'This is her story as much as it's my story': This woman's pioneering work inspired Jeremy Dutcher
For more than 40 years, Maggie Paul has been recording once-banned songs to preserve them for the future
It's been an explosive and busy time for Jeremy Dutcher since the release of his Polaris and Juno-winning album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, a record sung entirely in his Indigenous language Wolastoq, combining his voice with hundred-year-old archival recordings on wax cylinders of songs from his community. In the Making met him to shoot an episode in New Brunswick, where he's taking some much-needed time at home in his community with the people that speak the language that is so central to his work and life.
"I feel like the next steps of the work I want to do and what I want to say really revolves around my language," says Dutcher. "And the best place to invest in that kind of work has to be here, because this language is only spoken here. It's what I missed when I was away: getting to join in conversation with nihkanipasihtit — the ones that went before."
For Dutcher, one of the most important people he is now reunited with is Maggie Paul, whose own work in recording and preserving their people's culture is foundational to his music. "Maggie Paul likes music," Dutcher tells In the Making host Sean O'Neill. "She's the one that told me about these wax cylinders. She's the one who encouraged me to go and check out the museum and do this work."
"This is her story as much as it's my story."
I always had a recorder with me, because I wanted to record the songs. We gotta keep them for the children that aren't even born yet. We gotta leave them something more beautiful that what it is now.- Maggie Paul
Maggie Paul has been collecting Wolastoqey songs for more than 40 years — songs that, along with dances and cultural ceremonies, were banned for decades by the Canadian government. Through her recordings she is preserving what remained in people's memories and bringing them forward into a new generation. "Some people remembered and some people didn't," she tells In the Making, "so we had to search we had to scrimp and search and scratch and everything."
"I always had a recorder with me, because I wanted to record the songs. You never know when it's going to come. We gotta keep them for the children that aren't even born yet. We gotta leave them something more beautiful that what it is now."
In the clip above from Dutcher's episode of In the Making (streaming now on CBC Gem), O'Neill visits Dutcher and Paul as they digitize cassette recordings Paul made in the 1970s. "This is the new museum work we're engaged in," says Dutcher. "A lot of this stuff is really one of a kind. This is precious art, you know — this is like Smithsonian shit. Right now it's just on tapes in her house."
"She's an archivist."
In conversation with Dutcher and O'Neill, Paul describes the experience of hearing a song out in the world and it's clear how deeply resonant the experience is for her and how vital this work is for her, her community and their future. "When I heard the drum, holy god almighty I just had to go. I just had to ask the people to move — please move, I need to find that sound. When I heard that drum I knew doggone well that was me. That's how I felt: that was me. I felt that I was a drum. I mean, it might sound weird to some people, but I don't feel it's weird. When I saw the drum, when I heard the drum, I said, 'I'm home. I'm finally home. I know who I am now.'"
Through Paul's work, a bridge from the past has been connected to the future — a past that could have been lost forever — and Dutcher's work continues this preservation into a new generation, with reverence for and in collaboration with those that went before. "I was only able to step into that because people had gone before. There had been people to clear the path."
Stream Jeremy Dutcher's episode of In the Making now on CBC Gem or catch it tonight, Friday October 11th at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. NT).