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Born From Dirt

by Joseph Naytowhow

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    Award-winning Cree knowledge keeper, singer-songwriter and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow recounts a splintered, yet evocative and poignant portrayal of being abducted from his family and sent off to residential school.
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Statement from the artist:
At 67, I’ve experienced pimâtisiwin. I’ve had really great moments and there have been extreme trials and trauma as well. Music and creativity have always been key to my survival and sustenance (for the past 30+ years, I’ve literally been singing and storytelling to eat, pay rent and express my deep inner feelings and share knowledge). As difficult my life was as a child, for years I was tormented living in a world that completely turned me inside out and upside down. And although I suffered greatly, being resilient, giving thanks and persevering helped me tremendously.

I knew I wanted to write about the abduction and sudden removal from my whole world which happened at five or six years of age while I was living with my grandparents. My father was always encouraging me to go into a studio with him to record original songs. I wanted to write a country song because my dad loved to sing them. The reality that I would express this traumatic, life-altering moment in mostly English in a contemporary song writing and singing style was and is helpful to my life-long healing. To finally write down and then sing what it may have looked and felt like was a journey towards reconciling with that disruption to my childhood. I knew I couldn’t do it alone though.

Following my 2000 album Nikamok (with nisîmis/my sister Cheryl L’Hirondelle), this song ‘Born From Dirt’ is also, in part, a gift from her. I am grateful she constantly encouraged me (and kicked my butt). Her suggestion that I work with Gregory Hoskins as a musical dramaturge of sorts to write about what happened in that one moment was intimidating, yet I endured as I have always done. I knew inwardly that I needed to set the record straight - mainly in my own defence. The process dragged on, so a microgrant from the Canada Council for the Arts helped propel the process. Cheryl, Gregory and I then spent a few more days to workshop and land on the final lyrics and arrangement, and then record my vocal performance in the comfort and safety of my own home. An additional microgrant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board helped pay for this design and manufacturing.

There are many other people who consist of close friends, musicians and academic colleagues - too numerous to list - that I want to say a HUGE thank you to for your ongoing encouragement and support. There is also much more to say about the process - I’m only explaining a little bit here about how I experienced this collaborative song writing and singing process. Now that I can hear and see the beautiful lyrical phrasing, musical arrangement and cover design that I finally know - this is my song!
- Joseph Naytowhow


Born from dirt in ‘53
January, still before the dawn.
A wild child
I come from the ochre of my mother’s heart.
nôtokwêw ohpikihâkan (old woman raised)

A truck stirs a cloud on a rez dirt road
a man in a two-piece suit, one with a gun.
Read our rights
in a language we could not understand.
mâyipayin (the time when things went wrong)

Whimpering dogs nipping at the tires
stolen away, I lost:
the language of love
the feel of the earth
the safety of
my kohkom’s skirt.

I am that boy, I am that boy, I am that boy
And my world was turned upside down.

I was born from dirt in ‘53
January, still before the dawn.

A victory song
but I don’t know what I am winning at, I lost:
the language of love
the feel of the earth
the safety of
my kohkom’s skirt.

I am that boy, I am that boy
I am that boy, I am that boy
I am that boy, I am that boy
I’m still that boy

And my world was turned upside down…


released March 6, 2021
Born From Dirt
©2019 SOCAN/Miyoh Music Inc.
lyrics by Joseph Naytowhow
music by Gregory Hoskins

Lead Vocals: Joseph Naytowhow
Backing Vocals: Cheryl L’Hirondelle
All instruments and arrangement: Gregory Hoskins
Recorded, Mixed, Mastered by Gregory Hoskins
Co-produced by Gregory Hoskins and Cheryl L’Hirondelle

front photo: Joseph Naytowhow and Cheryl L’Hirondelle
CD design by Suzi Belcourt

kinanâskomitinawaw: Diana Chabros (my life partner/manager); Gregory Hoskins (music producer/creative collaborator); Cheryl L’Hirondelle (nisîmis/creative collaborator); Irene Naytowhow (nikâwiy, because “I come from the ochre of my mother’s heart”); Andy Naytowhow (nohtâwiy, for the musical genes in the family); Suzi Belcourt (CD design); Miyoh Music Inc. (music publisher/record label).



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Miyoh Music Inc. Saskatchewan

Miyoh Music Inc. is a niche Indigenous music publisher and record label, based on the great northern plains on the land now known as canada.

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