BY SONIA WEST
Orene Askew grew up on the Squamish Nation Reserve. An Afro-Indigenous, she has faced adversity and confusion growing up because she is not your typical-looking indigenous woman, for she looks black. A politician and serving as a Squamish Nation elected Councillor, a motivational speaker, inspiring youths across the country with her story about being resilient, sharing a life-changing event, and her challenges of being mixed race. She is the youngest of 4 from a large family that includes 10 grandchildren.
“The Squamish Nation is a matriarchal society that holds women up.” She admires the women that gave her the strength she exhibits today.
“My mother was a single mom, and my aunt and grandmother would also help. She recalls her mother’s strength, “I saw my mom struggle and work every job to support us as a single mom. I think I have that work ethic from watching her. She worked as a first nations support worker for the North Vancouver school board for 30 years.”
“While my friends were outside playing, I was inside transcribing lyrics from TLC, SWV. My mom was always playing Motown. I remember seeing her vinyl records of Chaka khan, Rick James.” Coming from a diverse background but relatable for every single person, she states, “I have a deeper connection with music. The drumbeat is the beat of your mom’s heart when you’re in the womb. Its comfort, music brings us together, it connects us.”
Orene Askew, a.k.a., DJ O Show, started her business 9 years ago with the help of a small business grant from the Squamish Nation. Making her name in a male-dominated industry, she landed her first gig at a bar called Speakeasy on Granville St. On Nov 3, 2012, I got home from a late-night gig. Her house was involved in a fire. She rescued her DJ gear, kicking down doors drawing upon her superpowers.
“My safety plan was getting my DJ gear.” she laughs. This catastrophic event would change her life and her focus and propel her towards a higher purpose. She saw this as a sign to give more to her community to share her story. She quickly became well sought after to speak to Indigenous youth across the country about her resilience and her following her dreams as an Indigenous woman of mixed race.
“Representation is needed because when I was growing up, I never saw anyone like me. We need representation in the media and in leadership because there are people out there who are like me, watching. I want to be someone that they can relate to because I know what it’s like not to have someone to relate to in leadership.”
This is her final year at Squamish Nation Council, whose newest venture is making a music video for a hip hop track that has been mastered, entitled, Status and Clarity. She is the subject of a documentary in production right now. Cameras capture her every move from motivational speaking to DJing in a 20 min documentary, capturing her being indigenous, black, and her spirit in music. The documentary is called “The O show.”