A new anthology offers recognition and underlines the singer's role in folk music
Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology
by Willie Dunn
  • INTRO: Canadian indigenous folk hero Willie Dunn
  • REVIEWS: From Exclaim and Pitchfork. Both reviews offer comprehensive insight and context to Dunn’s music and place in Canadian folk music.
  • PLAYLISTS: On YouTube and Spotify
  • VIDEO: The Ballad of Crowfoot. Often called Canada’s first music video, this 10-minute piece was directed by Dunn for the National Film Board of Canada. He also composed and sings the song.
Of mix Mi’kmak and Scottish/Irish descent a recently released anthology brings overdue recognition to musician Willie Dunn.


Never properly acknowledged during his career in music and film, a new 22-song anthology underlines his impact

That musician and filmmaker Willie Dunn is only now gaining wider recognition for work he did 50 years ago mirrors Canada’s delayed reaction to acknowledging the longstanding injustices against First Nations people in this country, issues that Dunn explored in his music.

The March release of a definitive and remastered collection of his songs – Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology – “restores an important missing chapter of contemporary folk music” says Exclaim! in its review of the 22-song collection. While his best known song is I Pity the Country, Pitchfork magazine’s review notes “nearly every song is remarkable, and nearly any of them could have served as a breakthrough.”

A filmmaker with the NFB

Dunn’s recorded work was limited to six albums between 1971 and 2004 and has been hard to find. In addition to his music Dunn was a filmmaker working with the National Film Board of Canada’s Indian Film Crew (IFC). The 10-minute film the Ballad of Crowfoot directed by Dunn is often referred to as Canada’s first known music video. On its website the NFB says, “The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.” Learn more about Chief Crowfoot here.

Political career

A longtime member of the New Democratic Party, according to Wikipedia “Dunn defeated Mohamed Bassuny to win the party’s federal nomination for Ottawa-Vanier in the 1993 federal election. He received 3,155 votes (6.50%), finishing fourth against Liberal incumbent Jean-Robert Gauthier.


The two reviews from Exclaim and Pitchfork are informative and offer an excellent overview of a musician who produced great music while grappling with finding his place in the music industry.


Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology

by Sam Sodomsky/Pitchfork

The First Nations songwriter receives his overdue recognition with this brilliant and troubling anthology, which shows the breadth of his skill. Nearly every song is remarkable, and nearly any of them could have served as a breakthrough.

Give one listen to his 1971 song “I Pity the Country” and you will know Willie Dunn. Over a winding, fingerpicked acoustic guitar melody, the First Nations songwriter uncovers layer after layer of hard wisdom in his deep, solemn voice. “I pity the country/I pity the state,” he sings of the colonialist system working against him and the agents it employs, from politicians to prisons to portrayals of Indigenous people like him in films and TV. In under three minutes, it is a protest song that seems to capture an entire lifetime and philosophy, condensed in a few simple lines.

If this fearless and unflinching vision is what made Dunn’s music so compelling, it also kept him from playing along with the music business. In producer Kevin Howes’ extensive, illuminating liner notes for a new posthumous anthology, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies, you will find stories of Dunn turning down early attention from Columbia Records (they wanted to market him as some rebellious cowboy archetype), …

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Restoring a Missing Chapter in Folk Music

By Mark Dunn / Exclaim!

With the release of Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology, an important missing chapter of contemporary folk music has been restored. Apart from three songs released on 2014’s Native North America (Vol. 1) compilation, and Metallic, a later album of mostly re-released earlier songs, Willie Dunn‘s music has been difficult to find. He is in good company in the absent-but-remembered league of artists with vast catalogues of folk music, especially by Indigenous songwriters like David Campbell, Alanis Obomsawin and the late Shingoose, nearly silenced in the digital shift. 

A filmmaker, songwriter, and politician who ran for the New Democratic Party, Dunn was central to the North American folk scene throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The arrangements are sparse, featuring acoustic instruments and Dunn’s sonorous voice over folk and country sounds. Often, Dunn delivers his lines with a subtle rising inflection as if posing a question. The effect is one of constant inquiry. Although the music is calm and gentle, it is not passive.

Over the 22 songs included on Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies, Dunn is fully engaged with the history of Indigenous people and the ongoing interruption of European presence on Turtle Island.

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