DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence

Guest Post–Cathy Elliott- Spring Comes Early at Four in the Morning (Attawapiskat)

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A month ago, DAREarts artist-as-teacher Cathy Elliott travelled to the Aboriginal community of Attawapiskat, Ontario, to empower the children and the community through the arts. The following post is her written report from day two of her DAREarts journey:

DAREday Two: Spring Equinox


I can’t believe I’m awake, typing right now.  I’ve got earplugs but the sound of my own heart-beat is keeping me awake.  How can kids possibly stay alert when they can’t keep out the sounds of other people walking up and down the hall or even just breathing next door all night long?  Of course, I’m in a new place and am very excited about the next few days…

Besides, it’s officially Spring Equinox.  The Ladies Drumming Group at the Porcupine Lodge over in Shubie N.S. (thousands of K’s away) are singing in the spring with a Sacred Fire Ceremony. I swear I can hear them, too.

And the guy next to me is snoring.  So.  Might as well write.

In a few hours I’ll go out and take some dawn pictures of a new day.  So much for catching up on my sleep.

James Bay Royalty…

Wapistan on the Polar Bear Express (Creative Commons License)


A few hours ago I was in the communal kitchen eating my dinner when Lawrence Martin came in and joined me.  Remember that guy I ran into at the Northern Store?  We got to talking about music and both pulled out our Macs and listened to each other’s music.  He started telling me about concerts with Tom Jackson and Kashtin and Susan Aglukark and I realized I was jabbin’ with a Canadian Legend!  Quick- Wikipedia: Not only is he the first Aboriginal Album of the Year winner, he was mayor of Sioux Lookout (I knew I really liked that place for a good reason) the first Aboriginal mayor of a municipality that wasn’t a Rez.  He’s currently the Mayor of Cochran?! I really hope he gets up and sings and plays with us on Friday.  (No pressure, Lawrence!)  I’m such a dope.  I need an education about the fantastic Aboriginal people in this country.  This province.  And here I was all impressed with myself that I met Wills & Kate last summer!  Jeez.

What do you all think about an album, with Nashville musicians, super star Aboriginal singers, covering songs written by our Aboriginal Youth?  Hmmmm?  Just putting it out there…


So excited about my first class with the grade 8’s.  I went out into the foggy morning and noting how slippery the ground was, with both hands occupied with guitar, computer and indoor shoes, gingerly stepped off the icy puddle and onto the solid snow bank.  And sank up to my knee in water.
I had stepped into the ditch which was hiding under that snow and the water that poured into the top of my boot was bone numbing cold.  I went back inside, and on a suggestion by the proprietress of the Inn, put grocery bags in my boots to keep my feet dry.  I walked to the school with white plastic sticking out of my boots.

That’s how my day started.

I just met two classes full of youth who are quiet, direct and seemingly cautious.  I like them a lot.  We’ve been brainstorming this morning about stuff that makes them tick.  What makes them prickly.  What they want for the future.  This afternoon I’ll meet up with the grade six’s again, and we’ll get started. Tomorrow I’ll meet the grade seven students.

I sang my song “Kitchen in Saint John” for those youth and their teachers.  It was, as usual an emotional thing for me to open up to them.  To expose my heart and show them what music has done for me as a youth.  This is all a very personal experience for me, and creating art can sometimes be hard.  But it does open up avenues of communication that speeches some times cannot.  (I tip my toque to AFN B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, who spoke to my heart during the Crown and First Nations Gathering.)  The voices of children can go straight to your heart, too.

2:30 pm

What a day! Worked with the sixth grades and both classes came up with uniquely different ideas.  Tomorrow we’ll do the grunt work.  Building the verses and chorus, and the bridge.  Building the hook.  Hopefully the hook will be in Cree.  The melodies will happen at the same time.  I don’t have long periods with the students.  They don’t have time to get bogged down.  There are a few really out-going students who have no problem speaking out.  There are other ones, the wheels turning behind their eyes.  I’m hoping they’ll have great things to say once they’ve processed.  I’m a lot like that.  Some of them, like me, are visually oriented.  That’s an over-used term, I know, but it’s true.  Thinking in pictures.  That’s what makes poetry.  And great lyrics.   The day ended for me with a big belly laugh.  All of us, just killing ourselves laughing at one of the clever lines one of the boys came up with.  I was writing it down and giggling.  The teachers are a great help, too.  I love challenging them as well.  They don’t get to sit back and just watch.  Nope.

A walk down to the river during lunch and a view of the closed winter road showed me just how intense this spring heat is.  It’s19C out there.  The front-loaders have been working all day shovelling heavy melting snow.  The sky is blue and the sun is beaming down on Attawapiskat.  Everybody is out, working on sleighs, repairing things, sitting around and soaking up the sun or just walking around.  The Yurt is sitting down there, all pretty and incongruous.  The little kids are having a blast with the mud and the puddles.  My coat is muddied from a playful dog. I think I have a sunburn.

One more little note for the day:  Check out article from NetNewsledger about one of the youth from this community making Canadian History:  Way to go, Chelsea!

Cathy’s personal blog can be viewed at http://cathyelliottcom.blogspot.ca.


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