DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

DAREarts Atlantic Youth draw inspiration from Mi’kmaw Heroes

Written by DAREarts Atlantic Coordinator & Lead Teacher, Trish Gibbon.

DAREarts Atlantic participants gathered with families on Monday, June 19th for their Showcase at Alderney Landing that celebrated their accomplishments in DAREarts this year.  DAREarts is in its third year in Atlantic Canada. This year’s program was inspired by the life of Dr. Jerry Lonecloud, a Mi’kmaq Medicine Man who was a leader of many who shared stories, oral histories and artifacts of Mi’kmaw culture with local museums before his passing in 1930.  Dr. Lonecloud’s sharing is the reason we have access to so much history of the Mi’kmaq people today at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.  It is this spirit of sharing stories that inspired our program this year.

Students first considered their own lives and what their life story might be one day. They thought about their interests, talents and dreams. They then responded to questions about what the DARE values – Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence – mean to them personally, and shared all of these responses in accordion-style books. This was the start of reflecting on and sharing their own personal stories with each other and then with the larger community on display at the showcase.

Renowned Mi’kmaw artist, author and musician Dr. Alan Syliboy worked with us again this year.  He shared his own passion for storytelling via his paintings, drawings, animations, music and published book. Alan was himself inspired by Dr. Lonecloud and had created a series of Lonecloud portrait prints. These in turn inspired the students to draw their own pencil portraits of Dr. Lonecloud! Alan spoke eloquently about his memories of Lonecloud and how his own band, called Lonecloud, was named after the famous medicine man.  Alan sees music as medicine. He believes wholeheartedly in the power of the arts as a healing tool. Dr. Syliboy shared some techniques with the students to help them create successful portraits and paintings. The students loved creating their incredibly creative visual art with Alan.

DAREarts’ drama team challenged the students to consider elements of a story and how we develop characters.  Ross Unger, Gina Thornhill and Dane Fader led them in a collaborative drawing activity that morphed into drama games that morphed into the students considering the myriad character traits that make up personality and how that impacts who a person is and what they do in their daily lives. Each student created their own ‘character’ inspired by the day’s events and shared these with one another in an interviewing game.  The students then reflected on their own “character traits” and recorded them in their accordion books.

Shalan Joudry is a Mi’kmaw poet, musician, storyteller, author and performer. The students learned a great deal as Shalan shared stories through music, dance and in the oral storytelling tradition. The Friendship Song will forever be on replay in our heads; our students enjoyed sharing this beautiful song alongside Shalan at their showcase.

On her second day with DAREarts, Shalan led a workshop in oral storytelling that involved having the students create their own stories using visualization. Shalan asked students to close their eyes and bring to mind a very bad day, then their favourite place, a helping animal, etc. She then helped the students connect these stories to the characters they had developed earlier; they envisioned overcoming their very bad day by receiving a helpful character trait “gift” from their character. This then linked to Dr. Jerry Lonecloud as a healer.  The students practiced their leadership by sharing their stories with one another and re-telling each other’s stories using words and actions.

Each student created an acrylic painting on raw canvas. They each chose an image to paint that had been part of our workshops: from storytelling with Shalan, character and drama work with our drama team, or visual arts with Alan. Their paintings were a way of reflecting on and then sharing a piece of their own DAREarts story with others.

Our time together culminated in the students adopting a leadership role and sharing all that they had learned and accomplished in DAREarts with younger children in their schools.  They brainstormed, created and presented with poise and confidence. We are so very proud of them.

Many thanks to our local Mi’kmaw heroes: Dr. Alan Syliboy, Shalan Joudry, and our team of talented artists: Ross Unger, Gina Thornhill and Dane Fader.

Also my deep and sincere thanks to our DAREarts school teachers Chelsea Pottinger, Sarah Englehutt and Paulette O’Connor who were keen to offer DAREarts to their students despite the political unrest in our provincial education system.

Thank you also to Katie McDonald who helped with setting up for our Showcase and took pictures and videos the night of the event.  Thanks to Alderney Landing for hosting us for our Showcase.

Artist Alan Syliboy says, “By exploring Mi’kmaw culture together, the children are building a lasting empathy for each other.  By creating together, they are becoming leaders who can themselves ignite change.”

DAREarts Atlantic thanks its key supporters for making this program possible: The McCain Foundation, Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank and RBC Foundation.


1 Comment

DAREarts in Attawapiskat: “Our Stories are a Part of Us”

In June 2017, DAREarts returned to Attawapiskat FN for a week of empowering workshops that helped many youth discover their voices and inner leadership. DAREarts workshops are facilitated by DAREarts artist-educators in partnership with the community.

The first of our team to arrive in Attawapiskat FN was DAREarts artist-educator and cinematographer Peter Elliott, who met with the grade 7s of Kattawapiskak Elementary School on Friday to introduce them to DAREarts and the art of filmmaking. The class watched several short films created by other DAREarts First Nations youth. Peter then dared the class to take a big risk without being afraid of failure: they were going to create their own short film in just ONE day! In groups, the class ventured out onto the school grounds armed with cameras and creativity, capturing a variety of different angles and shots. Peter then used this footage, along with stock footage of an alligator, to bring their hilarious creation to life as “Attawapigator”. When they saw their video it was a raging success, and they asked for an encore viewing. Despite many of the students being quiet and shy, they were now ready to take on more DAREarts!

DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon, DAREarts artist-educator and musician Glenn Marais, and ArtBridges’ Seanna Connell arrived over the weekend to join Peter. The team met the grade 9 class at Vezina Secondary School on Monday morning, and after a creative introduction the class welcomed knowledge keeper John Matthews. He captivated the students with a story of the first clan, the Bear Clan, offering the youths inspiration for the week ahead. In the afternoon the team met the grade 12 class and repeated their introductions, and John Matthews returned to share the story with them as well. Both classes were invited to work with the team in the evenings throughout the week. The first evening had a small turnout, but was massively productive! Colin arrived first, spending the evening making beats on the keyboard with Glenn, brainstorming lyrics with Laura, and learning to use the video camera with Peter. Tyler then arrived, making a beeline for Glenn who worked with him to compose a whole melody on the keyboard. Chandler and Jamie were the last to arrive, working with Laura and Seanna to capture footage and write the film’s plot.

Tuesday was fast-paced, with the class formed into two groups: the Musicians and the Film Crew. The musicians worked with Glenn and Laura on the verses for their song and created music for their short film, while the film crew started casting and shooting their first scene with Peter and Seanna. A few of the youths were hanging back, but they took action when given the roles of assistant director, set photographer, and editor. In the evening, youths Keenan, Colin, and Jack Jr. (who is also a DAREarts Leadership Award recipient) arrived right away. Keenan worked with Glenn and Jack Jr. to record two rap verses he had written during the day, and Colin was joined by another arriving youth, Chandler, to go out and film using the shot list.

On Wednesday, another group was created: Visual Artists! Throughout the day, the musicians finished writing the chorus of their song and prepared introductory music for the film score. One youth, Ambrose, skillfully layered different notes and sounds to add the finishing touches to the chorus. The film crew worked on several group shot scenes in the teepee frame near the school, with youth Jade working as our set photographer. The visual artists created chalk pastel drawings of bears that were integrated into the film using green screen. In the evening, several youths met to record parts of the song, and Jack Jr. offered to narrate the film. Colin acted as audio engineer, Syvanna sang the chorus, Jack Jr. sang and recorded a traditional hand drum song, and Tyler rapped to add a powerful end to the track.

Thursday was a special Culture Days celebration at the school, so our team spent the day preparing the materials the youths had created. On Friday afternoon, everyone was welcomed to a special feast at the school that celebrated both the traditional Culture Days activities and the youths’ accomplishments with DAREarts. The feast began with a prayer and then everyone ate, enjoying many local delights. Once finished, they squeezed into teacher Mandy Alves’s classroom to screen the youths’ film, “Bear Clan”, and a slideshow music video created using their song and photography. There was laughter and joy all around! The students and audience squished together for a group photo before saying their goodbyes for the night.  It was the perfect end to a very special week, and the youths were so proud to bring smiles to the faces of their elders, teachers, families, and community members.

To read artist-educator Glenn Marais’s reflection, click here.


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


1 Comment

Guest Post: DAREarts Attawapiskat 2017 Reflection by Glenn Marais

Written by DAREarts artist-educator Glenn Marais.

DAREarts came to the community of Attawapiskat to hear a story about the original Bear Clan from a knowledge keeper, John Matthews, and to take that story and create a film, visual art, a song and a slideshow of pictures to accompany the music. We worked for three days, two seventy five minute periods, with the high school students on a very condensed schedule, including two evenings and one day after school.  What happened was incredible as the students and teachers came together and worked in the spirit of true partnership to create a stunning and moving cinematic interpretation of the story, with original music created by them and a powerful and moving song that expressed the story of their lives and their love of the land.

The sun sets late in Attawapiskat. At 10:00 O’clock it starts to go down and the night sky comes out, crystal clear constellations arcing across the stratosphere, a sailor’s map, starry legends over a world that sleeps but does not rest.  It rises early, breaking the horizon with a brilliant northern radiance illuminating the dusty streets and weathered roofs of the reserve.  The homes are falling apart after the tyranny of the long, cold winter and the morning sounds of rumbling trucks and nails being driven, blend into the chaotic orchestra of a community waking and beginning to move through the day. Its sounds are just like any other town or community coming to life with the promise of the morning. Only here, it is less about promise than survival. There is a magnificent white Catholic church, tall and majestic by the water with stained glass windows that tell the history of the people and whispers of apologies for past wrongs.  Truths have yet to come and apologies given for Residential schools and that is part of the healing that must happen. It is part of a history long buried, that has been disturbed, opened and left like a forgotten graveyard.

Today’s youth live within the reality of the schools ignoble past.  In the shadow of their parents haunted memories, they struggle to burst free and find the glorious sun that shines so long in the summer and hibernates in the winter. Yesterday, one of the high school students walked and talked with us and her words were true, direct and honest, filled with a piercing, unabated intelligence that captivated and charmed us and as she ascended the wooden stairs that are ubiquitous in this community, slowly opening the door to her home that rested in a state of decay, my heart broke for her and I felt ashamed because my feelings seem powerless to help her.

The name reserve fails to describe the pulsing heart of this community.  What a shallow name for a community of people.  We name things in this world for convenience of categorization and to displace the fact that we have committed wrongs. A dressed up wound still bleeds despite our arrogant nature and human nature is arrogant, particularly when it vaunts it’s self as civilized and tromps over anything that doesn’t fit inside it’s neat, tight lineage. The reserve isn’t a dumping ground for an inconvenient culture.  It is a living breathing community that celebrates and mourns, dances and shuffles, sings and cries like any other.  When you fly into a northern community, the sheer beauty of it is staggering.  Hundreds of pristine lakes and rivers dot the landscape of silty islands, whose fish laden waters and abundant wildlife enrich the land. The land is the mother and the connection runs deep, through memories, and stories of creation, and growth with 44 clans coming from the original clan bear clan.  An ancient system of identification and relationship to the animal world that kept the bloodlines as pure as the waters that surround this island community.  The name Attawapiskat means, “People of the parting of the rocks” and it is an island of many created by the surge of the mighty Attawapiskat river, where the people live in harmony with great respect for nature and the balance of life.

This land is much more than its surface appearance of dirt, dusty roads and broken homes. It has the pulse of the Earth mother and connects the people in ways we can’t begin to imagine. We look at land as possession, here it is the heartbeat of a world that is interdependent, with everything flowing and weaving in and out of a glorious kaleidoscopic tapestry that bedazzles the eyes and stirs the soul. It is the sound of a motorboat powering a launch into the rising sun, the crack of a rifle across a winter plain, bringing home food to a family during the cold winter season, and it is the cry of the pow wow singer whose voice is the sound of the elders echoing through the universe. What great spirit inhabits this land and what wonders await if we can learn to walk in humble shoes and beside our First Nations people.

I have heard people say we should remove them from the reserve and integrate them into society as if the “them” in this conversation are inanimate beings that we can move on some self-righteous chessboard. What about a question? How can we work with you to make things better for you? Where can we begin and sit down with you as brothers and sisters in a circle and come to an understanding and a reckoning of our true history, so that we can move forward together, like the two rows on the Iroquois Wampum belt, in a peaceful union? I don’t dream of such things, I speak of them and when I play my guitar and sing and drum, I sing to the heavens, the Earth, my family and my promise, to never stop until things change.  For now, I walk these dusty roads with my eyes, ears and heart open and look always forward to the sun, moon and stars, just like the words in the song that we wrote together:

“We are the sun, moon and stars, we are the trees
All around us, is everything we need
Everything we need is all around”

We live in an abundant world, made shallow by greed, and in this great land of broken promise and faded dreams are the glittering embers of a glorious past that knew, everything we needed was around us and not to take more than we needed. I heard a story on this trip from a noble young man of great character from Attawapiskat, who told us of being pursued by a wolf, when his skidoo broke down.  He told us how he shot around the wolf to scare him off and kept doing this even as the wolf closed in on him.  A man of lesser character would have killed the wolf.  He did not. This is the character of a man cast in iron and made of blood and bone who taught me so much with the simple power of his story.  Our life is meant to be lived in the teachings, with humility and wisdom with respect for ourselves and the world, with courage in the face of danger, so that we will lead with love and honesty, and in that way come to know our truth. To know the teachings of the grandfathers is easy, to live them is hard. Thank you my young friend for a life well lived and lessons well taught.

To read an overview of DAREarts’ week in Attawapiskat, click here.


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