DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence


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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

In October 2016, 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, RBC Foundation, and TD Bank Group.


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 Montreal Youth Take Action: DAREing to Dream Like Chagall

For eight weeks in Montreal, teens from Vezina, Perspectives and JFK high schools have been gathering for weekly after-school DAREarts workshops  at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), culminating in a Public Showcase on Sunday, June 11th, 2 pm. Alongside DAREarts Montreal Lead Teacher & Coordinator Deirdre Potash, Teaching Assistant Sebastien Haimet, MMFA Teacher Jacinthe Otis, Beatboxer Malcolm Humes, Spoken Word Artist Why’z Panthera,  and photographer and videographer Emanuele Setticasi, the teens have created together to become empowered young leaders.

Adapted from reports by Teaching Assistant Sebastien Haimet:
Day One:  At the MMFA, Jacinthe toured the DAREarts group through graffiti murals created by artist collective En Masse. Each teen sketched out symbols they saw that resonated with them. Shane shared with his peers, “Art doesn’t always have to be beautiful in the normal sense; sometimes its ugliness makes it beautiful.”  Later in the studio, the teens created their own symbols in plastercine.

Day Two: In their opening circle, the youths discussed the DAREarts value of ‘Discipline’ and how it applies to leadership. The teens talked insightfully about how respect and self-control can help them be excellent!  The MMFA’s Jacinthe then treated the teens to a tour through the special Chagall exhibit, where they explored how he created rhythm and movement in his paintings. The teens were fascinated by the ballet costumes and stained glass works. Matteus shared that he was so impressed that he wanted to see the ballet himself! Returning to the studio, the teens learned a printmaking process and created their own prints.

Day Three: The teens explored the MMFA’s contemporary collection, exploring through art the narrative of oppression faced by First Nations people. Spoken word artist Why’z Panthera inspired the teens to write short poems. Everyone was in awe of the quality of each poem. Taisha’s fearless presentation on her first DAREarts Day, and Vito’s beautifully complex writing. In the closing circle, Ariel shared that spoken word had given her a new way to express herself. All the participants said they plan on sharing this experience with friends, classmates and family.

Day Four: In their opening circle, the teens discussed how they had shared their slam poetry outside of the circle and how they can further share.  In a new wing of the MMFA, they encountered Jacinthe’s favourite self-portraits, including JM Basquiat and Joseph Beuys, revealing the many unorthodox ways that artists can portray themselves.  In the studio, beatboxer Malcolm shared the history of beatboxing and taught a few foundational sounds. Everyone gave it their all, despite an “embarrassing” sound or two!

Day Five: The teens discovered the MMFA’s new pavilion of Impressionist landscapes. Vito, a returning DAREarts teen, shared that even though he did not find the pieces appealing, he appreciated how the paintings were like photographs imbued with emotions.  At the studio, Deirdre taught the teens how to create art by embossing metal sheets.  By the end of the session, the teens shared that they felt DAREarts was a haven to get away from the stresses of regular life.

Day Six: The teens completed the first stage of their photo transfer pieces, ensuring that they covered for anyone who was absent. Then the teens started combining their spoken word pieces with beatboxing, with Why’z and Malcolm’s help.  With the showcase just a few weeks away, the teens started to see how their final creations would look and sound.  During breaks, many opened up and shared their life experiences and the challenges they face.

Day Seven: Deirdre welcomed the teens to the studio with homemade pizza and Banana bread!  While creating their photo transfer artwork, the teens’ discussions ranged from music to politics. It was clear how comfortable they had become around each other and our teaching team.  By the end of the session, many of the teens had come out of their bubble of shyness, which we hope they will continue to do both at DAREarts and in their everyday lives.

Day Eight: With their public showcase just around the corner, the teens all worked hard to finish up their varied artworks for Sunday’s display. I wish you could witness the ambience; the sound of relaxation, creativity all taking place in a safe environment.

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 Education Partner: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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DAREarts Toronto Spring Gr. 8 Grads: My Identity is… Success!

On Wednesday, May 31st, the Bata Shoe Museum generously hosted the DAREarts Toronto Spring grade 8 class graduation celebration. Over 8 weeks of DAREarts Days, 27 Grade 8 delegates had explored identity and leadership through music, drama, dance, literature and visual art.

Laura MacKinnon, DAREarts Lead Teacher, welcomed the audience of families, teachers, DAREarts supporters and community leaders.  Annie Appleby, TDSB Central Superintendent & DAREarts Director, spoke on behalf of the TDSB. The class then began their presentation: two spoken word poems they created with SPIN El Poeta at DAIS, two drama pieces created with Little Black Afro Theatre, a short film created at TIFF, a dance learned with Fly Lady Di, and a song they wrote with Sheldon De Souza.  Self-portraits they painted with youth artist Ricky Schaede vibrantly reflected their identities on the walls.

Each DAREarts graduate received a medallion.  The William Stevenson Award for Excellence in Writing, presented by Emmy-award winning producer Monika Jensen-Stevenson, went to Valerie, whose poetry showed that, despite her shy demeanour, she has a strong voice. The James Westcott Award, presented by DAREarts supporter Nancy Westcott, went to Ezra, whose positivity and humour inspired the entire class.  The Crichton Community Leadership Award, presented by retired principal and DAREarts supporter Eileen Crichton, went to DAREarts graduate and volunteer extraordinaire Dante Scholar to help him further his paralegal studies.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Sheila Knox, Head of Education & Programming for the Bata Shoe Museum, for making this evening possible. We also thank our young volunteers Iris Benedikt, Elijah Brown, Alan Dunlop, Kiranpreet Kaur Bhangu, Patrik Montelibano, and Dante Scholar.

Over 150 students from 26 schools spanning Toronto’s downtown core to east Scarborough attended the spring program as DAREarts “delegates”.  They were empowered with the job of going back to their respective schools after each DAREarts Day to peer-teach their classmates what they had learned.

Toronto participating schools this spring were: Brock PS, Cedarbrook PS, Chine Drive PS, Corvette JS, Cosburn MS, Earl Haig PS, Eastview PS, Equinox Holistic Alternative, Fairbank Memorial CS, George Webster ES, Gordon A. Brown MS, Jesse Ketchum PS, Joseph Brant PS, Niagara Street JPS, Pauline JPS, Queen Victoria PS, RH McGregor ES, Regent Heights PS, Roden PS, Samuel Hearne MS, Sloane PS, St. Andrew’s PS, Westwood MS, Willow Park JS & Winchester PS.

DAREarts thanks its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne Livingston, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario; Education Partner: the TDSB; Grade 8 Class Sponsor: Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Photos courtesy of volunteer photographer Alan Dunlop.