Art and reconciliation: Jeremy Dutcher used Juno speech to 'lift up voices of my people'
'Reconciliation. It's a lofty goal. It's a dream. It doesn't happen in a year. It takes time'
Wolastoqi artist Jeremy Dutcher used his acceptance speech at the Juno Awards to address reconciliation and issues that plague Indigenous communities.
"Reconciliation — it's a lofty goal," the member of Tobique First Nation said Sunday night after winning the award for best Indigenous album.
"It's a dream. It doesn't happen in a year. It takes time."
Dutcher told CBC New Brunswick's Shift Monday that while the award was a high honour, for him the night was about representation.
As a kid watching the Junos, Dutcher said, he rarely saw people like him on the stage.
"This for me was about using the platform that I had to lift up voices of my people," he said.
Graydon Nicholas, the former lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, praised Dutcher for trying to raise awareness of issues that are well-known in Indigenous communities but are less familiar outside them.
"I think that's a good challenge that he's bringing up, especially now this week and we'll be dealing with the federal budget that's supposed to come down," Nicholas said.
"Will they address all of these concerns that have been brought forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?"
Calling out Trudeau
Dutcher accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of abandoning the principles of reconciliation.
"A nation-to-nation relationship does not look like pipelines," he said in his speech.
"A nation-to-nation relationship does not look like sending militarized police force into unceded territory. And a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like, in 2019, our communities still under boil-water advisory."
While Dutcher didn't mention specific boil-water advisories, Nicholas said many communities have been affected by them.
He pointed to the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, an Ojibway community in northern Ontario and Manitoba that lost access to Shoal Lake's clean drinking water after it was piped to Winnipeg. The community has been under a boil water advisory ever since.
"I mean it's foolish," said Nicholas. "But how many people in Canada know about this?"
Art as politics
Emma Hassencahl-Perley, an Wolastoqi artist from Tobique, said she thinks the country is still at the dialogue stage of reconciliation and will be for the foreseeable future.
"The dialogue part is really, really important and we'll probably be in dialogue for the rest of my life," said Hassencahl-Perley.
Hassencahl-Perley said the decision for Indigenous artists to be political, as Dutcher was at the Junos, often invites criticism regardless of the position taken.
"Politics are placed on our artwork," she said. "Whether we talk about the issues that are happening in our community, whether we talk about reconciliation or our relationship to the settler state society of Canada.
"And if we don't talk about those things, then it's like 'Why aren't you talking about this?'"
Dutcher said the artists nominated for the Indigenous music album award deserved to be recognized in other categories, not siloed into a cultural category.
"All Canadians need to be listening to those messages, not just our communities," he said.
None of the five artists nominated for the Indigenous music award were nominated for any other award.
In addition, the award was given out at Saturday's award gala and dinner, not on Sunday's main Juno show.
Hassencahl-Perley said this was an example of Indigenous artists being "pigeonholed."
"Indigenous artists should be recognized in other categories," she said. "I think that's extremely important."
Nicholas hopes Dutcher's win and speech will inspire more Indigenous people to become vocal about the injustices they see.
"If we do not begin to speak and assert our voices they will never be heard," Nicholas said.
"So we're always saying what's best for our people in the future. And the only way that can come about is for our committed voices to make sure that we remain alive and not become a relic or an artifact."
Dutcher said his win was an emotional one for him and his mother, who was at the ceremony.
"I very much do this work for her and that generation of indigenous people. They didn't get to live the life I live right now."
With files from Shift