“Whether it’s writing or visual arts or music, our people are creating important pieces of work that are speaking to very important truths in this country.”
“I don’t know what renaissance means.
But the thought that I had when [Jeremy Dutcher] said that was, ‘We need to deliver a message to the people. And the message is love, the message is music. The message is we have been here ever since time began. We were here when you came. We welcomed you, we're still here today and we're singing for you.'”
Maggie Paul, a Passamaquoddy Elder living in St. Mary's, NB, is speaking about composer Jeremy Dutcher's triumphant moment winning the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for his album
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Paul is a beloved knowledge keeper in the Atlantic First Nations community, and she's known — and mentored — Dutcher since he was a child.
“You can't talk about Indigenous music in the East coast without talking to Maggie Paul,” Dutcher says. “It just doesn't make sense.”
Paul was present when Dutcher won the Prize and declared: “Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance. Are you ready to hear the truth that needs to be told? Are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”
Also in attendance were the Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a Vancouver-based hip-hop duo that proudly represent the Haisla Nation; they were short-listed for the Prize for their album, The Average
Savage. Darren “Young D” Metz says that the Polaris experience was “a bit surreal. We released The Average Savage almost exactly a year before the Polaris happened. So it was almost like everything coming together full circle.” Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce, the other half of the duo, adds that “We always used to dream of being on stages like that, seeing all these artists bringing everything to the table and put it all out on the stage. We were able to do that by getting the Dakhká Khwáan dance group up there and really being able to showcase what we are as West coast artists.”
When asked what Dutcher's declaration meant, Metz shares
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING HERE, IN OUR LANGUAGE THAT COMES FROM THIS LAND, YOU NEED TO GO TO THE MUSEUM. JEREMY DUTCHER
that “It definitely made me feel like it's an unforgettable moment in Canadian music history. Because even though we came up short, like Trybez said, we still had that strong sense of pride. It kind of feels like when one of us win it, we all win it.” (The Polaris Music Prize was awarded to Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq in 2014; Cree singer Buffy Sainte-Marie won in 2015; and Ottawabased Indigenous collective A Tribe Called Red were shortlisted for the prize in 2013 and 2017.)
That sense of pride can be hard-won for Indigenous youth growing up under the weight of Canada's colonial baggage. Nyce explains that “It wasn't until a few years ago that we were actually truly proud to be First Nations. Because growing up in Kitimat [BC], there was a lot of racism thrown our way. In that moment, I felt so much pride and so much happiness for who we are.”
When asked to contextualize his coining of the “Indigenous Renaissance,” Dutcher clarifies that it was an impromptu phrase, not a prepared speech, and that “This is nothing new, but a continuum of artistic Indigenous excellence. This is something that I was immersed in growing up. My mother was very, very intentional in ensuring we had a lot of role models around. It was normal for me to see our people as artistic creators.
“Renaissance is a tough word, with colonial baggage,” Dutcher clarifies, given its association with a specific period in European art history. “But what is at the centre of that word is that across every genre, whether it's writing or visual arts or music, our people — and I mean this inclusively, capital-I Indigenous people — are creating important pieces of work that are speaking to very important truths in this country.”