Destiny stole Jonathan Maracle’s heart

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – Jonathan Maracle can still recall when his destiny stole his heart.

The 67-year-old world renowned musician, instrument maker and suicide prevention advocate was just a boy when his older brother, Clifford, used to watch Friday night television in the early 1960s. In those days, musical acts such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones were featured. As his older brother watched, the curious sibling became mesmerized by what he was seeing.

“When I saw Elvis and Tom Jones and then The Beatles, I knew that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” Maracle, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, said in an interview alongside his wife, Linda, at their kitchen table in their beautiful home that fronts the bay.

By the time he was 15, his love affair with music had grown from fantasy to reality.

“At 15, I got a guitar,” Maracle said. “I remember coming home from school, going up to my bedroom with this guitar and practising and practising and practising … trying to learn.”

Before long, Maracle, using a music book and his fierce determination taught himself how to play that guitar.

“The first song I learned was Home on the Range,” he recalled with a smile. “I learned it and I sang it and I was really excited.”

So excited, he said, he couldn’t wait to show off his newly developed skills.

“Of course it’s Mom right,” he quipped. “Mom's the first one you go to. I went downstairs and I played it for my mom in the kitchen. I said ‘Mom, listen to this.’ And I played it for her.”

His mother gave her son an honest review of what she’d just heard, which Maracle noted he appreciated more in the subsequent years than he did in that moment.

“She said ‘Johnny, you’re going to be a great guitar player, but you’ll never be a singer,’” Maracle recalled. He remembers thinking to himself in that moment that his mother’s response caught him off guard, but that he subsequently set out to prove her wrong.

Harkening back to those performances that had inspired him when he peered in on his big brother’s TV watching, Maracle was determined to follow his dreams.

“I loved to sing. Whenever I’d see Elvis, Tom Jones or The Beatles, singing it was for me. So I pursued singing with all my heart,” he said, adding that he got a job delivering newspapers to pay for voice lessons. “That's how determined I was because Mom and Dad couldn’t pay for them.”


While his mother’s feedback that day became Maracle’s fodder for chasing his dreams, he noted that his mom and dad parented with a purpose, guiding their six boys through a difficult time for Indigenous people.

“My mom and dad were missionaries,” he said. “They raised us really wanting to see us succeed because it was very, very difficult for young Native people to succeed in those days. They raised us with firm desire to succeed.”

In particular, Jonathan and his younger brother, David, used their parents’ guidance and push to establish themselves in the art and entertainment world. Both Jonathan and David are world-renowned for their music, among other gifts. David, meanwhile, is considered one of Earth’s greatest stone sculptors, while Jonathan has focused his life on helping and inspiring Indigenous people with a focus on suicide prevention in remote Indigenous communities and beyond.

The brothers have been at times both motivated and inspired by one another.

“David brought back the oval flute,” Jonathan said. “And he did a great job. It was really inspiring. He worked at it quite hard.”

Jonathan learned to play and build Mohawk wind flutes as a result of being inspired by his younger brother David.

“David was one of a very few people who brought back the oval shape of the flute, brought it to life and it’s beautiful and he inspired me to make them and I love making them,” Jonathan said.

And while it would have been easy for the brothers to allow jealousy or envy to have created a sibling rivalry, they did not, rather they have continued to foster a close relationship, living next door to one another, sharing dinners and even cheering on the other’s successes. David and his wife KimberLee opened a cabin retreat in recent years and encouraged Jonathan and Linda to follow suit, which they have.


Inspired by the likes of Elvis, Tom Jones and The Beatles, armed with his guitar and singing lessons, and driven by the guidance of his parents, Jonathan Maracle set out to chase his dream.

“Singing took priority for me,” he said, adding that at the age of 17, he started his own band, which at first played around the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory area and beyond. “Then it started to get more and more notoriety,” he noted. As both its lead singer and bass player at first, Maracle recalled that they did whatever they could to find success. Later, he founded a new band, one in which he was only responsible for the vocals.

“I had great guitar player, a great bass player, great drummer,” he said. “I felt right.”

Soon, playing the independent music scene around the area wasn’t enough, Maracle said. His dreams were bigger. Singing was his calling … and it was calling out for him. So at the age of 25, he followed the voice, which told him his dreams were waiting for him … in California.

“I determined I was going to California to seek my fortune because I felt like I was a singer who could make it,” Maracle said. “So I started looking for professional musicians, referrals and finding musicians in California who were looking for a lead singer.”

It wasn’t long before he found one.

“Nothing was going to stop me,” he recalled. Not even his family.

“I can remember when I told my family. When I told my dad, he said he’d drive me to the bus terminal,” Maracle said, noting that his father tried to talk him out of moving south during that drive. “He didn't want me to go, he tried talking me out of it.”

Maracle recalled something strange that his father said to him right before he boarded the bus to uncertainty.

“I had packed all my stuff under the bus before departing,” he recalled. “My father, who was a missionary and a minister, said to me ‘When you have nowhere to turn and your back is against the wall, call on Jesus.’ ”

In that moment, Maracle said he recalled thinking what his father said to him as being odd.

“I looked down and said ‘I don't need Jesus’ and I got on the bus,” he said. “And that was the end of it and I rode to California.”

Just as he’d dreamed, Maracle found his calling in the sunny South, home to the stars.

He signed with his band Direct Current, and within weeks of arriving in Northern California, it won a battle of the bands, which spurred the release of its first 45. They were opening for the likes of Peter Frampton, Night Ranger, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult and many others.

Maracle had made it.

Over the next few years, Maracle rocked and he rolled, he lived the band life and performed night in and night out, living the life he’d imagined for himself when he was just a boy watching his heroes on TV. He even found love.

Life was good.

Until it wasn’t.

The relationship ended, leaving Maracle “heartbroken.” His manager, feeling that Maracle had peaked with the band he started his California adventures with, urged him to move to Los Angeles and join a rising band by the name of Tsunami, which was in need of a lead singer.

Maracle followed his manager’s lead. And his downfall in California came not long after.

“I went to L.A. and joined Tsunami,” he said. “I sang for them, wrote some songs with them, but it just was never for me, it just didn't make it. They were good to some level, but they weren't cool like the guys I had just left. That, along with breaking up with my girlfriend and having left everything I had built behind in Sacramento for three years hit me hard. “I had no money, I was alone. I became really depressed and felt suicidal.”

It was at his lowest, feeling trapped within his own dark thoughts, that he recalled his dad’s words that fateful night he boarded a bus to chase his dreams.

“I remembered what my dad had said,” Maracle said, solemnly. “So I said it. I said ‘Help me Jesus.’ ”

Like a scene from a movie, a short while later, Maracle’s phone rang. It was his father.

“I hadn't spoken to Dad in two and a half years,” Maracle recalled. “And he said ‘Son, I'm coming to see you.’ I told him he wouldn’t want to see me here, and asked him to fly me home to see him and mom. So he did.”

His trip home, surrounded by his family, was life-changing, he said.

“I came home and decided I wasn't going to do music as a career anymore because I felt like it had stolen my soul. Without going into a lot of detail, I made my way back home and became really involved in understanding who God was in my life, who Christ was,” he said. “I really worked hard to understand that. Then I met Linda.”

Linda is his softspoken and sweet yet ardent supporter whom Maracle shares his life with. Maracle said he can still remember his older brother Clifford telling him about this beautiful woman who was attending his church.

“I was staying at (Clifford’s) house because I'd come back from California and I didn't have a place to stay,” Maracle said. (Clifford) came home from church one day and said ‘Johnny, there's a girl at this church who is really something, you should come.’ ”

The next week, Jonathan attended church with older brother, where he met Linda. As they talked, they discovered they’d both recently had similar experiences in California, Jonathan’s in music, Linda’s as a dancer with the Les Grands Ballet Canadiens. Upon returning to Canada, both turned to faith in search of answers. There, they found their answers in the form of one another.

“That’s how we got together and we ended up getting married like five months later,” he said.

Together, they’ve build a home, raised three children, all of whom are making a difference in the world and have an upstart business called Moonlight on the Bay, all while Jonathan continues to travel the world to help and inspire Indigenous people and all people through his music and stories with an emphasis on suicide prevention with his partner from Carry the Cure.

Their daughter, Noelle, is an up-and-coming musician who spent countless hours in her father’s home-based music studio, while her mother recorded her videos and helped her hone her skills. Watching Noelle’s career take off reminds Jonathan of his early love affair with music. On more than one occasion, he said he has found himself blown away by her natural talent.

“There was the time she sang Christina Aguilera’s Hurt,” he recalled, as Linda looked on proudly. “I think she was nine years old. I can remember watching her sing that and realizing,” he paused, “the gift. That's the thing that's been really important to me is to help her to understand that what she has isn't hers, that it's a gift the Creator has given her. I don’t have that gift. She's got a great gift,” he said, pointing to his wife, “but she doesn't have the gift like Noelle. Noelle’s got this jewel.”

Unlike the time he sang for his mother to mixed reviews, Jonathan said he and Linda have always tried to nurture their kids’ skills and dreams, including a time when Noelle felt like she wasn’t good enough.

“I told her ‘You’ve got something that nobody else has and you don't want to let it go. You have been given this to help the world. You've been given this to make a difference.’ And she went after it. I think back to her singing Hurt and I remember looking at her and just thinking this is not normal. This was a crazy experience for me to sit there and watch my daughter sing this song with passion at nine years old. I mean the passion was beyond anything you see in an average good singer.”


Jonathan said he’ll sometimes think back to those life-changing words his father uttered that day he boarded the bus, or to his father’s fateful phone call when things were really bad, and he’ll think about the influence his late father had on him.

“Dad was somebody who had a vision for Native people,” he said. “The vision that he had made him angry. He saw the struggle that Native people went through and deep down inside he was a fighting force to change all of that, but I think a lot of times he felt like he was staring into the abyss of hopelessness. But you know what? He always was like a warrior. And I can remember that one of the things that I chose to do was follow him in the direction of Christ.”

He recalled two examples of his father’s fearlessness, the first being when his father, as a boy, escaped Ontario’s notorious residential school known as the Mush Hole. The second, he said, was when his father was a young man. His father and his friends were Long House in those days, but his friends decided to attend a tent meeting in Deseronto, only to report back to that they were moved by what they’d heard. Some even started attending regularly.

“My father, who was a staunch long house supporter, decided he was going to go kill the preacher because he didn't want his friends to be taken away from the long house,” Maracle recalled. “He’d decided to go take that preacher out. I remember him saying that he went down to this tent and he stood outside of the tent where he could hear the music playing inside. He then took a deep breath and he flipped back the tent flap and he started for the preacher,” Maracle recounted his father saying. “He said he started walking down the aisle, and got about halfway down the aisle and this little old lady

stepped out in the aisle and said to him ‘Son, fall on your knees and cry out to Jesus, tell him you're a hopeless sinner and you need Jesus.’ And he did. This little lady was so powerful in the spirit that when she said that to him, he said it just felt like somebody came and hit him in the back of the knees. He just collapsed. He threw his arms up and he accepted Christ in his life and that was the changing moment going forward.”

Jonathan’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled his father’s story.

“That changed our family, gave us hope,” he said as his voiced cracked. “And with all the struggles that we've had, we've succeeded and dad always says we succeeded because we put the priority in the right place.”

His father’s fateful phone call, along with meeting Linda, steered Jonathan’s life toward Christ. And he’s never looked back.

“Dad's life was changed, but the coolest part of it was dad said when he gave his heart to Jesus, he said he didn't quit being a Mohawk. He said he became a better Mohawk. And that's what defines what I do,” Jonathan said.


For the last nearly three decades, Jonathan has found a way to blend all of his passions: music, faith and his culture, to make a difference in peoples’ lives. He founded a band that has spent years focusing its efforts on using its music to heal and inspire.

“I started Broken Walls, which was all about restoring self-respect and dignity within the hearts of Indigenous people,” he said of the band, which performs all over the world, but largely focuses on remote Indigenous communities with staggering rates of suicide.

“In Northern communities like Ebmatoong and Pikangikum and all these different places up there that I go to, Native people were relegated to a small area of land. They have very little income and their old way of life is gone. They aren't allowed to mine, they aren't allowed to harvest wood, they can only ‘exist’ in this sub-zero climate. In Pikanjikum, there’s no running water or sewer, so you’ve got these elders 75 years old pulling a wagon or sled down to the local well, getting two big buckets of water and pulling it a kilometer back to their house in the middle of dead, dead winter, 35 below zero, and you ask yourself, ‘How can this be allowed to happen in one of the top first world countries in the world?’ You’ve got people down here who have no idea that it's happening and you’ve got people up there that are dying en mass by suicide, three to 11 times the national average happens across northern Canada. “

The blending of his passions has helped put Maracle himself in a great place in his life, filling his heart and his soul.

“I've been traveling into these Northern communities and I've been taking suicide prevention experts with me and addictions counseling people with me and family dysfunction people who can help with those things,” he said. “We go in and play music, which brings healing and our focus has been from that

perspective. But I guess amid all of that, the musician who wants to play in big colosseums is still in me. I've played in the L.A. Memorial Colosseum to 100,000, in Tiger Stadium in Detroit to 42,000, Lions Stadium and in lots of place like that in Berlin and all over the world. I only say that to say that I've seen that it's there. I've seen that it's something that can happen, but I've really tried to focus on the important things and that's the broken people.”

As he spoke at his kitchen table, he was putting the finishing touches on his next trip.

“This coming week I'm going into one of the coldest communities in the Northern hemisphere, it's called Kiana,” he said. It'll be between 50 and 60 below zero. We're going in there and we're working with people who only see an hour and a half of daylight a day. Right before Christmas I got a call from my buddy and there were four suicides up in Alaska in two remote villages on the Bering Sea. A few days later, I mounted up. It's really hard to say that stuff because I respond to those things,” Maracle said as his eyes filled with tears.

While in the remote communities, Maracle and those who travel with him meet with leaders in the community and discuss the struggles residents are having, offer support and then use music as a means to connect with those who need to feel a connection.

“Everybody in the community gets an option to come and see us, but in school one of the demands is that all the students are in the school assemblies at the same time, so if there are bullies, or there are victims, they're all there. And they all hear the message so they all are accountable to what they hear. And at the very end, we get them to do what we call the “Committed to Life vow,” which Maracle described as a vow to living life even in the face of adversity, to helping one another get through the hardest of times and seeing the value in life. “Then we tell them to go and help one another live life. And we do our best to do a great opening performance to gain their attention so that they will listen to what we have to say.”

The opportunities Maracle has been given thanks to his faith and his music also afford him the opportunity to educate. A proud Indigenous Canadian, Maracle won’t pass up an opportunity to teach others about the plight of the country’s First Nations.

“There’s a thing called a blanket exercise,” he explained. “It's put together by a group called Kairos and they put together the history of Canada for the last 300 years or so.”

Maracle explained how he’ll gather a large group of non-Indigenous people in a room before he introduces the exercise, which sees the blankets laid to cover the floor. He’ll tell them they now represent Canada’s First Nations, while standing on the blankets, and then then explain to them the history of how they were treated and how their land was taken.

“We explain to them that they're going to live the lives of Natives over the next 300 years and they're going to see what happened to our people. So we tell the story of what literally happened to Indigenous people. We use the blankets as a way to represent the land that was taken from Indigenous people,” he explained.

As the group is educated, blankets are removed just as land was.

“By the end, there are three people left standing on three little blankets and everybody else is ‘dead,’ or ‘displaced,’ ” Maracle explained. “By the time we're done, the most hardened people are like babies. They're sitting there crying. It's usually men and they're saying ‘I can't believe we did that to these people.’

“I've done this exercise for years now,” he said. “Then we do a healing circle and they hold a feather or they hold a talking stick and each person gets to talk and tell how they feel after it happened and it's really, really amazing.”


Maracle chuckled at the suggestion that he really has proven his mother wrong in her assessment of his singing as a teenager.

“I just wish that I was able to have had more formal training in music,” he said. “I feel like I appreciate everything and I feel very satisfied in a lot of ways, but I've just always wanted to have had that formal training so I could have really gone somewhere, but it's never happened and I do my very best with what I have.”

But it’s not lost on him how much hearing those iconic voices on the TV as a kid contributed to what he has been able to accomplish in his life.

“Music, of course, is my heart, but God has given me the blessing of being able to use music as my vehicle.”

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer