Singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume finds her roots

Musician uses new album to explore Anishinaabe heritage

Amanda Rheaume.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Beth Canavanaugh

Amanda Rheaume hated singing. Now, it’s her strongest connection to the family she never met. 

Over the last decade, Rheaume has established herself in Canadian music in a variety of genres. Ranging from country to Americana roots pop, Rheaume’s voice has a folksy soft crackle that makes for smooth, easy listening. 

In her new album, The Skin I’m In, Rheaume explores her roots through stories she’s recovered about a family she never got the chance to meet. 

Playing at Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, ON in 2017, she met a man named Rob, who owned Cherob Resort, where she was staying. He recognized her last name and mentioned that he grew up with her great grandfather Gerald, a man Rheaume never met herself. 

The resort owner offered her a new opportunity to learn about where she came from. It was overwhelming, and Rheaume ended up waiting until the following summer to take advantage and listen to his stories.

“I went back a year later [in 2018] and I brought a recorder, rented a cabin, then got Rob and his brothers to tell me all the things they could remember. They took me out on a boat and to Gerald’s hunting cabin and all the places I never would’ve seen if I never played that festival,” Rheaume told The Journal. 

Hearing about her great grandfather’s life gave her insight into Anishinaabe culture and the side of her family thatshe’d never known. 

Her great grandmother had been sent away from Gerald when she was young. The decision was meant to offer her a “better life,” but resulted in Rheaume growing up completely disconnected from her culture.  

Now, Rheaume uses her music to process what she’s learned about her distant relatives, and her great grandmother’s original home. She explores themes of identity through her music, especially in her most recent album, The Skin I’m In. 

“Connecting back with Anishnaabe culture and ways of life is an ongoing process for me. I grew up in Barrhaven, a suburb in Ottawa,” Rheaume said. “I grew up really white and with no complaints at all, I just didn’t have to deal with things that a lot of Indigenous people have to deal with.” 

She said her music helps her to uncover that identity for herself and learn more every day. 

The Skin I’m In has nine songs, one of them being the title track which Rheaume hopes inspires others to explore their own identity the way she has over these last few years. 

She’s reflected and worked hard to feel more comfortable in her own skin, shedding her insecurities. 

“It’s [music] about loving yourself, and then hopefully encouraging others to do that as well,” Rheaume said. “It’s about becoming comfortable with who I am, and all the different facets that make up me.” 

One thing Rheaume has learned through this journey is that people don’t have to look or act a certain way to be who they are. 

“I wanted to raise awareness about body norms, gender norms, sexuality norms, all these societal norms that I think we all feel like we have to fit into. If you’re an Indigenous person you look this way, if you’re a woman you look this way, if you’re trans, you look that way.” 

“So I wanted to do something that brought awareness to the fact that we don’t have to look one way if we identify in one way,” Rheaume said. 

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