From the desk of Cathy Elliott, DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Communications and Program Associate
You’re gonna save the world. I’ve said those words to countless kids over the past seven years, in classrooms, stages, talking circles, pow wow grounds and gyms.
No one ever said that to me as a kid.
Sure, I knew I had a responsibility to take care of my little piece of the planet. I was the product of a generation of hippies telling me to not use aerosols and DDT. To turn off the light and not waste water. To put my trash in the garbage and not out the car window. (cue tear coursing down generic Indigenous Chief’s cheek) Now, as I place this mantel of care on the shoulders of young people, I wonder: do I have that right? How dare I?
The kids are already painfully aware that they live in a violent, beautiful, confounding world. What, they’re going to have to save it, too?
For FNMI youth, there is a double responsibility. They have their Chiefs as well as their parents telling them to heal their families and communities. They are being designated as Keepers of the Future.
They are already being charged with the responsibility of saving their cultures, languages and sovereignty. Now they’re going to save the world from destruction through greed, misguided “truths”, environmental defilement and ultimately, the End of Times.
I exaggerate, of course. Most of them are trying to save their little piece of the planet. Most of them are up to the challenge. But some of them are ill equipped to do so. How can we help them? What is our responsibility as artists and educators? Parents? Leaders?
I’ve heard the phrase, “cultural literacy” thrown around. It’s a good phrase. It makes sense to preserve and promote Turtle Island’s Indigenous cultural literacy not only with FNMI kids, but with all Canadians.
When we step into a classroom full of a mixture of FNMI and non, it’s a fantastic feeling. Because together, we decolonize everyone in the class, including the teachers. The experience of seeing a kid hold up his hand and saying, “I’m not Italian, I’m Anishnabek,” after the class hears a lesson about Canada’s history, is breathtaking. Seeing the other kids and teachers look at him in a new and respectful way is heartbreaking. How long has that kid been hiding in the shadows?
Bring that cultural literacy into the conversation about art, and you have all sorts of possibilities. Some think that sharing that kind of knowledge is dangerous; it dilutes the potency of the information being passed. Some think that the sharing of cultural knowledge is a good thing – it promotes understanding and eradicates fear, or “othering” of FNMI students. I’m confident that by placing that mantel of responsibility on our kids, all of our kids, we’re going to help create a better world for them. But we better back up that action with help.
With a little guidance, and a lot of encouragement, we can co-create wonderful works of art that illuminate the richness of our FNMI cultures and Canada’s history. When DAREarts was invited to show our First Roots kids’ artworks, at the Chiefs of Ontario’s “Honouring Our Leaders” Gala, we proudly displayed the paintings, crafts from Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations and cards from kids across Canada, reminding the Chiefs and other leaders that the future is indeed bright. Chief after Chief stood up and declared that they are confident that those young leaders need our support.
They will be guiding us into an enlightened world. But they need the tools to do so. DAREarts First Roots (www.darearts.com) has understood from the beginning that a cultural link to children’s development and wellness is critical. Self-identity is expressed in positive and negative ways. We explore the positive. We remember that our Elders taught us how to think on our feet.
We remember that we have Knowledge Keepers who must be honoured and invited to engaged with our children. We know that by ensuring that if all Canadians understand our collective and individual histories, culture and teachings, we can create a good place to live. It’s not just building bridges, it’s recognizing that those bridges already exist, and learning how to strengthen them.
We are heartened to see mainstream schools recognizing the contributions and sacrifices our parents, grandparents and ancestors made for Canada. And that cultural literacy, through the arts, will help our kids guide us into the future.