First learning about residential schools in Canada during my undergrad degree is a defining moment in my life. I discussed this in detail in my blog post Starting a Journey of Reconciliation.
I recently re-read sections of the two primary sources I used for a major research essay in my undergrad class: Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools by J.R. Miller and A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879-1996 by John S. Milloy. As someone who is fascinated by history and how it relates to our society today, I can honestly say that these books are both illuminating and devastating. Miller’s book juxtaposes Chief Shingwauk’s vision of education – a teaching wigwam where his people could acquire the necessary educational tools of modern society while honoring the values of their culture and traditions – with the Indian Residential School system that was developed by the federal government and run primarily by religious groups. Milloy’s book uses the paper trail of memos, reports from field inspectors, and letters of complaint to expose that the residential school system was horribly underfunded and mismanaged, affecting the health, education, and well-being of entire generations of Aboriginal children.
In recent years, witnessing the stories told by survivors of residential school has been both heartbreaking and healing. The vulnerability, courage, and strength shown by survivors is inspiring. I use many of these stories in my classroom to encourage truth and reconciliation. Orange Shirt Day (which I blogged about earlier this week) is the result of Phyllis Webstad sharing the story of an incident she experienced in residential school. The documentary We Were Children tells the stories of Glen Anaquod and Lyna Hart. In his memoir The Education of Augie Merasty, Joseph August Merasty tells of his experiences. His humour in the midst of telling the horrors of his experience is inspiring.
These resources make me feel the weight of injustice, but they also leave me hopeful that healing can occur. Sharing the stories is an integral part of a healing journey.
First, I enrolled in a MOOC (on Coursera) from the University of Alberta entitled Indigenous Canada. The U of A has an extensive listing of Indigenous Resources – check it out here! I chose the free option, but there is a certificate version as well which costs about $70. The twelve module course explores Indigenous histories from an Indigenous perspective and touches on issues important for understanding past and current relationships between Indigenous and settler societies. So far, I have completed the module for Week 1, which deals with Indigenous Worldview.
The remaining eleven modules are: Fur Trade; Trick or Treaty; New Rules, New Game; “Killing the Indian in the Child”; A Modern Indian?; Red Power; Sovereign Lands; Indigenous Women; Indigenous in the City; Current Social Movements; and ‘Living’ Traditions – Expressions in Pop Culture and Art.
So far, I’m really enjoying the MOOC. It is pertinent and relevant information, presented in a variety of formats. There are instructional videos that have transcripts, as well as readings and quizzes. There are MOOCs from other institutions (such as this one from UBC) that I will pursue after I have completed this online course; however, I chose the one from U of A for my initial course to enroll in based on the historical range of topics and the relevance to my project as well as my teaching.
I’m a bit of a nerd – I really like taking classes! But I also enjoy attending live performances, which leads me to the next part of my learning this week – I attended a concert at the Conexus Arts Centre: Jeremy Dutcher with the RSO.
A member of Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Jeremy first did music studies in Halifax before taking a chance to work in the archives at the Canadian Museum of History, painstakingly transcribing Wolastaq songs from 1907 wax cylinders. ‘Many of the songs I’d never heard before, because our musical tradition on the East Coast was suppressed by the Canadian Government’s Indian Act.’ Jeremy heard ancestral voices singing forgotten songs and stories that had been taken from the Wolastoqiyik generations ago. As he listened to each recording, he felt his own musical impulses stirring from deep within. Long days at the archives turned into long nights at the piano, feeling out melodies and phrases, deep in dialogue with the voices of his ancestors. These ‘collaborative’ compositions collected together on his debut LP Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. ~ taken from the artist biography in “Encore”
Dutcher won the Polaris Prize and the award for Indigenous music album of the year at the 2019 Junos for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. If you happened to watch the Junos, you would have seen him get his acceptance speech cut off, and then (if you watched until the end) you would have seen rock group The Arkells give up their time and invite Dutcher back to the stage to finish what he started – CBC’s segment on this can be viewed here. It was a powerful moment and you can read the transcript of his speech(es) here.
The cover of “Encore” featuring a photograph of Jeremy Dutcher.
The song list for the evening – every single piece was by Indigenous musicians or was influenced by Indigenous traditional music.
In his message within “Encore,” Jeremy explained
an elder from my First Nation asked me to help bring our songs home. These traditional songs had been recorded on wax cylinders over a century ago and now reside at the Canadian Museum of History. It was her greatest hope to hear these songs live among the people again; She told me, “When I hear those old voices qoss//son, I hear symphonies.” I did too, and thus began the work which lead to this evening.
I have lived my life at the intersections. Where white meets native, classical meets traditional, old meets new meets future. What I understand now is that #ourmusicbelongs to all. Our songs carry the beauty and passion of an opera aria and our stories rival any great european drama. Thank you … for opening your ears and hearts to the sounds of my nation.
The first of Jeremy’s songs that was played was “Honour Song.” My other favourite of the night was “Mehcinut.” I’ve linked the official video version of “Mehcinut” for you … as it is a must watch. The orchestral arrangements, the use of the original wax cylinder recordings (in digitized form) throughout the concert, and the choice of accompanying music when Dutcher was not performing – all perfection. We heard orchestral selections from Cris Derksen (“Round Dance“) and the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie. Dutcher also sang Sainte-Marie’s song, “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” accompanied by the RSO. Incredible.
I’ve been a subscriber to the RSO Shumiatcher Pops series for several years, and I have never heard anything quite like this concert. I tweeted about it that night when I got home because I was just so moved (Jeremy Dutcher was the first to like my tweet, so that was nice!). It was an emotional and magical experience. Woliwon//Thank you.
The music of Buffy Sainte-Marie is already something I use in my classroom. She has such a broad range of work and it can fit into a variety of contexts within my senior ELA classes. I’ve used it within Creative Writing, too! I am excited to add the music of Jeremy Dutcher – currently brainstorming ways to incorporate the story of his work with the wax cylinders that resulted in his album, as well as his recordings.
(His work is available on vinyl – oohhh how amazing vinyl sounds. I wish more albums were available on vinyl)
Thank you for reading and following my learning journey! Do you have some favourite indigenous musicians whose work you use within your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas and how you incorporate them into your curricula!