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Singer and songwriter Jeremy Dutcher used his Juno Award win to tell Prime Minister Justin Trudeau what “a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like.” He was cut off. Cold.

Then a few minutes later the rock band Arkells shared their speech time so Dutcher could continue talking about reconciliation in Canada.

The Juno Awards is Canada’s largest music show where Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik member of the Tobique First Nation, won for the Indigenous Music Album of the Year yesterday. His album entitled Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa also captured him the Polaris Music Prize in September. The entire album is in his Maliseet language and took five years of research and work. 

Dutcher spoke his First Nations language and thanked his mom, family and team followed by asking the other nominees in the category to stand up and be recognized for their work.

“Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Elisapie, Leonard Sumner, Northern Cree, all of your work changes this place and it deserves to be considered outside of this category because our music is not niche. Our music is saying something,” he said.

The opera composer then used what was left of his 60 seconds to talk to the country’s leader.

“Justin. Mr. Trudeau, a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like pipelines. A nation-to-nation relationship does not look like sending a militarized police force into unceded territory. And a nation-to-nation relationship does not look like, in 2019, our communities still on boiled water advisory,” he said. “I hope to continue to use this platform to tell truth. We can all do better. Reconciliation…”

Cue music. Dutcher left the stage. 

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The Arkells, who won Group of the Year, invited Dutcher back on stage so he could finish his speech.

This is what holding space looks like, said Dutcher of the rock band.

“As I was saying, reconciliation. It’s a lofty goal. It’s a dream. It doesn't happen in a year. It takes time. It takes stories. It takes shared experiences. It takes music. I have hope. I have to. That we can come to right relations with each other. You know?” he said. “It’s if we’re not on the same page, at least we’re in the same book.”

His last words were in his language, “Nihkaniyayon ktpitahatomonen ciw weckuwapasihtit nit leyic,” he said, which translates to, “When you lead us, you need to think of all of us, for the ones yet born may that be the truth.” 

Last week, Dutcher told CBC that he thanks Indigenous musicians before him who fought for the inclusion of Indigenous artists in these music award shows. But that also comes with being fit into only one box.

"I have to commend the work of people like [Buffy Sainte-Marie] who really advocated for this category to be included in these awards. ... [But] there are no Indigenous nominees outside of the Indigenous music category and it's not because we're not putting out excellent music,” he said. “So for me, it's a bit of a double-edged sword — I wish that we weren't siloed into one category."

Other nominees for the Indigenous Music Album of the Year included:

  • Elisapie, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl
  • Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
  • Leonard Sumner, Standing in the Light
  • Northern Cree, Nitisanak - Brothers and Sister
  • Snotty Nose Rez Kids, The Average Savage
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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: