Indian Brook DAREarts Students Pass the Torch of Courage
Last year, DAREarts visited the village of Indian Brook in the Shubenacadie First Nation, Nova Scotia. As I fly through turbulence on my way back from our yearly second visit, I am revisited by memories of that first visit. It’s my own Rez. There is a need there. For arts. Shubenacadie, like the other Aboriginal communities I’ve flown to, loves her children. There are issues to address; poverty, isolation, limited job opportunities and the lingering effects of the Residential School System, which ravaged generational relationships and cause so much pain and misery. These communities have been working very hard to overcome those effects and heal themselves, primarily for the good of their children and the next seven generations. I personally have a stake in this community. I didn’t grow up there. I didn’t have to deal with the racism and added struggles that my grandfather and mother did. I had a pretty good go at life, and it’s such a gift to be able to give back through DAREarts. That gratitude goes to the people I work with, and to the teachers and parents who have invited DAREarts into their lives. They’ve trusted us with their precious children, and we are so honoured to have had this opportunity. I know, cue the violins. No. Cue the guitars. And drums. And voices. And cameras.
These kids have a school of their own, in their own community. Indian Brook saw the need for a culturally sensitive and nurturing learning environment for their kids. Someday, we won’t need that. Some day, in generations to come, we will see a stronger bridging between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids, and classrooms will reflect the contributions that First Nations have made to the fabric of Canada. I had asked the students last year, do you want to write something that’s reflective or instructive? They unanimously declared they wanted to teach.
We wrote a song called Melkikno’ti, which means, Courage and Strength.
Okay. So we started with our “word tree” and started nurturing a root ball that would support their idea. They were prolific with their words and images. The branches grew and the phrases started to form. In a few days we had a song, which was accompanied by the Millbrook based award winning band, Lone Cloud, with world renowned visual artist and band leader Alan Syliboy. Two grade 7 girls, (shy shy shy) recorded the lead along with me on a track and, after a record breaking learning curve, agreed to sing the song on stage. The recording was “Karaoke’d” and now anyone can sing along with them. Some of the kids who wrote that song were with us this year.
“This is the song WE wrote!”
It takes courage just to stand, for the Warrior to dance.
In our opening Circle, Elder Sack joined us and conducted a Smudge Ceremony to send us on in a good way. I explained to them that the students the year before had lit a flame, and they were the torch-bearers for future generations and the community at large. The rally cry, “Pass the Torch!” greeted me every day. They took the DARE and ran with it. In four days, the grades four, five and six classes memorized the song, They had the online karaoke to help them. They storyboarded and shot the video for their song.
The teachers, having worked with us last year, started the warm up themselves. Linda Carson had introduced “zip,zap,zop!” and the kids showed each other how the game went. Thanks, Linda! We were joined by free-lance journalist and videographer Trina Roache, who brought her experience as camera person and documentary maker with CBC radio and APTN.
We broke up in four teams and they filled in the shot list on a beautiful, sunny day. The kids listened to our instructions and carried them through. They treated each other and the cameras with respect. They called up their inner responsibility to work in an efficient manner. Shot of a graveyard – check! Shot of a boy grass dancing in a field and a girl watching him – check! They kept asking, “Can we sing the song again?” and we sang it. Each pass became more assured.Their favorite line was, “Melkikno’ti, you can see it in your Mama’s eyes!”
It takes courage just to be.
Mi’kmaw legend has it that Kluskap (the man made from nothing) was given the gift of fire by gathering the sparks left from his creation by lightning, when he was formed out of the earth of Eastern Canada. He carried that flame with him all over Turtle Island and gave that gift to the other creatures. Inspiration. Progress. Healing. That sacred torch has a significant meaning here in Mi’kmaqi. The kids from last year passed our kids the torch of music. This year, they passed it on to the younger kids in the school and their parents and teachers through their singing and video images.
It was great to see Chief Rufus Copage take time out of his crazy schedule to come to the school and support the students on their Friday afternoon offering to their peers and parents. He would love to have a full time arts program in his community, but other priorities take precedence over paint and music lessons. He saw the value of the critical thinking, collaboration and self esteem building of our program. He asked for a copy of the video to be shown at his Chief’s gathering, to spread the word to other communities. He also saw how empowering the video could be for the adults in Indian Brook. How the pride in the children’s’ accomplishments would inspire them. Where there are pressing infrastructural challenges, the arts tend to get lost in the shuffle. He talked to me about priorities and treaties and shifts in constitutional law. He spoke about economic changes that are going on in Indian Brook. When he found out what we were doing, he changed an appointment and came to the school to see for himself. This is a man who reads to the kindergarten kids as often as he can. He represents the desire of the community for change that affects its children.
“I didn’t know you could grass dance like that…”
I stood with twenty-five little artists who sang their hearts out as their voices reached the grade eight students who came to see what their little brothers and sisters were doing. In their final circle, after I passed out our certificates of participation, I asked them what they learned about each other. “I didn’t know he could grass dance like that.” “I didn’t know we could learn a song that fast.” “I didn’t know she could sing like that.” The teachers spoke to them: “This is something you’ll have for the rest of your lives. You really didn’t know each other this well before. Now, you’re going to have a strong tie to each other. You’ve shown each other so much respect, and years from now, you’ll remember this. What a great way to start off your camping trip next week!” They gave me a cake. A beautiful, white cake.
Later that day, I packed up the car, said my “see you laters” to the office staff and teachers, and remembered I had left my cake up in the class room. I went back up and peeked through the window in the door. They had moved on. I was forgotten. I felt a little pang of pain, thinking, “well, that’s that then.” I knocked on the door and they saw me come in. “You need your cake!” Then, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, they moved en masse and gave me the best group hug ever. Twenty-five kids crowded me and almost knocked me off my feet. The tears welled up in me. They got me! I’ve seen those tears in my teachers’ eyes, long ago. When, in class, we surprised our teacher with a song, or a gift or just a thank you. Now I know how that feels, and I guess I’ve had it all. Wela’lin, L’nu Si’puk Kina’muokuom for this wonderful gift!
Cathy Elliott, Dir of Communications and DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org