Today, we would like to share the experiences of DAREarts Artist-as-Teachers, Cathy Elliott and Linda Carson, who recently returned to Marten Falls (Ogoki Post), a fly-in-only First Nations community in Northern Ontario, alongside artists Waawaate Fobister and Jeremy Proulx. For many decades, this community has struggled with the lingering effects of the residential school system, which has resulted in extremely low self-confidence and bullying among children at the school. After a week of intense workshops, the culminating community performance by the children demonstrated a very positive step forward. Quoted material is courtesy of Linda Carson and Cathy Elliott.
Photo courtesy Donovan C.
“With help from the community, our team transformed the gym into a magnificent art gallery and screening room. We were pleased that teacher Annie Loon had kept the video screen that the students made last fall for us to use again. Cathy added final touches to the banners that the students had painted last winter and they were hung in the North, East, South and West areas of the gym. The paintings that the children produced this year were hung from a long branch plucked from the bush by Waawaate. As Cathy said to one elder, ‘Each individual painting is beautiful. But look at this. See the strength of these kids when we get them working together? See the strength of their voice and their art when we see them all hung like this, together?’”
Photo courtesy Carson A.
“At 4 p.m. there were only two students and about ten people in the gallery, but by 4:30 there were over 70 people. A big turnout for a small community! Students proudly shared their artwork with their families as well as the slide show. We refreshed their memories with the film created in last year’s program. Many people there had not seen it, and those who had, loved seeing it again. When we were sure everyone was there, we expressed our thanks to all those who helped make the program a success:
Wendy Coaster, for the feast
Elder Elizabeth Achneepineskum, for translating the student’s names into syllabics
Teacher Annie Loon, for the bannock and her help all week
Linda Moonias (Band manager), Gloria Coaster (principal) and Teachers Cindi Saunders (grade 5/6) and Frank (grade 7/8), for their help”
Photo courtesy Kaia M.
“When the first image of the music video for the children’s song ‘Swimming in a Fast Current’ hit the screen, all the small children who had been running around stopped in their tracks, fascinated with their older brothers and sisters performances on the screen. There was a sense of awe in the room. Some adults were astounded. The question in the air was, ‘Our kids did this? These are our kids?’ The answer in the room was pride and laughter. The father standing next to me had no idea that the students had created a video over the week. He said, ‘Really? Really? Our students really did this?’ Then he moved in from where he had just entered to take a seat up front.”
Photo courtesy Jo-Ellen
“After the clapping and hooting from the video died down, Cathy led the whole audience in a sing-a-long of this year’s new song, ‘Zhoo-gi-de-win’ or ‘Courage.’ Cathy told the story of how she had asked the students if they wanted to teach others about courage, or voice their own courage. The students had chosen to teach others and, as everyone sang, there was a feeling that the words were empowering the singers. The song was repeated again with enthusiasm. Later, during clean-up, it was noted that not many copies of the lyrics had been left behind. People in the community had put Zhoo-gi-de-win in their pockets: courage in their pockets to take home.”
Photo courtesy Kaia M.
“We know that circumstances here point the children in the direction to lash out. Small steps are big hurdles for them, but we’ve seen that they are capable of rising out of the mire of hatred, misery and boredom. They just need opportunities to spark into Action. We’ve been Daring the community to continue the work with them. Bit by bit, more people have shown and interest in what we’re offering their kids. A community member emphasized the need for a full-time art teacher. We hope that with strong will, an arts program will continue, and committed, experienced teachers will re-ignite their interest in learning.”
“In the meantime, judging from the outcomes and community response, DAREarts has nudged these children in the right direction. Webequie’s success is the model envisioned when we come to Ogoki. The community itself is working hard to regain the balance it needs for a healthy happy society.”
“Tiny steps. Big Hearts. Another good day in Ogoki.”