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3-time world champion powwow singer dies, leaves legacy behind

A three-time world champion renowned singer and composer from Saskatchewan had died, leaving behind an incredible legacy through his music and humor across powwow country. Photo supplied / Dallas Pelly

A gifted world champion singer from the Cote First Nation, near Kamsack, Sask., who is known across North America for his voice and his unique talent of composing music has died – shattering hearts across powwow country.

On June 19, 34-year-old Nathan “Rikishi” Pelly died in hospital as a result of kidney and liver failure and a lung infection. He was surrounded by family and close friends in the intensive care unit at Saskatoon RUH where he fought for more than two weeks to stay.

“It’s been very hard. We feel like … he was gone too soon,” said Pelly’s younger brother, Dallas. “What we believe is that he was a gift gifted to us from the Creator. His gift was his medicine which was his songs.”

Despite being in a hospital bed, Pelly made every attempt to make his family laugh during his final weeks. Not only was he known for his music, many remember his contagious humor.

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“He was trying to make the nurses laugh,” said Pelly. “He made us laugh. That’s just the person he was.”

Pelly’s ability to make powwow and round dance hits will live on for years to come. He won three championships performing at the Gathering of Nations – North America’s largest powwow located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“When he was in school, he said, ‘I’m going to be a world-class powwow singer, just watch,'” said Pelly. “He made his way … he was a really renowned singer and he was also an accomplished musician.”

He was first inspired to sing by his mentor, Max Bear. His talents only grew from there and it didn’t take long for many to recognize him as an authentic singer and composer.

Throughout his life, Pelly sang with numerous drum groups such as Flying Eagle singers, Rock Hill, Cree Confederation, Midnight Express, Young Bear, Battle Hill and Wild Horse to name a few.

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The life lived with his powwow family will be cherish by many, as Pelly leaves behind an everlasting legacy through his music.

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“He was gifted (with) a voice to heal people. He was a young ceremony man that helped with the elders,” said Jackson Tahuka, powwow brother.

“He had a calling to this way of life … everywhere he went, he sang 110 per cent. Everywhere he went, he put his heart and soul into his music. He sang his own music to change people, to give them life.”

Pelly will be taken home to his final resting place at Cote First Nation with a wake and funeral June 21-22.

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