gilday was named winner in the Indigenous artist or group of the year category during the opening night gala — which featured 37 of the 43 Juno award presentations.
"I feel very grateful and very honoured," she told CBC News on Saturday. "It means the music I'm making, even at this point in my career, five albums in, is still speaking to people and resonating with people. The stories I'm telling them are still impacting people."
Asked how she writes music that reaches others, Gilday said she's not necessarily thinking about what will have an impact — but what is true to her.
"It's mostly … what resonates with me, what my heart is speaking, what are the important stories I need to tell at this time, and I try to tell them as authentically as I can."
Gilday described North Star Calling, the album for which she earned the award, as her "most vulnerable" album yet.
She was also nominated for the contemporary roots album of the year award, which went to Rose Cousins.
"She has made such a beautiful record," said Gilday. "It sounds so cliché to say I was honoured just to be nominated, but I truly was. It was an amazing group of people to stand with."
The 2021 Juno Awards are taking place virtually because of the pandemic.
Gilday said she's hopeful a digital component will accompany live, in-person performances and gatherings in the future because it makes it more accessible for people, especially in the North.
"When the Juno awards are in person, you're only allowed to bring two people with you" to the ceremony, she said. But this time, she was able to celebrate with her immediate family and her parents.
"We all dressed up and made a special meal, and then I logged onto the Zoom room with all the other nominees prior to the category being announced," she said. "My husband and I, my brother and my mom were standing with me too — we all just jumped for joy."
As for her plans for the future, Gilday said she's working on a duo show with her brother, Jay Gilday. She's also working on a record entirely in the Dene language with other collaborators.
"It's always been a dream of mine to write a whole body of work in Dene Ke," she said. "That's been quite an emotional and incredible process, and I look forward to sharing those songs with people when the record is ready."
This is Gilday's second Juno — she won aboriginal recording of the year in 2007 for her second album, Sedzé.
North Star Calling has also earned Gilday a Canadian Folk Music Award.
You can watch The 2021 Juno Awards on Sunday 6 p.m. MT on CBC-TV, or tune in via CBCmusic.ca/junos, CBC Music Facebook, CBC Music Twitter, CBC Music YouTube, CBC Music TikTok, CBC.ca/listen and CBC Gem.