An award-winning folk singer is releasing a new album that is part of a dialogue about Jesus, Indigenous people, and history.
William Prince is releasing Gospel First Nation on October 23, 2020.
Prince grew up in Peguis First Nation, just north of Fisher Branch, and now he lives in Winnipeg.
"My musical foundation is rooted in country-folk gospel songs and traditional hymns, emulated from the greats like Hank Williams, Charley Pride, and Johnny Cash," he says.
Prince doesn't discount the fact that there has been a negative effect specifically with First Nations People and gospel songs in the past.
"I think back to these singers, the sound of an era, and how you had First Nations People doing their best interpretation of these songs. Arguably singing songs that were put in place to extinguish Indian identity in Canada."
He says that the use of the doctrine of Christianity played a big part in the colonization and assimilation of First Nations People. Residential schools are one example.
Reconciliation is something he will talk about for the rest of his life when he adds that one piece of art, music, or literature cannot cover the complexities of it all.
However, Prince has a very fond memory of growing up in a Christian household and still equates much of his beliefs, and reasons why he sings these songs, to his upbringing.
"I chose to speak on this because I know for a fact there are believers in the Lord who follow the teachings of God and the Bible."
Prince started his musical journey playing to a church congregation of 11 people, six of whom were on stage playing instruments or singing.
His first album, Earthly Days, won him a JUNO award and was reissued by Glassnote Records and Six Shooter Records (Canada).
As for this new album, it contains history, not only his own but also Canadian.
"This is a historical recording in the great history of Canada because it captures a sound from a people lifting up a Lord and Saviour, who the messengers were brought for different intentions. It's the things I've taken from these teachings."
Prince shares how the word 'Christ' can be a trigger word to some.
"It wouldn't be for my album to be the final linking point of that kind of reconciliation. The reconciliation between the church and First Nations People is an ongoing, ever-changing, and evolving relationship."
Prince feels the time is right for a deeper conversation on this subject, as well as talking about racism towards Black and Indigenous people across North America.
"This is a conversation that needs to happen now while people are listening. It feels like we're at a funeral and the only thing appropriate, I feel, is gospel. The very definition of gospel is the good news. That's what we're in need of," he says.
Prince shares that faith has been the framework of his life. He grew up playing music with his dad who was a preacher. His grandfather was also a preacher.
A chapel in Pegius, no longer in use, was built and named after the family, called Prince Memorial Chapel. It is on the cover of Gospel First Nation.
Two songs on the record have 'Jesus' in the title.
"When I say Jesus, I am talking about a man who would have been spending his time with the poor and the sick, those plagued by all these awful things that are out there," he says.
Prince also shares that he believes in a Higher Power, a title of one of his songs on this album.
"There was an importance of accessibility to this album where I speak of concepts like 'all of us', no matter race or creed, we are all His children."
The new ten-track album includes some of the first gospel songs Prince learned to sing. Three songs are original gospel compositions and one is an original song written by Prince's late father.
"I took a lot of great teachings from the teachings of Jesus," says Prince, without putting his music under the category of Christian.
His dad passed away in 2015, just a few months before Prince released his first album.
"He was always a firm believer in my potential and spoke about it as if it were already happening. That was enough to make me brave to try things and feel like I was supported."
Prince also gives respect to his mother whom he says is a bigger part of why his dad was a great man.
"I said 2020 would be the year of clarity. It's more clear now than ever just how important our health and families are."