Midnight Shine frontman on life in Attawapiskat
While the remote First Nations community of Attawapiskat is known to many Canadians due to an epidemic of suicide attempts, the frontman of local rock band Midnight Shine would rather it be known for its sweeping boreal forests and traditional way of life.
“Growing up in Attawapiskat certainly is different than growing up in a place like Toronto,” Adrian Sutherland told CTV’s Canada AM on Thursday. “It’s certainly given me a lot of perspective and taught me not to take little things for granted.”
Born and raised in this isolated community on the shores of James Bay, Sutherland’s childhood was defined by the ruggedness of his surroundings.
“I would describe my life growing up in Attawapiskat as very simple,” he said. “You know, a lot of families were hunter-gatherers and still are today. We had no running water growing up — we drank water from the rivers, lakes and in the winter, that was done by melting snow and ice.”
Today, his house in Attawapiskat has running water but it remains undrinkable. Like other residents, Sutherland needs to travel to one of two water hubs. With wildly high food prices, he still hunts to fill his freezer.
In April, Sutherland’s community made national headlines after 11 people attempted suicide on the same night. With more than 100 suicide attempts since September in this community of 2,000, a state of emergency was declared. To Sutherland, the origins of the crisis are multifaceted: the overcrowded community lacks basic services and infrastructure, drug addiction is rampant and so is poverty. He says the community also sees few benefits from the rich diamond mine that sits in its backyard. The $2 million the province has committed to Attawapiskat will help, but to Sutherland, education is the key.
He should know. After high school, Sutherland left for Timmins where he trained as a paramedic. Seven years ago, he returned home with his four children to become the community’s CEO for Economic Development.
“I have a very full plate,” Sutherland says. “I love writing songs and for me I think music is a way to express myself and to share.”
On Thursday, his four-piece band played its newest single, “Northern Man” – a tribute to Cree culture and the musicians’ homeland.
“One foot in the past, one in the here-and-now,” the urbane Sutherland sings. “On this sacred ground, I am a northern man.”