June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, we will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.
June 17: Today, we celebrate Adrian Sutherland
Adrian Sutherland grew up and continues to live in the isolated Cree community of Attawapiskat on the coast of the James Bay.
“Growing up in Attawapiskat was both interesting and tough. I recall living a simple life, we didn’t have much,” Sutherland said.
“As a child we lived under one roof with no running water. I was fortunate enough to spend time on the land and learn my Cree native tongue.”
Sutherland is a singer, songwriter, musician, recording artist and frontman for the rock band Midnight Shine. He knows his Cree language. Indigenous languages are known to keep people connected to culture.
“It’s very important to me to preserve the language because people are using it less and less these days, and with the loss of our elders we are beginning to lose much of the knowledge they carry.”
Sutherland formed his band Midnight Shine in 2011. Over the past nine years, they have released three albums and had multiple songs in the Top 10 on the charts. In 2018, Sutherland and Midnight Shine covered Neil Young’s classic Heart of Gold. The song was released on their third album, High Road. They put a cultural twist on their rendition of the song adding pow wow singing to the track and a verse in the Cree language.
“I had lots of fun covering Heart of Gold, and everyone involved couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. There is a third verse in Cree (same as the first), to be honest it was a bit challenging to translate some words and meaning because some English words don’t exist in the Cree language. For example, the word ‘gold’,” he said.
The cover garnered the band national attention. Drawing from personal experience growing up in northern Ontario, he has chosen to write songs that shed light on Indigenous issues like the suicide crisis among Indigenous youth with the song, I Need Angels, off the same album.
“With all that is happening in the world today, it’s more clear that we have to move towards a better world where people listen to each other.”
One week before Canada’s federal election in 2019, Sutherland released his debut solo single called Politician Man.
“The song Politician Man is a protest song about the time we are in now, not many artists are writing protest songs, at least not to my knowledge. With all that is happening in the world today, it’s more clear that we have to move towards a better world where people listen to each other. It’s a song everyone can relate to,” Sutherland said.
Midnight Shine is set to release their new album by June 30. It’s a fully remastered version of their 2013 debut album, James Bay. The album will bring the root-rockers “full circle.” The album, James Bay, will feature new artwork of its namesake region, a special radio edit of their debut single, Since You Been Gone, and a bonus track — a previously unreleased Misguided Woman, one of the first songs ever to be written by Sutherland.
Not only is Sutherland an inspiration through his music, he has become a role model for the youth, sharing his cultural knowledge. As a master corporal with Attawapiskat’s Canadian Ranger Patrol, Sutherland teaches the youth about the traditional ways of the land and leading by example. He wants to make sure that the youth have access to education, sports and recreation and the means to learn about themselves and who they are.
Sutherland is also an artist ambassador with the Downie-Wenjack Fund, which is a program that lets artists share their music and stories through workshops and performances, aiming to help students learn about reconciliation. Sutherland said he takes his role as a role model very seriously and brings hope to people in places where hope may be hard to find.
Click here to learn more about Sutherland, Midnight Shine and their music.