Lawrence Martin credits the teachings he has learned from sacred ceremonies for what he is today and what he has accomplished for his community. He strongly believes in the sweat lodge ceremonies that he practices regularly and acknowledges that it's those teachings that assist him through each day as a politician, musician, healer and curator.
"Traditional ceremonies is just a big part of my life," said Martin, who for the past three years has served as mayor of the town of Cochrane. "It's how I conduct myself as a politician. It's how I conduct myself in my music as I sing my songs and it's how I'm able to go through day to day life by utilizing the teachings from sacred ceremonies."
Martin's term as mayor ends this November, but he's confident he will be re-elected because of what he has achieved for the community.
"I think the chances are good because I can actually prove what we've done here for the community," said Martin.
Up until a few weeks ago, Martin wasn't as sure as he is now. Then a few employees from a couple of hotels in town approached him and asked him if he was planning to run again. They were pleased when he said yes, telling him that, since he's taken office, business in the hotels had increased because of the number of Native people coming to town. Under Martin's leadership, Cochrane has been host to hundreds of First Nations people who have been forced to leave their home communities due to fire and flood.
"I said, 'So I guess my campaign will say, OK, we're going to bring you all of these evacuees,'" said Martin. "We've had four evacuations since I've been here. Now I know what to campaign for."
Martin said he has enjoyed helping out those in dire need. The most recent influx happened in early September, when members from Aroland First Nation sought refuge from the smoke from a forest fire burning near their community. For almost a week, Martin said, he had lunch or dinner with the Elders almost every day.
"The Elders loved it here," said Martin. "They said, 'We like it here but we've gained about 20 pounds because we're eating like three times a day, and when we get home we're going to make a fire in the bush so we could get evacuated again.' It was pretty funny."
One project Martin has been working on as mayor is trying to establish a reserve within Cochrane. He said there has been interest in the idea from community members and the current town council was in favor of looking into the feasibility of such a proposal.
"That initiative is just to strengthen the economy of the community and to form partners with First Nations because there's a lot more activity going on in the traditional territories of First Nations surrounding Cochrane," said Martin.
With diamond, gold and phosphate mines sprouting up in the area surrounding Cochrane, there are a number of opportunities that could open up for the community, Martin said. "So there's a need to be in partnership with First Nations and these businesses."
While this is Martin's first term as mayor of Cochrane, it's far from being his first foray into politics. In 1991 he was elected mayor of Sioux Lookout, making history by becoming the first Native person in Ontario to become a mayor of a municipality. He continued in that post until 1994, then spent four years as a member of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Services, serving and protecting the people of the north as a police officer. In 1998, he was elected as grand chief for the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents 10,000 people in seven First Nation communities in northeastern Ontario.
"I've had a good variety of spices in my life," Martin said.
While he was making political history in 1994, Martin was also making his mark musically, winning the first-ever Juno Award in the Aboriginal music category for his CD, Wapistan.
Martin continues to balance politics and music. He's just released a compilation CD called The Best of Lawrence Martin, featuring 15 songs from his last three album.
"This compilation is just to keep me in the loop for now just until I finish my fourth album," said Martin.
He describes his music as a blend of country mixed with rock, "but in terms of the topic of the songs, it's about the people."
Martin also keeps busy on the home front-he says he has three wives, six biological children and four adopted children.
"Yes, I have two ex-wives but they're all part of the family," said Martin. "I'm not like that guy who got arrested in the States for having 50 wives. It's a Cree thing," he said, laughing.
He and his current wife own and operate Ehkwtek, an art gallery in located in the middle of Cochrane. There is also a tipi and a sweat lodge on site "that you can see from a long ways," Martin said.
Since he first became mayor of Cochrane, Martin has been holding ceremonies for Native residents. Now that word has gotten around town, non-Native community members have also been taking part.
"The ceremonies that I give to the people, whether they're black, white, yellow or red, they come to my lodge, my house, and we conduct those ceremonies there," he said.
At first he had just wanted to educate people about the ceremonies and not actually perform them, but he and his wife found that "we can't really pretend a ceremony, you either do it or don't," Martin said.
"All of a sudden, we're starting to help white people with these physical problems that other Native people would be in here for and lo and behold, these ceremonies apply to the white people just as much it did for our own people," said Martin.
Although there is no fee for the sweat lodge ceremonies, Martin does welcome any donations, which would either go to pay for the operation of the gallery, to pay a fire keeper or to contribute to the cost of a fire permit.
"We're not getting rich from this but it's certainly giving us a good time," said Martin. "It's a fun life and this is what we do, like with the ceremonies and art, because art reflects the culture, the cremonies and teachings. A lot of the art talks exactly about the four direction teachings, seven generations, 13 clan mother teachings. And it's all based on what we do and that's what makes it so fun and easy to do and it doesn't really become work."