In 2016, Darryl Dozlaw, musician, teacher, pastor and church planter, began reading the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,Volume One: Summary: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future. The report includes the history of residential schools in Canada, the legacy of that school system, and the Commission’s ninety-four recommendations for action to address that legacy. The report is not easy to read. As Darryl shares, “It is a heartbreaking read but as a Canadian I thought it was the right thing to do. I should know our country’s story. As I read the report, I was so upset by this aspect of the Canadian story that was kept from us as we were growing up. As an artist when ideas, problems or whatever it is, present themselves, you reply. For me I tend to pull out my notebook and scribble my ideas down and then try to shape them into songs.”
Darryl shaped those scribbles into the song “It is Ours”, a song about his experience with truth and reconciliation. Darryl felt the song was too big for his hands to hold and wondered if the song would be useful to Don Speidel, cultural liaison with the Saskatoon Public School Division and coordinator of the school divisions’ Indigenous Ensemble (an after-school program reconnecting students with their indigenous roots). Don was impressed by Darryl’s lyrics and saw possibility.
Other hands came alongside Darryl to help hold and further shape “It is Ours”. Allowing others to influence the lyrics or arrangement of a song can be challenging for some artists, but Darryl wanted the song to be accessible to more people. “An indigenous friend experienced the lyrics in a way I never imagined. This song was originally written for people like me, but people unlike me are actually valuing it too. So I took my friend’s advice and the darkest parts of the song went away and we fast tracked to the hope part.”
Darryl and musical partner, Darrell Paskimin, a Plains Cree drummer and flute player, have presented “It is Ours” at schools, symposiums, anti-racism benefits and other events throughout Saskatoon. A few weeks ago, they recorded the song at the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians. “It is Ours” will be available for download and streaming in 2019, with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon Public Schools Indigenous Ensemble.
This has been an identity piece for Darryl. “To create then deliver something beautiful and restorative to a hurting nation has been mind blowing. For God to bring something to this world through me has been so meaningful, and I never really expected it to happen. I was over fifty when I wrote something that would reach beyond my circle into the lives of complete strangers. As an artist you always hope that will happen, but I imagined it would be a worship song. Instead God was pleased to bring “It is Ours” into the world through me and then give me lots of opportunities to sing it.”
The song ends with the story of a little girl. “Last year on National Aboriginal Day, I was sitting in a park across from my house. This little girl with a rainbow painted on her forehead plunked down beside me on my long board. In that moment I realized that reconciliation does have a future in Canada because to this little child, my forefathers being the bad guys in her forefathers’ story was a non-fact. We were just two people sitting in the sun. There is hope. This is not my story. It is ours.”
To read more about “It is Ours”, check out CTV Saskatoon and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. If you prefer listening then head over to New Leaf Project’s Ep 40 – The Song that Built a Bridge – Darryl Dozlaw. You can have a listen to the song at the end of the podcast.
By Alison McKinnon