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Posts Tagged ‘first nations’

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Photo: Matt Barnes
Jeremy Dutcher is a First Nations tenor and pianist who is getting a lot of attention in Canada and beyond.

Bit by bit we’re all learning more about the people around us, people who may have very different lives and who in the past we knew nothing about. Even those we thought we knew well sometimes have lives that are veiled to us, as I learned this summer when our niece sent me her story, a heartbreaking tale of a childhood that I had only perceived on the surface. You just can’t know what is going on behind someone’s eyes.

Among the kinds of people I am learning more about are indigenous people, both in the United States and elsewhere. This story is about a young tenor who belongs to a Canadian tribe.

Jeff Kaliss writes at San Francisco Classical Voice, “Interviews with Jeremy Dutcher figure among the new demands on a Canadian First Nations (indigenous) singer-pianist who’s risen rapidly to international attention. The 28-year-old Toronto resident needs now and then to take a break from the clamor, to return to something like the pastoral pace of his raising in the Maritime province of New Brunswick, as a member of the Wolastoqiyik [pronounced Wuh-last-o-key-yik] tribe.

“I first witnessed Dutcher a year ago, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, performing on piano and singing in his tribe’s native Wolastoq language (the word denotes ‘the beautiful river’; renamed by the colonizers of New Brunswick as the St. John), in the basement of a church, a beautiful historical landmark. He hadn’t yet won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, nor its Grammy-equivalent Juno Awards. Both of these wins would recognize his debut self-produced album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, translated as Songs of the People of the Beautiful River. …

“Dutcher incorporates in his live and recorded music an unusual and affecting act of legacy, playing transcribed wax recordings from 1911 by an early anthropologist of a tribal elder singing and speaking, and following the melodies with his own heldentenor voice and mellifluous keyboard compositions. The method and quality of his approach derive from his training, including classical voice with Marcia Swanston at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“Two semesters before completing his music degree, Dutcher enrolled in a class in Social Anthropology, and decided to stick around Dalhousie for an additional year, completing a second major and an honors thesis on the subject of Traditional Music in a Contemporary Moment: Musical Pan-Indigeneity as Revitalization in the Wabanaki Region. The region is a confederacy of five indigenous nations including the Wolastoq and extending across the current provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, and the state of Maine. The thesis title took the form of a mission statement for Dutcher, who was led to the wax recordings by a living tribal elder, sweat lodge keeper, and First Nations ambassador, Maggie Paul.

“ ‘I made my way to Ottawa [the site of the Canadian Museum of History] and went down into the basement archives there and threw on some headphones and started a journey,’ Dutcher recalled for an NPR presentation last year.

“ ‘To not just hear the songs, but also to hear the background noise and to hear them laughing and telling jokes — there was a sense of entering into that space through these voices. And that was something that changed my life.’

“The Dalhousie anthropology faculty have declared in writing their admiration for where their alumnus has taken his education and his life. … ‘Dutcher honors intergenerational connections, his voice singing on with the voices of his elders … It disrupts widespread expectations of indigenous music as a thing of the past, and shows instead how it lives in the present, fully capable of working and remixing in contemporary idioms. This has a decolonizing effect, in that it unsettles public conceptions that all too often primordialize and essentialize indigenous art forms.’ ”

I love the idea of a decolonizing effect. I never thought about that — about not only promoting healthier relations between indigenous people and others going forward but actually starting to undo harm that was done in the past. How great if we could apply that idea to all kinds of wrongs the world has seen!

More at San Francisco Classical Voice, here.

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The radio show Living on Earth recently reported how negotiations among environmental activists, the timber industry, indigenous people, and the British Columbia government protected 85 percent of a huge Canadian forest.

“Eighty-five percent of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is now protected … Steve Curwood discusses [the compromise] with reporter Andrew MacLeod of the magazine The Tyee, who explains what’s been protected and what’s open for logging.

MACLEOD: “It’s an area of 6.5 million hectares between the top end of Vancouver Island and the Alaska Panhandle. So it’s an area, about the size of Ireland, and it’s quite remote. There are only about 1,400 people who live there. So much of it has never been logged. This is usually described as the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, a very lush, mossy, moist year-round ecosystem. … We’re talking trees that five or six people put their arms around. Some of these cedars can be in 20 feet in diameter …

CURWOOD: “Tell me what is the [forest’s] Spirit bear?

MCLEOD: “They are a subspecies of black bear. They are a genetic variant that comes out white, so it’s a white black bear. There are also Grizzly bears there, there are whales, wolves, and just a relatively pristine ecosystem up there.

CURWOOD: “And who calls them Spirit bears? …

MACLEOD: “My understanding is that it goes back through the First Nations, there have always been these genetic variant bears there and they’re seen as special.”

When Curwood asks why the timber industry agreed to the negotiation, MacLeod explains that the campaign to protect the forest helped to avoid extended confrontation.

“Lots of First Nations people will tell you they’ve been on the land for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and it’s been sustainable, it’s been healthy, that it’s really only last 150 years of colonialism where you’ve seen clear-cuts and destruction and species driven to extinction. On the other hand, there are lots of people from First Nations who are working in the logging industry today as well. Over time, First Nations have sort of reestablished their rights. There have been some precedent-setting cases just in the last few years that have recognized aboriginal title does exist.” More here.

Of possible interest: Read how Wabanaki diplomacy smoothed a similar negotiation process in Maine, here.

Photo:  Elsen Poulsen/Animals Asia, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
A white Spirit bear fishing

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