APTN National News
Stephanie Harpe has come through a lot of hardships to become the award-winning singer/songwriter and actress that she is today.
At one point in her life she seemed destined to join the far too many missing and missing Indigenous women and girls, she said.
Harpe said she wants to share her story to let others know there’s a way out of pain.
“If I can come into a place of peace, I need to share this with others because they need it as well.”
Harpe, 40, said she used to hang out on the streets of Edmonton using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with childhood trauma.
The cycle started before she was born when her mother was sent to residential school and became “broken” from it. It affected how her mother treated her and her brother.
“I was raised in an unpredictable home. I had anxiety at an early age. There were a lot of traumatic things that happened,” recalled Harpe.
Then at age 10, she was also taken to a residential school in Edmonton. When she was separated from her little brother she said it took a priest and two nuns to pry her away from him.
“I experienced abuse there that I tend to block it out. There were beatings, food forced down my throat. I somehow buried those memories so deep away I can’t remember exactly what they were,” she said.
At one point while living in Fort McMurray with her family after her father took her out of residential school, Harpe said she found solace in music.
After joining a choir she was singled out by a teacher and began singing solos.
She said she fell in love with music and singing but it soon took a backseat to trouble calling into her teen years.
She began numbing the chaos and confusion of her upbringing with drugs and alcohol and running around on the streets of Edmonton.
But Harpe said soon the reckless fun turned into a nightmare.
She said she and her friends shouldn’t have been on the streets.
They were a group of kids with similar backgrounds just trying to cope in the big, bad world.
“We didn’t belong out there. We weren’t hardened. We were just surviving and dealing with pain,” she said.
At home, she and her mother’s relationship strained from the ongoing dysfunction and the two often engaged in fist fights.
She said sometimes they would party together, that is how they knew how best to relate.
But tragedy struck when her mother was killed in 1999. Harper was 22.
Harpe said her mother was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her, but the police never took her claims seriously.
“The guy got away with it. There was not enough evidence to convict him,” she said.
She said her mother died of trauma to her head.
“He took her somewhere around the area and took her to the top of some stairs, hit her in the head and pushed her down the stairs (where she was found,” said Harpe who added that police treated her mother like “just another drunken Indian who fell down the stairs.”
It felt like a punch to the gut, she said. She took off drinking and partying even harder to deal with the loss.
“As an Indigenous woman I felt disposable, not important,” Harpe said.
After a few years felt the pull to get back into music and while doing so met her husband Jeff. The two decided they wanted a better life and got sober together. Harpe said she’s now been sober for 16 years.
She also received counseling and said it changed her life.
“I’m at peace. I’m happy. I have a lot of answers now. I’ve developed a lot of tools and broke the dysfunctional cycle,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I had a self-realization that I can start loving myself, that I wanted to start living. I was able to discover love and that I was worthy of it.”
She became a songwriter and released her first album in 2005. Pursuing music was a healing journey that helped set her free, she said.
“Music helped me to work through some of my pain. The music was healing me. Everything I was writing was so dark and so painful and I was letting it out of me through song.”
Harpe describes her music as “rock variety” and said she is influenced by rock, blues, folk and a little bit of country.
Years later and having performed on the same stage as Trooper, Buckcherry, Streetheart, Tanya Tucker, Dwight Yoakam and Colin James to name a few, Harpe has released three albums.
Her single Rezz Rock is nominated for Indigenous recording of the year with the Edmonton Music Awards 2017.
And her album Stephanie Harpe Experience has been picked up by Serius Sattelite Radio for play around the world, she said.
She penned a song called Colours of My Life for her mother and other missing and murdered Indigenous girls.
“If we’ve (Indigenous women) survived all this abuse for so long then I take pride and strength that we are still here,” she said. “I want to bring awareness and to not have them forgotten. And I’ve survived it.”
On Friday Harpe was awarded for her work in the arts at the 22nd annual Esquao Awards in Edmonton. An organization run by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.
“I’m honoured. It’s wonderful to see this because there’s not enough positive stories of our people. It’s more important right now in this point in history to band together,” she said. “We all have a responsibility and have a
resolution inside of us for what we’ve endured and what we’ve survived. I’m looking forward to the next 150 years of the strong, healed, happy Indigenous protectors that live within all of us.”
Harpe is also an actress having played Rita on the TV series Blackstone and plays a woman struggling to overcome addiction in the upcoming indie film Land directed by Babak Jalali.
She is the mother of three children and calls Edmonton her home.