Attawapiskat songwriter using music to shine a light in dark places

A musician from Attawapiskat has delved into his life experience in the remote James Bay community to write a song on a topic that normally carries a lot of stigma.

"I Need Angels" is from Midnight Shine's third album

Canadian band Midnight Shine's third album, High Road, features a song called "I Need Angels," inspired by the experience of Cree people living remote communities.

A musician from Attawapiskat has delved into his life experience in the remote James Bay community to write a song on a topic that normally carries a lot of stigma.

Adrian Sutherland, the lead singer of Midnight Shine, writes about the despair, and often suicidal feelings, of Cree people living in small, remote communities, in the song "I Need Angels."

Attawapiskat, a community of about 2,000, made national headlines two-and-a-half years ago when a steady swell of suicides led the leadership to call a state of emergency. 

"I know, coming from up here, I've had a lot of the same struggles that our youth are having today," he says. 

"There's a lot of overcrowding, and in some cases you have thirteen, fourteen, fifteen people in a two-three bedroom house, or three generations of families under one roof. Which you know, can take a toll on you mentally when you have overcrowding. That's just one aspect, the issues are multi-facet." 

Adrian Sutherland is an entrepreneur and musician who lives in Attawapiskat. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

In the song, Sutherland writes in the first verse:

"I need angels. I need angels.. 
Lost my wings, can't fly, give me some faith.
There's a sickness inside of me. It runs so deep. I don't know how to heal the pain. It fills me with hate.
It's a weakness I can't fight. It comes in the night. It won't leave me alone, like a dark shadow."

Sutherland says he's writing from his own perspective as well. He takes a long breath before describing his own struggles.

He says his mother and aunts are residential school survivors. Alcohol and violence and the loss of his father marked his life growing up.

He credits culture with bringing him back.

"If it wasn't for that, and the land, and being out there with different elders and my family..... I always say that's really where I started to heal, was out there, and really started to learn who I was, and about myself," he said.

"It's been not easy, I guess, early on in life. Myself, I went through problems with alcohol when I was older and I managed to overcome some of those struggles and came out on top. I think, today, still there's a lot of, when you grow up in that sort of environment you really are scarred for life. It's really hard to heal from something like that. Most people do heal, but not entirely, I think."

Sutherland says he's done a lot of work on himself and reached out for help and gotten counselling. He says he's much better now, but there are moments when memories keep flooding back.

He chuckles when asked to identify his angels.

"My kids, my grandkids especially, They bring so much joy and love in my life. And my wife."

He says the band's first ever video has recently been shot in Attawapiskat and expects those visuals to have a big impact both within and outside of the community.

The song "I Need Angels" is on Midnight Shine's third album, High Road.

About the Author

Kate Rutherford

reporter-editor

Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.