Attawapiskat singer Adrian Sutherland says he was thinking of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau when he wrote a protest song ahead of the federal election about broken political promises.
But he hopes all of Ottawa’s party leaders take a moment to reflect on the message of reconciliation behind his debut solo single Politician Man.
“It’s about the big man, the one who’s at the head of the country,” the Cree musician, who’s also frontman for pop-rock act Midnight Shine, explained by phone.
“It doesn’t really matter to me who — generally speaking, it’s about the big boss of Canada… That’s what we say in my language. It’s a message to our Parliament that I feel like we’re not heard, and we’re still continuing to not be heard with a lot of issues.”
Sutherland penned Politician Man after his Attawapiskat community declared a state of emergency in July over concerns about disinfection byproducts in its tap water.
When Environment Minister Catherine McKenna praised the quality of Ottawa’s tap water on Twitter while Attawapiskat was still struggling, Sutherland joined others in pointing out her ill-timed tweet. He then posted a photo of himself wearing a contamination mask while holding a canister of water.
Must be nice to have clean drinking water – thousands of indigenous people don’t even have clean water to bathe in never-mind drink. I don’t think is something to be proud of!
Politician Man takes a step back from that incident to address the broader apathy Sutherland feels coming from Ottawa’s leaders. Against the wail of a blues harmonica, he sings about how political strategy overshadows community.
“Lyin’ to my face. Lyin’ to yourself. Lyin’ to the people that you said you would help,” he says.
“Mister politician man, what about the ones you forgot?”
‘We don’t have a seat at the big table’
The song was co-written by Sutherland with the Trews drummer Chris Gormley and his brother Matt, and recorded at Hamilton’s Westmoreland Recording Studio.
“I couldn’t help but think of Justin Trudeau as we were writing the song and I was putting down vocals,” Sutherland said.
“And of course past politicians as well,” he added, pointing to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, in particular.
An accompanying lyric video was created by Justin Stephenson, the animator behind Gord Downie’s Secret Path film.
Sutherland said he wants the lyrics to stoke conversation about Canada’s troubled relationship with First Nations communities, and how many people don’t feel represented in government beyond their own local leadership.
“We don’t have a seat at the big table,” he said. “And when you have that type of scenario how could you truly be represented?”
He also hopes the song’s rousing finale serves as a reminder that all groups — politicians, chiefs, Indigenous people and all Canadians — need to move past blaming each other and looking toward reconciliation.
“I do see us navigating through it in a very slow an treacherous way,” he said.
“But the more we speak up about things, I think, the more progress we’re going to start seeing.”