"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?”

And so began the acceptance speech of Jeremy Dutcher, on being awarded Canada’s Polaris Music Prize in 2018 for his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.

Dutcher, an indigenous artist (and trained operatic tenor) from the Wolastoq community in New Brunswick, performed entirely in the Wolastoq language on the album, an indigenous language spoken by fewer than 100 fluent speakers.

His album was chosen by a grand jury of journalists and music industry figures as the Canadian album of the year.

This week, Glasgow will get a little taste of Canada’s indigenous renaissance when four of the country’s most inspiring indigenous cultural leaders rock up during Celtic Connections to exchange ideas, dialogue and practice with some exceptional Scottish Gaelic talent.

This indigenous creators exchange marks the launch of Indigenous Contemporary Scene – a two-year creative enquiry in both Scotland and Canada, opening up space for artist-led responses to the 2019 Unesco International Year of Indigenous Languages and giving artists space and time to interrogate how Scotland and Canada’s shared colonial histories manifest within contemporary creative practice.

My springboard for becoming the producer in Scotland for this project comes from my eyes being opened to Scotland’s colonial past thanks to artists I worked alongside during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games cultural programme: folk who scrutinised Scotland’s imperial history as artists do best – with wit, with urgency and an ability to tell stories that make a wider public and decision makers sit up and listen.

Fast forward to October 2018, when I was walking along Ingram Street in Glasgow’s Merchant City with Émilie Monnet, an indigenous artist and curator based in Montreal whose company name, ONISHKA, means “wake up” in Anishnabemowin, the indigenous language of her mother’s people.

We find ourselves gazing at a blue plaque on the elegant Ramshorn Kirk. The plaque commemorates the baptism in Ramshorn Kirk of Sir John A Macdonald, who left the city of his birth aged five with his family in 1820, and went on to become Canada’s first prime minister.

For now, at least, Macdonald has been scrubbed from government websites in Scotland due to his treatment of indigenous people. The details of Macdonald’s legacy are only too familiar to Émilie and to our Canadian producers on the indigenous contemporary scene, Selfconscious Productions (the people behind the amazing Canada Hub at the Edinburgh Fringe), but less so to me – and I think also to many Scots.

The Indian Act brought in by Macdonald in 1876 resulted in 100,000 indigenous Canadian children being forcibly sent into the residential school system that removed and isolated them from the influence of their homes, families, languages, traditions and cultures. For too many, these schools were sites of colonial violence where children were subjected to sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the people supposed to “civilise” them.

Macdonald’s policies, to my mind, are further complicated by the fact he was only too aware of the impacts of forced cultural assimilation. His maternal grandmother was born circa 1745 and is said to have lived much of her life close to the shores of Loch Alvie, under the shadow of the Cairngorms.

According to family folklore, Macdonald’s maternal grandfather had taken part in the Jacobite Rising of 1745 in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

His father Hugh had been born in a croft in the village of Rogart in Sutherland in 1782. Sir John A Macdonald himself spoke Scottish Gaelic.

So outside that church in the Merchant City, almost 200 years after Macdonald left Glasgow, we resolved to seize the opportunity of this 2019 designated Unesco International Year of Indigenous Languages to bring several of those practitioners at the forefront of Canada’s cultural indigenous renaissance over to Glasgow.

The idea was to help them engage with a wide range of cultural leaders and artists who use Scottish Gaelic in their practice to incite new collaborations, and to contribute to the greater impact of indigenous voices internationally.

Support from Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government in Canada and The High Commission of Canada has enabled us to bring 15 or so artists together, including Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) curator Greg Hill from the National Gallery of Canada; Kevin Loring, the first artistic director of indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre of Canada; Scottish composer and former Young Gaelic Ambassador of the Year Pàdruig Morrison; author Donald S Murray and creative producer Seona McClintock.

They will participate in a programme that takes full advantage of world-class events at Celtic Connections to enjoy some incredible music rooted in the traditions of Scottish Gaelic, as well as to get to know each other’s work and consider themes and issues of shared histories, belonging, (de)colonisation and indigeneity.

Visual artist Eòghann Mac Colla sums up why taking part in the project matters to him: “The recognition of smaller languages and more fragile cultures should be a celebration, and not seen, as it often is, as grandstanding.

“Let us remember why they are smaller and fragile: often due to oppression, cultural imperialism and economic disconnection. These themes will undoubtedly emerge during this exchange. It’s vital to remember language adds colour and tone to life, place, belonging and perspective. If we lose any, we lose that colour and all that it reflects. Nuances and idioms shape us, some words don’t translate, they are untranslatable.”

Our Indigenous Contemporary Scene programme sits alongside several other creative responses being organised in Scotland, to give Scottish artists the opportunity to spend time in the company of their international peers to consider the themes of this designated Unesco International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Earlier in January, Scottish music agent Lisa Whytock and the team behind Showcase Scotland partnered with the Etxepare Basque Institute for an event in Glasgow exploring opportunities for connections and ongoing partnerships between arts organisations and producers in Scotland with artists and producers in the Basque Country.

Literature Wales also plans to be working with colleagues at the Scottish Poetry Library on collaborations between Welsh, Scots and Scottish Gaelic poets and writers.

For me, Asif Khan, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, sums up the potential of these and other planned exchanges between indigenous creators this year, when he cites the Scottish poet WS Graham saying: “Language is where the people are.”

Khan also offers that “Brexit has undoubtedly brought together the Celtic nations, and their cultural institutions in particular, to closer dialogue on what we understand by identity, belonging and shared values. Where we are and what we are seem to be in flux”.

To borrow again from Graham, language is “the shell held to time’s ear”, and 2019 has set out its stall as a noisy year. Amid the surrounding cacophony, the opportunity next week to listen and learn from artists who carry indigenous knowledge and language feels like a blessing. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

Jean Cameron is a freelance creative producer, President of Paisley Art Institute and is on the board of the National Theatre of Scotland