Menominee artist brings heart and soul to his music

When Wade Fernandez (Menominee) performs at this year's First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Awards ceremony, he knows exactly what the honorees will be feeling.

As a 2010 recipient of the Community Spirit Award, Fernandez still has vivid memories of the night he was honored.

"What I hope—and I know it will happen—is that they are going to go home feeling rejuvenated and strong for their communities," said Fernandez, who will join fellow musical artist Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota) onstage in a unique mash-up between the two artists. Over the past couple of weeks, Fernandez and Waln have been writing a new song for the event.

Fernandez said it will be the first time the two have been able to collaborate during a performance.

"We're hoping to give back what we've been given through our music," he said.

The Community Spirit Awards ceremony, held October 18 at The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis, will also feature performing artists Pua Ali'i 'Ilima with Vicky Holt Takamine, Jennifer Kreisberg, Heid E. Erdrich, Gavino Limón, and the Oneida Smoke Dancers. The honors are given to recognize the exceptional passion, wisdom and purpose the recipients bring to their art and the communities they serve.

Fernandez, an enrolled member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin and an accomplished musician, and music and video producer, is also a fellow of the First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program and a recipient of the Rural Business Enterprise grant. He has spent several years working to preserve the Menominee language by incorporating it in his music.

His performance history is extensive, dating back several decades and includes concerts at Woodstock in 1994 in New York, the Aboriginal People's Choice Awards live on Canadian National TV, and performances in Europe.

Since his partnership with First Peoples Fund, Fernandez has taken a lyric writing, master recording, and music marketing class. He is currently in the middle of creating a Menominee language CD and has continued touring, including a stint back in Europe this past July. He will return to Germany, Switzerland and Austria this fall, taking the stage with one of his five kids.

"All of my kids like music," he said. "They're in different stages of finding their own passions."

Fernandez often has his kids with him on the road, even overseas.

"It is really wonderful to have my children see the world," he said, and even sweeter when they get to be onstage with him. "They're right up there with me, instead of just sitting in the audience."

Several of the projects Fernandez has been involved in have been supported by FPF.

"They have really opened up a lot of doors," he said of his relationship with the organization, which started with his Community Spirit Award. "They remind me to keep going, even when it gets hard. It's increased my network of community-inspired people. The business can sometimes be cold. The First Peoples Fund community brings the heart and soul back to it."

Fernandez said it will be nice to be back in the company of FPF staff and fellow grantees when he attends the ceremony at The Cowles. He still vividly remembers the night he was honored four years ago.

"I felt unworthy," he said. "They had wonderful stories and were wonderful people. It's really opened up a lot of doors to meeting people in Indian country and being inspired by them."