Jeremy Dutcher 

Secret City • 2023

Motewolonuwok is a soul-stirring bridge between cultures and generations aiming for a lasting revival of language, culture, and unity.

Elvis Costello said that a musician has their whole life to write their debut album and eighteen months to come up with their second. There’s truth to that adage, but I don’t think Costello envisioned a scenario like Jeremy Dutcher’s first and second albums. Dutcher’s debut, 2018’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, is a century-long labour of love and restoration in which he transcribed and arranged the songs of his ancestors recorded on wax cylinders held in the Canadian Museum of History archives. Dutcher’s time-spanning collaboration vaulted the classically trained composer and activist into the upper echelons of what he described as an Indigenous renaissance.  

On accepting the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, Dutcher said, “To do this record in my language and have it witnessed not just by my people, but people from every nation, from coast to coast, up and down Turtle Island, we’re at the precipice of something.” Eschewing a typical record release and promotional cycle, Dutcher’s taken his time—sixty-six months to be precise—following up his award-winning debut with Motewolonuwok, a soul-stirring examination of modern Indigeneity and the artist’s place in the ongoing cultural dialogues happening between Indigenous peoples themselves, and with settlers. 

In a recent interview, he said his intention with his first record was to make non-Indigenous listeners “uncomfortable and letting them sit in the not knowing” while gifting his community an album that is “for no one else but [them].” As an extension of that mission, Motewolonuwok directly engages Dutcher with non-Indigenous speakers by writing and singing to them in English. “Shared tongue is a beautiful gift, with a complicated reason,” he says about the new album, which strives to bring his community’s stories and history to more people.

What’s most compelling, though, as that above-quoted interview also makes clear, is that most members of the Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) that Dutcher belongs to do not speak the Wolastoqey language in which he sings. So essentially, songs like “Take My Hand” bring healing and renewal across the cultural divide for non-Indigenous people and those in the community who do not use their native language as a connective bond.

Whether singing in English or Wolastoqey, Dutcher’s point of view on Motewolonuwok is that reconciliation, healing, and recovery are not to be rushed. “Pomawsuwinuwok Wonakiyawolotuwok,” a song whose title translates to ‘people are rising,’ exemplifies the long road ahead by blending Dutcher’s two languages into one song. His chosen genre and style, a piano-based blending of opera and neoclassical arrangements of traditional melodies and songs, not only serves as a bridge between cultures but between generations of listeners as well. Calling Motewolonuwok “experimental pop as corrective medicine” makes sense. Dutcher’s renaissance isn’t interested in a quick fix; he’s aiming for the long-lasting revival and revitalization of a language, culture, and way of living that moves us all forward together.