DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence


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DAREarts is deeply saddened by the loss of Cathy Elliott

We mourn the loss of our dear Cathy Elliott, DAREarts’ Indigenous Program Associate, a Mi’kmaq playwright, composer and visual artist. When asked 10 years ago by our Founder, Marilyn Field, to use her talents to help empower Indigenous kids in remote communities, and to help bring Indigenous culture to kids of all cultures, she embraced the challenge as her journey and never looked back.  She will be greatly missed by us all.

Cathy was with DAREarts for 10 years as an Indigenous artist-educator and writer.  With DAREarts, she found her Indigenous roots and reached beyond her talents as an artist, playwright, musician and actor to be an educator. From our very first sharing circle with the youths in Webequie FN, she embraced and practiced the DAREarts way of learning together from each other. Over the years, thousands of kids, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, found their voice and an inspired appreciation for our Indigenous culture by creating with Cathy.

Last year, Cathy returned to focusing on writing and performing plays and musicals across Canada about Indigenous culture.  She quickly became an effective leader in communicating our country’s traditional culture.

Her creative work remains to help us all carry on the conversations that will strengthen us as individuals with values to uphold.  That includes the thousands of DAREarts young people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that she inspired to ignite change through the power of the arts.

Dream, Believe, Achieve, Lead.

Read her DAREarts blogs here.

View the documentary she co-created with DAREarts kids and team here:
Fill My Hollow Bones” – Trailer
Fill My Hollow Bones” – Full Film
Girl and the Raven” – Short Film

View some songs she wrote with kids here:
Don’t Stop” with the youth of Webequie FN and Glenn Marais
Swimming in a Fast Current” with the youth of Marten Falls FN
Melkikno’ti (Courage)” with the youth of Sipekne’katik FN
Muskego Land” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN
Volcano” with the youth of Winnipeg, MB
We Are One” with the youth of Webequie FN
The Land Speaks” with the youth of Marten Falls FN
Roads of Webequie” with the youth of Webequie FN
Nation’s Creations” with the youth of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT
Keen Sabiko” with the youth of Webequie FN and Glenn Marais
Akimiski Island” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN
Déjà vu” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN
Goose Call” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN
Random Dreams” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN
Smoke the Wolves!” with the youth of Attawapiskat FN

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“This Summer, We Sailed a Tall Ship Across The Atlantic!”

Modified from the report by organizer Three Things Consulting: Read more here.

This August, 45 Indigenous youths completed the adventure of a lifetime as they sailed the Class A Tall Ship, Gulden Leeuw, across the Atlantic from Halifax, Canada to Le Havre, France.

We are proud of our two DAREarts grads – Jada from Webequie FN in remote northern Ontario, and Marlo from Vancouver – who dared to take this challenge!

Last May, DAREarts was invited by Board Director, AFN Regional Chiefs NS/NL Morley Googoo, to approach DAREarts Indigenous grads across Canada to participate in this project.  Called the Msit No’Komaq Tall Ship Project, it was to be a special voyage as part of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta. Paralleling DAREarts values, this project was a youth development and skills-building initiative for Indigenous young Canadians, organized by Three Things Consulting.

THE ‘Msit No’komaq’ Tall Ship Project

‘Msit No’Kmaq’ is Mi’kmaw for ‘All My Relations,’ and promotes a connection between all people and things. The project was a partnership between Indigenous communities and the Canadian government, with the aim of empowering 45 Indigenous young people from across Canada as part of Canada 150.

Arriving on board, the 45 trainees were called ‘Warriors’ and made responsible for running the ship, trained by the crew of Gulden Leeuw from the Netherlands.  Alongside watch-keeping, navigating and learning the ins and outs of sailing, the ‘Warriors’ also took part in daily leadership programs to ensure that they came away with new skills plus a greater understanding of themselves as leaders and the world around them.

About the Adventure

‘Msit No’Kmaq’ – the connection people have with each other and world around them – is a concept that is especially important for young Indigenous Canadians.  The youths felt that this passage was more than just a fun adventure; it was history in the making and a unique way to connect with one another and learn more about themselves as individuals.

All those chosen had gone through an extensive application process that demonstrated their commitment to balance in their school, work and family lives.  When this confident and capable group of young people first arrived at the dock before the voyage, they were already taking charge and putting themselves to work stowing sails and taking part in on-board life.

Gulden Leeuw arrived in Le Havre, France, for the final celebrations of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta on August 31st.  Organizing facilitator, Cheryl Bear, highlighted the benefits the youths found from their adventure.  “It has showed them they belong and they are important…” said Cheryl Bear.

“This trip has been an amazing experience. Thank you, DAREarts,” said DAREarts grad Marlo.


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The Spirit Bear flies to Stratford!

DAREarts Webequie FN youth Wendell presents PM Trudeau with a collection of DAREarts Spirit Bear songs & videos

The DAREarts-Stratford Spirit Bear Project culminated with an action-packed week in Stratford, Ontario, where six Indigenous youths from our remote northern First Nations – Attawapiskat FN, Neskantaga FN, Webequie FN and Marten Falls FN (Ogoki Post) – travelled south to engage in Stratford Festival’s new play called The Breathing Hole about a polar bear encountering five centuries of change in northern Canada.

One highlight was a visit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who joined the youths in their workshop and learned of their songs, videos, artwork and bear puppet-making. Their songs conveyed empowering messages from the youth of each community:

Marten Falls FN:  “…Dreams keep you alive
Shine through the dark of night…”

Neskantaga FN: “…Just like us, we take care of our own…”

Attawapiskat FN: “…Courage is the one thing that helps us gain
Our histories…Our stories are a part of us…”

Webequie FN: “Together, stronger, each of us has a voice
Stronger, Together, each of us has a choice
Mashkwe seewin maa moe (stronger, together)”

Inspired by The Breathing Hole, each participating community had created various art-based projects surrounding their own traditional bear story, as told by local Elders and knowledge keepers.  The DAREarts team of artists-educators dared 150 young people to find their voices and be leaders through their own creativity.

Meeting the Bard himself at the Festival Theatre!

Every day in Stratford came with new experiences as the youths saw a wider world. They took tours of the Festival theatres and costume warehouse, met members of the community and Stratford Festival’s Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and resident teaching artist Edward Duranyi, workshopped with cast members of The Breathing Hole, saw two Stratford Festival plays, and built the body of a bear puppet.  Many locals were eager to make this experience the best it could be for our youths by hosting activities including bowling, the movies, a boat tour of the Avon River, and backyard barbeques! These experiences were new and exciting for our northern youths!

Our week began with touring the Studio Theatre where The Breathing Hole is being performed. There, the youths smiled in pride to see the murals they had previously created in their communities with DAREarts displayed in the lobby and backstage as inspiration for the public and cast.  Before a workshop led by Indigenous actors, we made our circle a safe and sacred place with introductions and a smudge.  The actors told their stories about being a First Nations person working in theatre – their experiences both inspiring and empowering.  In the spirit of friendship and exchange, the actors taught our youths a song and dance from The Breathing Hole and we taught a song written by the youths of Neskantaga First Nation with DAREarts earlier this year.

“DAREarts and this trip have really helped my daughter by giving her the chance to be creative. You have to come back to our community.” – John Mathews, Attawapiskat FN parent

The DAREarts youths (and the mural by Neskantaga FN’s youth!) meet cast members Yolanda and Gordon of “The Breathing Hole”

We saw the Stratford Festival’s timeless Shakespearean classic Romeo and Juliet.  Much to the youths’ surprise, the language was English… but not any kind of English they had heard before!  It was their first time attending the theatre and the magic of the experience lit up their faces with wonder and amazement.

Guided by Michelle Jamieson, props assistant at the Stratford Festival, we built a bear puppet out of plastic water bottles, mirroring the original bear created in Marten Falls First Nation. This was a powerful statement addressing the reality of the boil water advisory under which so many First Nations communities live. With no road access, many communities are forced to fly in bottled water since the local water supply is not safe for consumption.  The bear is their message to the world:  “We deserve clean, drinkable water.”

“I like DAREarts because kids can show what they can do and they can learn new things from each other.” – Seequan, Webequie FN youth

On our last day in Stratford, we hosted one of the Festival’s renowned Forums, where we showcased the creative work done by the youths in their communities as part of the ONT 150 Spirit Bear Project.  Despite their extreme shyness, they each stepped up to introduce themselves. Their courage, leadership and spirit moved the audience. As a fitting and moving end to our trip, we watched a performance of The Breathing Hole, an overwhelming and beautiful story with a message to care for the land and one another – the same thing the youth themselves expressed to the world through their art.


DAREarts is a charity that empowers young at-risk Canadians aged 9 to 19 to ignite change as leaders.  Visit darearts.com to learn more. DAREarts ‘First Roots’ program partners with First Nations to work alongside youths, local artists and elders and, together, address challenges such as school absenteeism, hopelessness and suicide.

DAREarts’ “Spirit Bear” project’s education partner is The Stratford Festival. PROJECT SUPPORTERS: Province of Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport; Ontario150; Northbridge Insurance; Anne Livingston; David & Teresa Thomas; Noront Resources; The Paul Semple Award; Allan Drive Middle School; and Streetsville Secondary School.


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2017 DAREarts Toronto Summer Camp – “Be not afraid of greatness.”

In the final weeks of July, 25 DAREarts Toronto Summer Campers leapt into the whimsical world of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Walmer Centre and the TSA (Toronto School of Art), thanks to the generosity of Northbridge Insurance, the TSA, Wells Fargo, United Way Worldwide, Coach Canada, and the Stratford Festival. The teens, aged 11 to 18, engaged in intensive arts workshops led by DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon, artist-educator Jennifer Parr, and DAREarts Lead Teaching Assistant Mackenzy Willis. Assisting the teens were our seasoned DAREarts youth mentors: Dante, Jaiden, Samira, and Sylvia.

In just seven days, our campers were dared to put on their own abridged performance of Twelfth Night, adapted for DAREarts by Jennifer Parr. The teens were eager to become their own theatre company after an introduction to the work. By the end of their first day together, they felt confidently versed in Iambic Pentameter and the plot of Twelfth Night. The following days were filled with workshops to help our campers refine their artistry as they worked toward their performance.

Visual Artist Tina Oehmsen-Clark of the Toronto School of Art led the campers through the process of creating their own backdrop masterpieces, where the campers used ink and alcohol to layer colours into abstract works of art. Volunteer Zlata Huddleston of Wells Fargo assisted the campers using her own arts experience. Musician Ciara Adams led a singing workshop and taught three versions of one of the most well-known Shakespearean songs, Feste’s “Hey Ho, the Wind and the Rain”. Kaitlyn Riordan, Artistic Director of Shakespeare in the Ruff, helped our young company delve deeper into the text of Twelfth Night, enabling them to better interpret Shakespeare’s verse.

On their sixth day of camp, our burgeoning company staged their final scenes and worked on rehearsing to perfection. Many even chose to stay for an extra hour to keep practicing! During the day they were joined by CBC Radio’s Rima Hamadi, who interviewed four of the campers and DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon. Listen here.

There wasn’t a shred of nervousness left as the campers arrived on their performance day. With great confidence, they did two full rehearsals of the show in the morning! On their makeshift stage decorated with their artworks, they greeted the audience after everyone settled in and then took to the spotlight. From the opening shipwreck ensemble to the traditional jig after the final scene, the campers supported each other with precise timing and flawlessly executed lines!

After the show, a reception allowed the teens and their families to connect with us about this experience. One parent shared how proud she was to see both of her daughters share an arts opportunity together, something they hadn’t done before. Another shared how important this was as her child’s school has been cutting back on arts programming. Many others shared how much this experience meant to their children, and how amazed they were at the calibre of their work. We wholeheartedly agree — we’re so proud of our campers!

To finish their camp experience, the teens had one more day ahead of them — their journey to the Stratford Festival to see Twelfth Night performed by a world-renowned theatre company! The trip began with a 2-hour drive from Toronto to Stratford, and upon arrival we were brought into the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s costume warehouse for a tour. The teens learned the history of many of the costumes, and were thrilled to be able to try on several pieces. After lunch in the park, we met with resident teaching artist Edward Daranyi to present a special mural created by the youth of Neskantaga First Nation as part of the DAREarts-Stratford Spirit Bear Project. We then journeyed to the Festival Theatre to see Twelfth Night, followed by a Q&A with actors E.B. Smith and Emilio Vieira. The day ended with a trip to Boston Pizza, where the teens had the chance to unwind and reflect on their experiences at Stratford. We then boarded the bus for the long journey home.

“This was my first time attending DAREarts Summer Camp, and it was an awesome experience. I was really nervous since it was my first time acting, but really quickly I felt comfortable. I think that this summer had to be the most funnest summer I’ve ever had. Thank you to everyone who helps with this program, I hope to see you next year!” – Candy


DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. DAREarts is grateful to all its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne Livingston, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group and Bank of America Merrill Lynch; and Summer Camp Education Partners: Toronto School of Art, Wells Fargo, United Way Worldwide, Stratford Festival, Coach Canada, and TDSB. We’d like to send a special thank you to volunteers Alan DunlopZlata Huddleston, and Kaitlyn Riordan.


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DAREarts Grads Celebrate Canada 150 at “A Place to Stand”

The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and DAREarts grad Kalli Lang.

On Wednesday, June 28th, nine DAREarts youths were invited to attend A Place to Stand, a special concert commemorating 150 years of Ontario and Canada hosted by Her Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

DAREarts graduate Kalli Lang reflected on this special evening:

Last night I had the special opportunity of representing DAREarts at the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s A Place To Stand: A Celebration of 150 Years in Canada and Ontario. What a phenomenal night, a beautiful, detailed and engaging history lesson beginning from the discovery of Canada, with wonderful musical acts during every era.

Left to Right: DAREarts Grad Kalli Lang, Performing Artists Cynthia Dale and Miss Conception, and DAREarts Grad Elijah Brown

Because it was such a fancy event, I wasn’t sure what to expect (cultural erasure and white-centric retelling of history?) but was pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail and recognition of Canada’s tragedies involving POC and the First Nations. They recognized the stealing of native land; they acknowledged the problem of missing and murdered Aboriginal women; the thousands of Chinese that lost their lives building the railroad; the nursing sisters during the war; the decorated and influential Aboriginal soldier; the fact that jazz and ragtime was pioneered by Black culture, and that slavery had effects on it as well; that the Canadian touring performing group The Dumbells was a story of soldiers turned singers, included drag, and were one of the first Canadian Broadway performances… I’m happy. Met the Lieutenant Governor, Cynthia Dale, Miss Conception, got to watch Jackie Richardson’s beautiful jazz voice in action, Murray McLaughlin, and got to see my hero, Col. Chris Hadfield and his brother perform “In Canada”!

We are deeply grateful to Her Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell for extending this opportunity to our youth and for hosting such a beautiful tribute to Canada.

Photos courtesy of Kalli Lang.


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DAREarts, the Spirit Bear, and Ontario 150: A Reflection

Written by DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon & Artist-Educator Glenn Marais.

DAREarts has been with working with Indigenous communities for 12 years.  The first community we worked with was Webequie First Nation. We were invited there after facilitating an arts program at a Junior Rangers camp, a branch of the military that teaches young men and women from different reserves how to do search and rescue in the far north.  It is a source of employment and a direct method of engaging youth in the development of self-esteem and leadership skills.  It was there that DAREarts founder, Marilyn Field, first met Bill Jacob from Webequie.  He spoke to her about his community and asked if DAREarts would come and help the young people there. Webequie was reeling from youth suicide, to which Bill had lost his own 14 year-old daughter.  This reality is so difficult to comprehend, but DAREarts has always worked with the most challenged youth in the most difficult of circumstances and we humbly accepted this invitation.  With open hearts and minds, we flew to the community, wishing only to bring some hope and empowerment to the young people, through what we had to offer – songwriting, poetry, dance, visual art, photography, film and music.  That first trip began an ongoing relationship with that community that has expanded, through invitations, to include many others across northern Ontario and the rest of the country.

For DAREarts, Ontario 150 is about taking the time to reflect on, and renew the relationship between Indigenous people and us.  It’s a chance to amplify and elevate the voices of Indigenous youth, too often kept on the fringes, or not heard at all.  It is also a reminder that it is essential that we move forward together in a better way.  It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of Indigenous peoples and communities.  Each First Nation we worked with this year  – Webequie, Marten Falls, Attawapiskat and Neskantaga – invited DAREarts for their own reasons and under their own auspices.

The ‘Spirit Bear’ project has been created in partnership with the Stratford Festival in alignment with the world premiere of the play “The Breathing Hole”, a story of 500 years of Arctic history through the eyes of a polar bear.  In each community, the program began with a bear story or teaching shared by an elder, which then guided our creativity.  While ‘Spirit Bear’ was a shared theme in all communities, the local teachings and stories that were shared were different.  The experiences of the young people are different.  The artwork created is different.  The language, culture and traditions, are different.  This is a beautiful opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate these unique and essential voices.  In any community we work with, the young people always teach us more than we teach them.  Ontario 150 should be taken as a reminder for us to become better listeners and better partners moving forward.

*          *          *

The Four Directions of the Spirit Bear Project

Neskantaga, a new community to us, is the infant, the newborn.  A budding relationship, only just started.  The young people eager to experience the arts, to try out their voices for the first time, to tentatively reach out and forge a new bond.  We are in the process of learning about one another. This was our first visit to the community and we hope to return.

Attawapiskat is the youth, our visits numbering only four.  Energetic, passionate, wide-eyed, and learning about its budding power.  A collection of voices so strong in pride and culture that you can sense the wave of change they will bring as they mature into leaders.

Marten Falls is the adult.  A community that has taught us so much over the many years we’ve visited.  They have taught us about love, about compassion, about patience, about responsibility and about the necessity of respect and honesty.  Every year we return to a group of youth willing to try, to work long hours and to share their creative voices.  While the relationship has existed for many years, every year it grows and changes and never stagnates.

Webequie is the elder.  A relationship that has existed for over a decade and continues to evolve.  The community that taught us protocol, humility, openness and responsibility.  The people and place that taught us to be inventive, flexible, inclusive and caring.  The community that opened our eyes to the experience of Indigenous people but taught us to look past outward appearances to the souls within.  Through patient, generous teachings, they taught us about community – how to build it and how to maintain it.  They taught us about the importance of going back – that change does not happen by flying in and out a single time.  They taught us you have to leave more than you take with you.  That relationships are paramount.  That trust takes time.  That you need to examine your own ego and intentions carefully as guest artists in someone else’s home.  That the time you spend outside of the program together – just as people – is essential.  That we should all listen more and talk less.

*          *          *

As we reflect on a Sunday morning, at the end of this wonderful experience, our minds and memories are full with a year that was beyond anything we could have imagined.

We picture the giant bear in Marten Falls, our adult community, from our first visit in October 2016.  It was constructed from empty water bottles, and we see it standing on the shore of the mighty Albany River gleaming proudly in the sun, her delicate frame crafted through hours of toil.  With the students, we were driven to create a symbolic icon that would tell the world that the people of Marten Falls have to drink water from a bottle and can’t drink from their own river, or a tap.  This needs to change. We remember the deep love we have for those students there and how acutely we felt the challenges of their lives.

Thinking about our second visit, a week later, we feel the warmth of our friends in Webequie.  In particular, we remember the presence of many former students coming together in a spirited homecoming, happily sharing their wisdom, talents and encouragement with our younger participants.  Most of all, we remember the laughter, the joy and the tremendous pride we have in our elder community.

We arrived in Attawapiskat, our third community, on June 04th 2017.  In a very short time, we created a film, song and visual art pieces with the high school students.   The young people of this community are incredibly self-aware and open about the challenges they face.  Their unmatched desire to have the world hear their message, unfettered by false media manipulation, motivates them to create and advocate.  Their message is one of pride and a desire for change. The youth of Attawapiskat are tired of false promises and empty hopes. They have amongst them, a young man with the potential to lead our entire nation. He has the presence of Nelson Mandela and the wisdom of a man twice his age. His words and bearing moved us in ways that we will never forget and he personifies the changes needed in Attawapiskat.  He speaks to a way of living in harmony, respect and truth we can all learn from and aspire to.

Here in Neskantaga on June 18th 2017, we are on the final leg of our journey.  We reflect on this charming, friendly community that has a discipline and structure in their school of the highest level that we have seen in our travels.  There are many First Nations teachers and the students respect and honor their voice.  The young people here have become quick friends with us, opening their hearts and minds and we are so grateful.  This week, we have painted and created music together, inspired by the teachings of Elder Mary, who taught us about the lives of bears.  It feels appropriate that we end here, at the beginning, in our “birth community”, just as in life.

When we come full circle and look back on our journey through wizened eyes, we see again through the eyes of a child, the wonderful tapestry of life and know that our greatest gifts are the relationships that fill our hearts and minds. We have grown taller and wiser in the beauty and wisdom of the four directions and four communities that we have been so blessed to visit this year. We look back with indefatigable gratitude and joy at this glorious year with DAREarts.  Our leaning about the Spirit Bear and the spirit in each our young friends will live with us forever.

*          *          *

Have we found answers to the challenges of the northern communities we visited during this incredible year?  There are no easy answers to a life lived in challenging circumstances with a history that has cast a long shadow on our indigenous friend’s lives. We are not there to provide magical solutions to the struggles of life. This is not our purpose in coming to the north, but perhaps, is what we are often reminded of by these beautiful young people. Each community shared what they needed and where they were at and the music really expressed these emotions. We believe that the songs come forth from the hearts of the communities we visit. In Marten Falls, the song is mournful and a beautiful lament that had us in tears the first time we sang it. The Webequie song was triumphant in a way and sung with such resilient pride by elder Norman Shewaybick that it captivated us all. The song from Attawapiskat is very much like the youth we worked with, strong, clear, rebellious in its clarion call for justice and finally our community of elementary students in Neskantaga whose song is sweet and charming and ethereal in its sounds and very much like how we feel about the community. That it is charming, friendly and welcoming.

We are all connected to something universal and eternal and here on this year long journey, with new friends and old, we have come to a simple reckoning. We are DAREarts and we show up with open hearts and leave full of memories and promise from our youth.


DAREarts is a charity that empowers young at-risk Canadians aged 9 to 19 to ignite change as leaders.  Visit darearts.com to learn more. DAREarts ‘First Roots’ program partners with First Nations to work alongside youths, local artists and elders and, together, address challenges such as school absenteeism, hopelessness and suicide.

DAREarts’ “Spirit Bear” project’s education partner is The Stratford Festival. PROJECT SUPPORTERS: Province of Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport; Ontario150; Northbridge Insurance; Anne Livingston; David & Teresa Thomas; Noront Resources; The Paul Semple Award; Allan Drive Middle School; Streetsville Secondary School


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DAREarts in Neskantaga: “Just like us, we take care of our own.”

In June 2017, DAREarts visited Neskantaga FN for the first time. The community faces many challenges, including a 20 year old boil water advisory, homes lost to mold and poor construction, and an ongoing state of emergency due to youth suicides. Our team of artist-educators worked with the grade 4 to 8 students in a week-long, leadership-based arts workshop that culminated in a community showcase.

The DAREarts team – Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon, Juno-nominated musician Glenn Marais, and artist Karen Cowderoy – were welcomed by elementary school principal, Haley Houle.  Learning the DARE values of Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence, the children were bright-eyed and attentive, excited for the adventure ahead. They learned that the workshops were part of the DAREarts and Stratford ‘Spirit Bear’ project, connecting local stories and knowledge with modern and traditional art forms.  Elder Mary Sakanee, the school guidance councillor, shared her knowledge of bears, and inspired the children.

Throughout the week, the children worked in two groups: Musicians and Visual Artists. They moved seamlessly between these groups so that everyone could experience all of the workshops.  The musicians learned from Glenn how to use his recording equipment and software; create digital bear-inspired tracks and beats; brainstorm, compose and record a song; and come together as a choir. The visual artists worked with Laura and Karen to each create their own bear-inspired canvas painting; learn to photograph and project their sketches to transfer them to canvas; work together to create a large community mural; and practice a special “art walk” to showcase their creations. The younger students also learned bear-inspired choreography!

On their last DAREarts Day, the children presented a Community Showcase at the school for families, elders, teachers, and Chief Moonias to celebrate their accomplishments!  It started with an art catwalk where each child walked out with their paintings as their music played.  Some were still very shy but the audience cheered them on.  All of the children then gathered as a choir and sang the song they wrote, “Tease the Moon”. The audience sang along with the chorus! To finish, we played a slideshow of photos taken by the students and set to their song.  There was huge applause!  When everyone stood up to go to the feast, the Chief asked us to play the song again!   All the community members and younger students who worked on the mural gathered around it and proudly pointed out the parts they had done.  For a first showcase in a new community, it was remarkable: well attended, enthusiastic response, great conversations post-show, smiles from the kids and discussions of returning next year.

Chief Moonias talked about next steps. He wants all the paintings to get sent to Thunder Bay to be framed and then come back and be hung in the school and in people’s homes. He also pointed out that the creative brainstorming the students did with DAREarts is something they should do more often as a way to express themselves. He wants the students to become better prepared for high school and things they will have to face in life, like speaking up. He was so proud of what the kids had done and it was heartening to hear him thinking about next steps.

DAREarts Lead Teacher, Laura MacKinnon, reflected: “While the students were used to discipline and order at school, they had no schools arts experience: no music, no art beyond some colouring and crafts, no drama, no dance.  All the new experiences we presented were a challenge, but the teachers were really encouraging of the kids’ participation. The kids really enjoyed everything, and it’s wonderful to inspire their creativity and give them access to new ways of expressing themselves.  The Chief’s commitment to the community’s well-being is highly respected; he makes a lot of noise and won’t back down until real changes happen.”

The children of Neskantaga are incredible young leaders whose voices will power the community forward. They deserve to be heard, and DAREarts is helping them to ignite change. We are deeply thankful and humbled to have been welcomed into this community, and we look forward to seeing the future that these young leaders will build!


DAREarts is a charity that empowers young at-risk Canadians aged 9 to 19 to ignite change as leaders.  Visit darearts.com to learn more. DAREarts ‘First Roots’ program partners with First Nations to work alongside youths, local artists and elders and, together, address challenges such as school absenteeism, hopelessness and suicide.

DAREarts’ “Spirit Bear” project’s education partner is The Stratford Festival. PROJECT SUPPORTERS: Province of Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport; Ontario150; Northbridge Insurance; Anne Livingston; David & Teresa Thomas; Noront Resources; The Paul Semple Award; Allan Drive Middle School; Streetsville Secondary School