April 24, 2019

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Time to tear down the silos

Indigenous music category has outlived its usefulness at Junos

Opinion

The biggest moment from this year's Juno Awards was not televised.

At Saturday night's gala in London, Ont., when Wolastoqiyik singer/songwriter and classically trained tenor Jeremy Dutcher accepted the award for Indigenous Album of the Year for his stunning 2018 debut Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, he asked his fellow nominees — Elisapie Isaac, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Leonard Sumner, and Northern Cree — to stand up.

"All of your work changes this place, and it deserves to be considered outside of this category," he told them. "Because our music is not niche. Our music is saying something."

He's right, of course, and his words underscore a criticism many Indigenous artists have had about the Junos for years.

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The biggest moment from this year's Juno Awards was not televised.

Jeremy Dutcher, the winner of Indigenous music album, speaks at the Juno Gala Dinner and Awards in London, Ont., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Geoff Robins / The Canadian Press)

Jeremy Dutcher, the winner of Indigenous music album, speaks at the Juno Gala Dinner and Awards in London, Ont., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Geoff Robins / The Canadian Press)

At Saturday night's gala in London, Ont., when Wolastoqiyik singer/songwriter and classically trained tenor Jeremy Dutcher accepted the award for Indigenous Album of the Year for his stunning 2018 debut Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, he asked his fellow nominees — Elisapie Isaac, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Leonard Sumner, and Northern Cree — to stand up.

"All of your work changes this place, and it deserves to be considered outside of this category," he told them. "Because our music is not niche. Our music is saying something."

He's right, of course, and his words underscore a criticism many Indigenous artists have had about the Junos for years.

'Indigenous' is not a genre. Country is a genre. Pop is a genre. But Indigenous? That's too broad a term to cover off the range of music that comes from talented artists who hail from diverse nations.

'Indigenous' is not a genre. Country is a genre. Pop is a genre. But Indigenous? That's too broad a term to cover off the range of music that comes from talented artists who hail from diverse nations.

When the category was first introduced in 1994, thanks in large part to the advocacy of category co-creator Buffy Sainte-Marie, it played a critical role in providing a space to celebrate Indigenous artists who were too often overlooked by mainstream institutions such as the Junos.

But just as an Indigenous category can help amplify Indigenous artists, it can also hem them in.

2019 JUNO Award Winners

A selection of winners at the 2019 Juno awards.

A selection of winners at the 2019 Juno awards.  To see the complete list, visit the Juno Awards website.

JUNO Fan Choice: Avril Lavigne

Single of the Year: In My Blood, Shawn Mendes

International Album of the Year: beerbongs & bentleys, Post Malone

Album of the Year: Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes

Artist of the Year: Shawn Mendes

Group of the Year: Arkells

Breakthrough Artist of the Year: bülow

Breakthrough Group of the Year: The Washboard Union

Country Album of the Year: We Were That Song, Brett Kissel

Adult Alternative Album of the Year: Earthtones, Bahamas

Alternative Album of the Year: Baby Teeth,  Dizzy

Pop Album of the Year: Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes

Rock Album of the Year: Rally Cry, Arkells

Vocal Jazz Album of the Year: Laila Biali, Laila Biali

Jazz Album of the Year, Solo: Old Soul, Robi Botos

Jazz Album of the Year,  Group: The Seasons of Being, Andy Milne & Dapp Theory

Rap Recording of the Year: LoVE me NOw, Tory Lanez

Dance Recording of the Year: Body, Loud Luxury

R&B/Soul Recording of the Year: Being Human In Public, Jessie Reyez

Electronic Album of the Year: Deception Bay,  Milk & Bone

Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year: The Wake, Voivod

Adult Contemporary Album of the Year: Love, Michael Bublé

Comedy Album of the Year: Good Friend Bad Grammar, Dave Merheje

Reggae Recording of the Year: Sly & Robbie meet Dubmatix – Overdubbed, Dubmatix

Indigenous Music Album of the Year:  Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, Jeremy Dutcher

Contemporary Roots Album of the Year: Both Ways, Donovan Woods

Traditional Roots Album of the Year: Sweet Old Religion, Pharis and Jason Romero

Blues Album of the Year: Miles To Go, Colin James

Instrumental Album of the Year: China Cloud, Gordon Grdina

Francophone Album of the Year: Une année record, Loud

Children's Album of the Year: You, Me and the Sea, Splash'N Boots

World Music Album of the Year: Rapadou Kreyol, Wesli

In fact, it wasn't until 2014 that A Tribe Called Red became the first Indigenous act to win an award outside the Indigenous album of the year category.

"There are no Indigenous nominees outside of the Indigenous music category and it's not because we're not putting out excellent music," Dutcher told Q's Tom Power in an interview ahead of the Junos.

"So for me, it's a bit of a double-edged sword — I wish that we weren't siloed into one category."

That siloing effect reflects a stubborn tendency among Canada's cultural institutions to think about Indigenous art, in all disciplines, as a monolith, as well as in a past-tense, anthropological sense instead of something that is diverse, evolving, and contemporary.

Jeremy Dutcher arrives on the red carpet at the Juno Awards in London, Ont., Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Jeremy Dutcher arrives on the red carpet at the Juno Awards in London, Ont., Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Even the notion of an 'Indigenous category' seems antiquated and othering in 2019, in much the same way 'world music' does. Indigenous artists, too, make pop, rap, rock, country, folk, roots, alternative, and classical music.

Indigenous artists belong in every category, on every stage, because they belong, period.

Dutcher spoke about reconciliation during his powerful speech — or tried to anyway.

Shortly after addressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly — "a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like pipelines. 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 under boil-water advisories" — he was played off the stage, which is especially galling considering the Juno Awards' Saturday night gala is not beholden to broadcast timelines.

And so, later in the night, after accepting their award for rock album of the year, the Arkells gave Dutcher their time.

"Our friend Jeremy didn't get a chance to finish, so he's going to finish the night as he should," Arkells frontman Max Kerman said.

It wasn't just a classy move on the part of the Arkells, it was a significant one. Acts of reconciliation can be as simple as passing the microphone, sharing a platform, knowing when to stand back and let someone else speak.

Acts of reconciliation can be as simple as passing the microphone, sharing a platform, knowing when to stand back and let someone else speak.

Reconciliation doesn't come from silos and separation. It comes from working together and elevating each other.

"This is what holding space looks like," Dutcher said when he returned to the stage.

He called reconciliation a lofty goal, a dream that "takes time. It takes stories. It takes shared experience. It takes music. I have hope. I have to. That we can come to right relations with each other."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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