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Kakfwi remembers Last Chance

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 13/06) - Inside a hotel room in Toronto, former NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi is celebrating his 56th birthday, surrounded by his notes.

It's a work trip, as Kakfwi is scheduled to talk and perform at a World Wildlife Fund meeting in his capacity as a life-long activist and Northern ambassador, a retired politician and as an active singer/songwriter.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Stephen Kakfwi performs in Enterprise in September. The former NWT premier releases his new CD, Last Chance Hotel in a couple of weeks. - NNSL file photo

It's the third element that has a News/North reporter calling today, as Kakfwi is preparing to release his second CD, Last Chance Hotel, one year after the success of his first release, 2005's From the Walls of His Mind.

"I guess I'm in the business of singing stories about the North, the people of the North," he says of the direction of his new CD.

Like its predecessor, Last Chance Hotel tells deep, sometimes personal stories, brought to life with Kakfwi's low voice and rumbling acoustic guitar. One of the CD's key stories is about a place from his youth, and serves as the album's namesake.

The 'Hotel' was an empty log house near Grandin college, his residential school in Fort Good Hope. The building served as a hangout for a generation of friends, ne'er do wells and future Northern leaders.

"That's where we had our parties, we drank and we smoked for the first time and we talked about our plans and our dreams," he says. "We came of age, you might say."

As much as the CD is a tribute to the past, it also acknowledges the present and the tragedies that have befallen Fort Good Hope in the last year.

"This summer, Fort Good Hope lost eight people through drowning and five people through a plane crash.

"I'm dedicating this CD to the people of Fort Good Hope and the grandchildren of the North, because they've been through so much."

While grateful for the response his music has earned (more than 300 copies of his upcoming CD are already spoken for), Kakfwi doesn't make a big deal about how his life has changed since retirement. However, he does seem to be enjoying himself.

"Being invited to communities, being invited to speak and sing, sometimes being a part of music festivals - I like that. I'm from the North, I grew up there. I've got things to say and I remember things."

As always, Kakfwi is reserved, but is quick to get his point across - the big stick he learned to wield in his time as an activist and a politician. Kakfwi is never more vibrant than when he is reading his own lyrics, and is prone to breaking into them without warning, such as from his song, Turquoise Painted Horse. "Now he shines like the sun, rising on an eagle's wings/No regrets, no remorse/ He's a red blue golden turquoise painted horse."

He says the song was inspired by a trip to the south Nahanni, as well as the music of a rock legend.

His trip to Toronto isn't all business, as Kakfwi is looking forward to a "treat" on Tuesday night: a performance from Bob Dylan, as he tours his new album, Modern Times. Kakfwi says he used to pore over Dylan's lyrics in issues of Hit Parader in high school, before he had a chance to hear his music.

"When (Modern Times) came out, I drove to Hay River. For the entire five hours on the road, I listened to Thunder on the Mountains.

When I came back, I wrote Turquoise Painted horse."

He says the pieces don't have much in common, though they're "both good songs to drive to. (The song) is about someone who's living the good life, having had a lot of bad things happen."But like he says, no regrets, no remorse."