Diyet and the Love Soldiers on the march for the music and the language of her people

Diyet and the Love Soldiers (Robert Van Lieshout and Bob Hamilton).

It’s a long way from Burwash Landing, Kluane First Nation, Yukon to 1 Elgin St. and the NAC’s Fourth Stage on March 30.

But Diyet and the Love Soldiers are making the journey. It starts on the shores of Kluane Lake, then heads to Whitehorse, the Yukon capital. From Whitehorse, they fly to Vancouver and then they’ll hop another plane to Ottawa.

“Needless to say, we fly a lot,” Diyet said in a phone interview from the North. And because of the distance, everything has to be planned to the last detail, but it’s worth it for the music and the message.

The trio includes her husband/guitarist/collaborator, Robert van Lieshout, and multi- instrumentalist, Bob Hamilton.

A big part of Diyet’s musical motivation is the preservation of her language, the Kluane dialect of Southern Tutchone.

There are only three speakers left of Kluane and Diyet is working hard to make sure the language survives in her songs and in her life.

Living in the north then is an important inspiration for Diyet.

“It creates a clarity,” she said. She has lived in cities before. She lived in Vancouver for many years and she also has lived in the Netherlands where she met her husband. Her time in one of the most densely populated countries in the world did get to her eventually.

“I couldn’t handle it after a year or so. There were too many people and too much noise. I’m used to a big personal bubble.”

She met Robert when she was going to university. She was studying in Croatia and after the course finished she went backpacking across Europe. She had friends in Holland and she met Robert in a bar.

The couple moved to the Yukon in 1999 and have been there since.

“He’s pretty much full on Canadian bush guy now although he is still very fashionable. The elders get a kick out of it.”

When Diyet met Robert he was playing in a punk band. He’s also a social worker and a practicing nurse. “To say the least our life is just really interesting.”

When they met, Diyet was a music student at the University of Victoria studying voice. She was also taking history courses and her Croatian adventure emerged from that. She was taking a course called Rebuilding Culture After War with a field study in Croatia while the Yugoslav conflict was winding down.

“It was one of those courses that change your perspective on society and people. I was coming from this university in Victoria. In Croatia our classroom in Dubrovnik was in the open air because the building had been bombed. There was rubble everywhere.”

She was impressed by the resilience of the people who were determined to bring some normalcy back to their lives. She sees many parallels with her own community as it works to preserve and build its own culture.

“The key for my community is the connection to the land and all the living things and non-living things on that land.”

This is reflected in her music, she said.

Most of her songs seek optimism. “I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal.” Still the world can be difficult.

“There are a lot of shitty things that go on every day. My village is no different. There are a lot of the same issues and struggles as there are in the big cities.” But there is an added struggle of keeping a culture alive. But she trusts the collective strength of her community. “It survives because we share grief and happiness collectively.”

She is a certified Southern Tutchone Language Teacher and has become very active in working to preserve her community’s language.

“Southern Tutchone is probably the largest language grouping in the Yukon. Within the language there are four active dialects. The dialect I am learning and teaching is the Kluane dialect. There are three fluent active speakers living and two of them will be 90 this year.”

So there is some urgency.

“Yesterday I spent eight hours in a studio recording traditional songs with my teacher because we need to document these. It is urgent but it’s fulfilling too.”

When Diyet was growing up her parents were traditionalists. Her mother had gone to residential school and she was determined her children would have the culture.

“She made it her life’s mission to make sure we had a traditional upbringing. We are so lucky we had that opportunity.” She was on the land growing up and had a lot of guidance from elders. Her grandmother is one of the remaining Kluane dialect speakers.

She did not however grow up speaking the dialect herself.

“It’s a very difficult language, it’s tonal.”

But now that she is learning the language, it is like putting on a comfortable sweater.

“I could really understand songs and the phrasing.” The music was inherent, even though it doesn’t follow a western beat. She  found she was naturally connected.

“For me rediscovering and documenting and relearning our language in our songs has opened up an internal rhythm I was born with.” Her husband, being Dutch, is always trying to find the down beat, she said with a laugh.

This is her life’s work. “I can’t see it stopping. It would be an incredible thing for my community to have a generation of children grow up with these songs and this language.”

The show in Ottawa will be a mix of new tunes, older material and some traditional songs as well. The trio is touring their self-titled album which is nominated for an Indigenous Music Award.

Ottawa kicks off an Eastern Canadian tour and then the band will fly to the U.K. The trio doesn’t tour all that often so when they do they try to make it worthwhile.

Diyet and the Love Soldiers
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
When: March 30 at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.