In mid-February, youth in the remote fly-in Indigenous community of Webequie First Nation put their creativity to work as they embarked on a week-long artistic exploration of hockey, sportsmanship and culture. The NHLPA donated jerseys and Scotiabank Hockey provided toques for this special, hockey-arts project.
The youth were part of DAREarts First Roots, an arts-based Indigenous education program, facilitated by DAREarts artist-educators in partnership with the community. Over the last 8 years, we have worked together to address challenges such as school absenteeism, hopelessness, substance abuse and teen suicide.
DAREarts blended the community’s love of hockey with the arts to explore good sportsmanship, anti-bullying, traditional culture and intergenerational collaboration. Guided by the DAREarts team of Indigenous artist Cathy Elliott, Juno-nominated musician Glenn Marais, and Lead Teacher, Laura MacKinnon, the youth examined the Indigenous history of hockey (they invented the game!), painted hockey masks and composed an original song celebrating pride in hockey and in their culture. It was performed with hockey-inspired dance movement at the community’s Winter Powwow on February 20th.
Excitement was in the air from the start. On the first workshop day, 23 youths packed themselves into one of the school’s portables – more students than their teacher had ever seen in class at the same time! With focus and clarity, the class explored the DAREarts values of Discipline, Action, Respect, and Excellence as they apply to both hockey and everyday life, and in pairs they designed and painted goalie masks that symbolized a theme connected to these values.
In the evenings, Glenn Marais hosted 11 of the teens in guitar-playing workshops, using instruments donated by TD MusiCounts and Long & McQuade. The guitars and the youths’ newfound skills have remained in the community, allowing them to practice their chords and share a passion for music with more kids.
Throughout the week, the youths “found their groove” in both music and painting. As a team, they worked with Glenn to write a song that was meaningful and uplifting, their own words and voices becoming inspiration for their own futures. Working with Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon, they created hockey-inspired choreography to accompany their song at the powwow. Many teens created late into the nights, drawing on the same determination and strength that keeps them outside playing hockey for hours in -35C weather!
“DAREarts feels like being on a hockey team. We’re all working together on the same project with the same goal.” – Jada
The youths were exceptionally nervous to perform their song and choreography at the community powwow: not only were their families there, but also many unfamiliar faces from surrounding communities, the Canadian Army Rangers, and visiting filmmakers. The gymnasium was completely packed! Several of the teens were hiding behind the stage, too tense to perform. After some rallying and encouragement by the DAREarts team, nerves were pushed aside and the teens took to the stage to perform as their best possible selves, supporting each other through an experience that was both terrifying and exhilarating: a defining moment in their lives.
“So hear our song, we never give up
This game we play, it’s like the game of life
When we stand together, we are one”
– Chorus of “We Are One” by the DAREarts 2016 youth of Webequie FN
DAREarts First Roots program is part of DAREarts’ national initiative to give underserved youth the confidence, courage and leadership skills to resist negative peer pressure so they can ignite positive change in their lives and in their communities. Upon invitation, the DAREarts team flies into remote Indigenous communities to work alongside their local artists and elders. In addition to Webequie FN, DAREarts has been invited to numerous other First Nations communities and is currently seeking funding to meet these invitations.
DAREarts lead supporters are: Northbridge Insurance, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, TD and The Ontario Arts Council. Additionally, DAREarts First Roots program supporters include Noront Resources, Sarah Haney, Ann Livingston, Dave and Teresa Thomas, RBC Foundation, TD MusiCounts, Long & McQuade and the NHLPA. Photos courtesy of Laura MacKinnon.