Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, an opera album sang in Wolastoqiyik, won the Polaris Music Prize on Sept. 18. There are less than 100 fluent speakers of the language left.
The Polaris Music Prize is awarded each year to the best Canadian album which is selected based on artistic merit.
Wolastoqiyik and Frederictonians alike, sat with their eyes glued to the television in hopes of seeing one of their own take home the prestigious music award.
Earlier in the night, Dutcher performed “Mehcinut” from Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa on stage, a death chant which was recorded on a wax cylinder over 100 years ago.
When the big moment came, last year’s Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta presented the award. When she opened the envelope, her eyes widened with joy for Dutcher announcing he was this year’s prize winner.
Dutcher came onto stage wearing a traditional birch bark hat made by Kim and Wayne Brooks of St. Mary’s First Nation as well as a Cleveland Indians jersey without the controversial Chief Wahoo logo.
“Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance,” Dutcher said. “Are you ready to hear the truths that need to be told, are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”
Dutcher continued to thank everyone involved who helped make the album possible including St. Mary’s elder and “national treasure,” Maggie Paul, who he credited with showing him the wax cylinders which the traditional Wolastoqiyik songs were originally recorded on.
Dutcher’s mother, a Wolastoqiyik woman of Tobique First Nation, was also in attendance, looking at her youngest son proudly. She is a survivor of a day school, which was operated by the same churches that ran residential schools. She is also one of the remaining speakers of Wolastoqiyik.
“To do this record in my language and have it witnessed, not just by my people, but people of every nation, from coast to coast up and down Turtle Island, we’re at the precipice of something,” Dutcher said.
The Polaris Music Prize is a music award annually given to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label. The recipient of the award also receives $50,000.
Dutcher is one of four Indigenous artists to ever win the Polaris Music Prize since its inception in 2006.
“I do this work to honour those who have gone before and I lay the footprints for those yet to come. This is all part of a continuum of Indigenous excellence and you are here to witness it, I welcome you.”