Jeremy Dutcher, a singer performing in the indigenous Wolastoq language, has won Canada’s most prestigious pop music award, the Polaris prize.
The prize – the equivalent of the UK’s Mercury prize – was announced at a gala in Toronto on Monday. It is voted for by a panel of journalists, broadcasters and music industry figures, and given to what they deem the year’s best Canadian album.
Dutcher beat more prominent acts on the 10-strong shortlist, such as Daniel Caesar, US Girls and Alvvays with his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, and wins a prize of 50,000 Canadian dollars (£29,000).
The Wolastoq people – also known as the Maliseet – are native to the Saint John river valley across far eastern Canada. Dutcher delivered a statement in English and his native language, saying: “Psiw-te npomawsuwinuwok, kiluwaw yut. All my people, this is for you … What you see on this stage tonight, this is the future. This is what’s to come.” He added on Twitter: “You are in the midst of an indigenous renaissance. Are you ready to hear the truth that needs to be told? Are you ready to see the things that need to be seen?”
Dutcher is a classically trained operatic tenor, but for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, he transposed traditional Wolastoq songs into piano-driven arrangements, folding in samples of archival recordings of his ancestors.
Previous Polaris prize winners include Arcade Fire, Feist and Caribou. Last year’s winner was the Colombian-Canadian singer Lido Pimienta.