Traditionally, Adrian Sutherland made an effort to not be so politically charged in his approach to writing music.
That changed when he released his debut solo single, Politician Man.
The song was born out of long standing issues in Sutherland’s home community of Attawapiskat and the frustrations of trying to raise a family on the First Nation in northern Ontario.
“It’s not just for Indigenous peoples, I think it’s for everyone. I think we have this frustration where we feel we don’t have a voice and there’s never any fair hearing when it comes to certain things in our communities,” says Sutherland.
Not having clean access to water pushed Sutherland “over the edge.”
The lyrics to ‘Politician Man’ deal with broken promises.
The song was released in the aftermath of Attawapiskat First Nation declaring a state of emergency over concerns with water quality.
Around the same time, the federal Minister of Environment tweeted about how great the tap water in Ottawa is.
In response, Sutherland tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask.
“It was more of a spontaneous thing. I had the mask and I knew the cartridges weren’t in it because I was working on the house and it had a lot of mold in my house and I bought the mask to protect myself but it was a spontaneous thing where I was eating breakfast and I saw the tweet from the Minister about how clean Ottawa’s drinking water was and it just really bothered me,” says Sutherland.
Sutherland believes artists shouldn’t have to use their profiles to fight for water or to ensure Indigenous issues are taken seriously.
“I think for me, now having kids and grandkids, at the point I am now in my life, I can’t just sit here and do nothing I have to speak out and so what if people are not going to like me for it, so be it,” says Sutherland. “I really feel like nobody cares about us up there. If a mine can parachute into our back yard and put a water treatment plant in within days that’s quality is really good, why can’t we apply the same thing to these communities?
“For crying out loud, there are still communities that still don’t have running water, no sewer, they’re still going out to the outhouse right on a major transportation corridor in this country. It’s just mind boggling to think.”
Watch Politician Man
Sutherland says he hasn’t seen many changes in the north in the past 20 years.
That has made it difficult to launch a music career from Attawapiskat but Sutherland says he wants to be close to his family, who are deeply rooted there.
A big part of that is having the ability to be out on the land and learning about the Cree culture and traditions.
Growing up in northern Ontario, hunting with family and friends provided Adrian Sutherland with a lot of life lessons.
Those experiences are also prominent in the lyrics Sutherland writes for the roots-rock band he heads up, Midnight Shine.
Sutherland first teamed up with the other members of the group in 2011 in Timmins to play as the opening act for Trooper.
Music was a big part of Sutherland’s childhood, he first started ‘noodling’ around on the guitar at six years old.
His mother was an accomplished player who used to strap an acoustic guitar on her back, hop on her motorcycle and tour northern communities.
Aside from family members, the Mini-Pops, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, CCR and Neil Young are among his musical influences.
Recently, Midnight Shine covered Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ with a bit of a twist.
Sutherland translated part of the lyrics in Mushkegowuk Cree.
“I was one song that I used to cover for many, many years. It’s one of my all-time favourite songs,” says Sutherland who borrowed a harmonic from an elder to learn how to play the harmonic and guitar at the same time.
The video for the cover of ‘Heart of Gold’ has more than 200,000 views on YouTube.