This lesson plan is intended as an educational resource to introduce secondary and post-secondary students to the Next Wave Indigenous artist Jeremy Dutcher, a classically trained opera singer and multi-instrumentalist from the Wolostoq Nation.
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1. LESSON PLAN: JEREMY DUTCHER
Jeremy Dutcher is a Toronto-based composer and vocal artist. An operatic tenor, Dutcher blends his Wolastoq First Nation roots into the music he creates. His style combines musical aesthetics into something entirely new, shapeshifting between classical, contemporary, traditional, and jazz. His debut release Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Our Maliseets Songs), is part composition, part musical ethnography, part linguistic reclamation. The melodies come from the oldest known field recordings of the Indigenous peoples along the St. John (Wolastoq) River basin. Jeremy prioritizes the Wolastoqey language in his music in hopes of inspiring other young Maliseets to learn this endangered language. Dutcher won Opera New Brunswick’s Young Artist Award in 2012 and most recently received the Canada Council for the Arts Aboriginal Music Award. He studied classical music at Dalhousie University and spent time learning from Passamaqouddy song carrier Maggie Paul. Besides music, Jeremy has been an active community organizer both in Indigenous and LGBT communities. In collaboration with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he organized the first national gathering on Two Spirit reconciliation. Earlier this year, he released the single “Honor Song” via RPM Records, featuring a soaring arrangement of vocals, strings, piano, hand drum, and electronics.
Jeremy was a core artist on the entire New Constellations tour, performing at each of the thirteen shows, often to standing ovations.
2. HIGHLIGHTED WORK
Listen to Jeremy Dutcher’s first single, “Honor Song,” and watch the powerful video for this song at Revolutions Per Minute:
Jeremy explains the footage featured in this video: “It was October 2013 — A month earlier, I had packed my things and left Wolastokuk (Maliseet territory) for the first time to live at Kjipuktuk (Halifax) in unceeded Mi’kmaq territory. The difficulty of being detached from language, culture and familial practice for the first time in my short 17 years, was only compounded by the images in the media coming out of Wolastokuk; that of our Grand Chief being arrested while in ceremony and others held at gunpoint for daring to stand up to corporate interests and seismic testing. Mi’kmaq & Wolastoq women stood up and led, as they always have, for the land and the water in protest and song. Swat teams and military were called in. The incident at Elsipogtog was impactful in understanding my responsibility as an indigenous person to protect Kci-kikuwosson (Mother Earth).
George Paul’s Honor Song was lifted up during these protests as an anthem for the people. It has been and will continue to be an invocation for the nations to gather and support each other in our mutual goal of protecting the land we have sprung from. This track is all about lateral love — respecting our digeneity and helping each other; so let’s get to it.
Tan qiniw iyuwok wasis npomawsuwinuwok, tankeyu ’tmine-hc kihtahkmikumon.
As long as there is a child among my people, we will protect the land.”
3. ARTIST INTERVIEW
How was “Honor Song” born?
“Honor Song” was, as all songs are, gifts. A Mi’kmaq singer named George Paul was given this song during a fast many years ago. The words speak to a message of unity and collective responsibility to protect our mother earth. He gave the song to the Waponahkiyik, the people of the dawn. This song was often sung in my community as I grew up. I released this as my first piece because it is where it all starts for me.
On “Honor Song” — and on all the songs on your record, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Our Maliseet Songs) — you sing in Maliseet, which is classified as an endangered language. Why is it so important to reclaim endangered languages?
Our language tells us who we are and how we related to the world around us. If we’re not speaking our Indigenous languages, we lose a connection to the land; that’s where our language come from.
Since there are so few speakers of this language left, it is so crucial that there are as many resources for those who want to learn and opportunities for older and younger speakers to gather and help each other.
The loss of language played out in my own family;
My mother went into the church-run schools when she was 6. She was forbidden to speak the only language she knew and punished if she did. When my mom was growing up, almost everyone spoke the language and now there are less than 100 fluent speakers.
My music has been written exclusively in my language in the hopes of inspiring other young Wolastoqiyik to speak our language and learn about our culture.
Why is music such a great tool for reclaiming language?
There is a rhythm to words. All words have a cadence and a melody. Try it — go write down a phrase and keep saying it until a melody comes out. I think there is an intrinsic connection between word and song. Everyone knows the words to their favourite songs like the back of their hand. Singing is just speaking with a lot more air.
Who is the artist who did the graphics for your first “Honor Song” video? [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQMrl-hPnUg] What made you choose this collaboration?
Jordan Bennett designed the song’s artwork. He is a visual artist of the Mi’kmaq nation, whose work I had admired for a long time. The Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik are neighbours on the east coast and have had good relations for many years; our artists have always collaborated. Since this melody is from Mi’kmaq territory, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to collaborate.
What do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing your work?
Firstly, I hope audiences enjoy what they witness; music is always about releasing beauty into the world and I hope I can do that. Past that, I hope people come to understand the diversity of experiences among Indigenous peoples as well as the vastness of artistic expression among our people. Indigenous music does not sound one way; it is vast, expansive, and inclusive.
I hope that musicians who listen start to investigate their own musical practice and that it encourages them to think about the lineage in which their music is situated in.
What does resurgence mean to you?
Resurgence is different for everyone, but for me;
Resurgence is taking back what has been lost and not asking permission.
Resurgence is song and language.
Resurgence is gatherings and potlucks.
Resurgence is a movement that swells from earth to sky reaching through waterways & forests.
Resurgence is futurism.
4. WRITING EXERCISES
Jeremy says “There is a rhythm to words. All words have a cadence and a melody. Try it — go write down a phrase and keep saying it until a melody comes out.” The British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was quoted as saying that poetry was “the best words in the best order.” Make a list of some of your favourite phrases and repeat them over and feel for the rhythm. Write a ten-line poem made of phrases that follow this same rhythm. How does the rhythm affect the words you choose and the feel and tone of the poem? Experiment with reordering some of the words and compare the different rhythms different orders create. Can you sing it?
In interviews, Jeremy has described his unique style as “classical Indigenous jazz fusion.” Consider how the blending of different traditions creates a new sound. What are the sounds that surround you? Do you have a sense of what your own creative lineage might be? Make a list of all the sounds that you grew up hearing: city traffic? Wind shaking the house? People laughing, or arguing, or both? What birds live near you? Was music played in your house? What did you hear in cars or at the mall? And what are the sounds you think of as your own, ones that you have chosen to seek out. Write a poem, story, or essay that incorporates all of the different sounds that make up the soundtrack of your life.
5. NCTR'S IMAGINE A CANADA: AN INVITATION TO SHARE YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) is calling on all young people to Imagine a Canada through the lens of Reconciliation! What is your vision of Reconciliation? What does it look like?
Imagine a Canada is an invitation for all young people, from across the country to share their own vision of what Reconciliation can be. It can be a poem, a song, a painting, a sculpture, a rap, a drawing, an essay, anything! This invitation is extended every year to ensure that young people remain a part of visioning Reconciliation in Canada. Imagine a Canada is perfect for students, from kindergarten to post-secondary, to explore both the past and our shared journey into the future. Collectively, we want to be looking into the future of Reconciliation and youth deserve to be a part of this visionary exercise. Imagine a Canada is a great way for young people to see themselves not just as concerned citizens, but as transformative citizens; to empower them to be the change they want to see in the world.
When studying work by contemporary Indigenous artists, it's important to consider Canada’s troubled relationship with First Nations and the truths about Residential School history, a context that the NCTR is dedicated to supporting in the classroom. As students learn more about this history, it is important to provide them with opportunities to contribute to change. Of course, learning truths about Residential School history can be very upsetting, and we want to continue that learning with opportunities to work towards a better future. Imagine a Canada is one such opportunity.
Friends and partners of the NCTR from across the country will help recognize and honour submissions in each region of the country and one entry from each province and territory will be selected each year to attend a national celebration of Imagine a Canada!