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Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence


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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


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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


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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


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DAREarts and Junior Rangers: Spirit of the North

Written by DAREarts Artist-Educator, Glenn Marais.
We are guided by our own inner wisdom and our values system that is our inner compass. Our greatest guide is our heart and that pure wisdom that has grown fertile in our souls from birth. We may have been blessed by good education and mentors and, in this recognition, understand that others have not shared the same bounty.

It was a stormy night and we had a long way to go, but for DAREarts founder, Marilyn Field, and myself, DAREarts artist Glenn Marais, it wasn’t a question of if – only when and how. We were on our way into a forecast of 90 KM hour winds, thunderstorms and possible hailstorms. Our destination: Meaford, ON to speak to a group of Junior Rangers, First Nations youth from all over northern Ontario. Outside of Stayner, it hit us hard: wind so strong the rains were sideways, hail so loud on my van we couldn’t talk over it.  Lightning flashed around us and we held on, drove slow with faith that it would blow over and we would be okay.  It did and we made it to a roomful of hope:  eager, resilient, ambitious, young men and women, training to make a difference in their community.

Marilyn told me we were going for a reason.  I believe wholeheartedly in this philosophy.  It’s a DAREarts philosophy. You show up with an open heart and mind and you embrace the possible in impossible situations.  For these First Nations youth, nothing in life is easy and people let them down all the time. We need to show up. We need to reach out. We need to understand that these young people have had their culture taken away and they are rebuilding their cultural legacy for their own children. That is powerful.

Marilyn was right; something magical happened. We sang ‘Spirit of the North’; a song written in honor of Jordan Wabasse, a youth from Webequie who died tragically young at the age of 15 while attending school in Thunder Bay. They asked us to sing it again and again and again and again. Each time they joined in with more confidence and their voices rose as one. They sensed the power and beauty of this song. Because it is their song:

“I want to see myself, proud,
I want to see myself strong,
I want to be who I am,
I’ve had enough of being wrong.
Love can make you do anything.”

Indeed it can and we love our youth like they are our own, because that is how we see them. As family. It resonated in the room tonight and we left as one people who shared something bigger than ourselves, love.

As we prepared to leave, a young man named Jaren approached me and told me of his grandmother who was in a Residential School. He said, “They took away everything from her.” He thanked me and said that I had changed him. That he believed he could get back what they had lost. In my years of working in the north and with the thousands of students I have had the privilege of working with, this has been the most humbling and beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. Jaren, you have strengthened my resolve and giving me a great gift. I am eternally grateful. From this storm we emerged into a beautiful sky, burning red, streaked with black clouds, as if hope had burned through and shone its glorious light on us all.

Meegwitch my new friends, we will see you again.

Glenn
DAREarts 1-888-540-2787 | info@darearts.com


DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. Our lead supporters are Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, TD Bank Groupand the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.


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“Together, Stronger, Each of us has a Voice”

Written by Glenn Marais, DAREarts Musician-Educator

imgp9722The week in Marten Falls started slowly with students reluctant to sit in our circle from a combination of shyness coupled with an unfamiliarity with our program.  Discipline, Action, Respect and Excellence blended with Traditional Teachings are the corner posts of DAREarts and we center all of our arts activities and leadership skills around these core values.  As we became familiar with the community and students, our level of understanding increased exponentially and our relationship with the students deepened as they bought in more and more every day. Together, we worked incredibly hard on a challenging art project, constructing a bear out of water bottles and tubing that was massive in size and dimension. So big it took three people to get it to move, two in the body and one for the head, which was independent of the body.  In addition, community members and students painted a large canvas of bears, all done in First Nations style.  Several tracks of music were created, as well as a rap song and an original song titled “Makwa Obwoo Momun”.  All this work created a common purpose amongst the teachers, community members, students and us.  Some of the students have incredibly difficult lives and are dealing with residual effects of abuse and neglect. The community show was incidental to the experience of creating it; the measurable pride the kids showed in performing for their community was tremendously gratifying and our collective memories will live with us forever.

taliyah-delora-lennoxEarly on Monday, after this exhilarating, incredibly emotional week in Marten Falls, we arrived exhausted in Webequie. We were picked up by Morris, the school caretaker, who dropped our supplies at the school and took us to our lodging for the week. We were all short of bedding and I was missing a bed; however this community can pull together and get things done fast, so by the afternoon, we had bedding and I had a bed!  Unlike Marten Falls where we all stayed together at a Bed and Breakfast, here we would be staying at different teacher’s homes. The weather was very rainy and cold and the roads were a muddy bog. The environment, coupled with our fatigue and separation, put us all into a funk of fatigue and low energy.  After a hearty meal, we all felt better and went to bed early to get ready for our first day.

circle-to-rehearse-the-song-banner-by-ashlynn-and-deloraWe noticed right away on the first day that the students here, Gr 7/8, were more animated and quicker to join in for drama games and movement.  The week here has been incredibly emotional. Webequie is home in so many ways and DAREarts is like a brand name up here.  All you have to do is mention DAREarts and you are greeted by knowing nods and smiles. Re-connecting with former students, elders and friends has elevated everyone’s spirits to a euphoric level. On Wednesday, Laura, Kaitlyn and I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony run by Bob Wabasse. We all felt that there was a purpose and a need for us to attend the sweat. Bob took his time and explained it all to us and we did two rounds of healing prayer and songs in the dark and steam-driven heat of the lodge. It was incredible. We all felt renewed, cleansed and invigorated. Our emotions are open and we feel deeply connected to this land, these people we call friends who feel like family and our sense of purpose and dreams for our students.

As Bob told us, when you live with honesty, truth and share your life, you will be connected to the creator and the universe. This is how we feel at this moment. Very connected to a special light and love that can only come from good hearted people, coming together.

Our song is called Mashkwe Seewin Maa Moe
Stronger Together
We understand it more now than ever.

Sunday is the community show.  40 youths showed up last night! There is much work to do, but our hearts feel lightened and carried by many hands.  We know that whatever happens in the show is only a small part of our journey. The realizations and shared experiences we have had are beyond measure. They exist between the stars, under the moon and across the Albany River, over Lake Winisk and down the same road that we choose to walk in harmony with our First Nations Family. We are blessed with so much love.

To our First Nations brothers and sisters
Meegwetch
Thank you for your gifts

– Glenn for the DAREarts team

darearts-webequie-company


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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Mama Bear Teaches Us How to Dream

Written by Cathy Elliott, DAREarts Indigenous Artist-Educator

bear-outsideNine years ago, DAREarts, a national charity that empower kids using the arts, came to Marten Falls (Ogoki Post) FN after a successful week in Webequie FN and we had some adjustments to make.  Ogoki was much smaller. There were no highschool students here. There were some problems with holding on to teachers, drug dependency, very high absenteeism, and a lot of anger. This was when the internet was a community board, when no one (except some of us) knew that Residential Schools and the 60’s scoop did so much damage, and when a water boiling advisory was the norm.

Some things have changed since then, but not all.

Now, there’s internet. Intermittent internet.

Now, everyone knows about the Residential Schools, and if they don’t, they just don’t want to.

Now, there’s STILL a water boil advisory.

darearts-circleOur trip here last week happened to fall just after the 50th anniversary of 12 year old Chanie Wenjack’s attempt to walk away from sexual abuse in a terrible government and church sanctioned institution to his home in Ogoki.  He froze to death en route. His death was a blip in the news, became the subject of a beautiful song by Mi’kmaw Singer Songwriter Willie Dunn (“Charlie Wenjack” was sung to me in Vice Principal Wayne Potts’ office in 2010 in Attawapiskat when he found out I was Mi’kmak.)  Chanie’s story was so far under the wire that it didn’t get the attention it deserved until this year, when Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie released his book/animation/concert and author Joseph Boyden published his novela “Wenjack.” DAREarts has been working with Annie Wenjack for years, not knowing the connection until this year. She is Chaney’s sister. Many other members of his family have worked with us over the past nine years. The circles keep connecting us all together, and that’s where the dreaming now starts.

elder-elizabeth-inspiresElder Elizabeth Achneepineskum told our workshop participants (grades 5, 6 and 7 students of Henry Coaster Memorial School) the story of a mama bear that took a baby and taught him to talk like a bear.  “She pointed out the geese flying south and she said, ‘We’re going to eat them!’  When the bear was killed by humans for meat, they realized that she had protected the boy, and they honoured her with a human burial because she was his mother.  The humans taught the boy how to talk like humans. When they asked the boy how he survived the long cold winters of hibernation, he told them, ‘I dreamed about food.’

Principal Fay Zoccole said to me, on our way to the airport at the end of the week, “These kids don’t really get to dream. Their reality makes it very difficult to look ahead, to have hope.” To have a Teaching that tells us that we need to dream our future, to honour our past, to love our culture and build on our lives tied up in such a joyful, funny, enrapturing undertaking as the DAREarts First Roots Project is inspiring.

bear-makingWhen asked about their impression of bears, the kids told us that they were “dump bears” they lived in “dump dens” and “stink like sh*t.” But when they heard Elder Elizabeth tell a traditional story about a mother bear teaching a baby how to live, they found something new. With that, the kids updated their millennial-old story and applied it to their own lives. They did this. And when, to tell their story in art, drama and music,  they built that bear out of water bottles – hundreds of them, that otherwise would have gone to the dump – they made a bigger statement. They stayed after school.  Forgot that their time to work was over. Stayed into the evening. Brought their little bothers and sisters and those kids helped, too. Adults came too. All week, the gym was lit up with music and laughter and the hum of productivity. They performed their play and shared their creations with their community. The final words were spoken, loud and clear by a little boy who came every day and evening. “My mother taught me how to dream.”

Something else in Ogoki has changed, too. On the final day when I went back to the school for one last visit and a ride to the airport (the rest of the team went ahead – to Webequie) I smelled sage for the first time. I smudged and looked around at the kids. All of them were gathered in the rotunda hall of the school, calm, quiet, listening. The school is changing. Their Principal is a strong Indigenous woman. The Education Authority is receiving a little more funding for programs.

Young Chanie Wenjack was robbed of his culture, his innocence, his life. DAREarts is dreaming of a time when these children can live a life full of possibility and hope.

“The Boy Bear,” along with other bear stories from First Nations kids all over Canada, will be read May 4th at the DAREarts Leadership Awards in Toronto and the students’ stories, artwork, songs and photography will be shared in an installation at the Stratford Festival every night of the world premiere of ‘The Breathing Hole’ next August and September to celebrate Canada 150.

darearts-marten-falls-ogoki-team


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