Weaving Indigenous culture into elementary music curriculum

Originally posted in Illuminate – June 2016.  A special thank you to the workshop facilitators and organizers: Nicole Schutz, Laurel Nikolai, Jeremy Albert, Holly Yuzicapi and Dr. Kathy Robinson. All photos by k.barnes.

Dr. Randy Wimmer (Dean of Education), Holly Yuzicapi, Jeremy Albert, Laurel Nikolai, Nicole Schutz and Dr. Kathy Robinson

Dr. Randy Wimmer (Dean of Education), Holly Yuzicapi, Jeremy Albert, Laurel Nikolai, Nicole Schutz and Dr. Kathy Robinson

A two-part professional development workshop focused on integrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit music and culture into elementary music education had a successful launch at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education this June and is expected to return to campus in the fall 2016 term.

At the recent workshop, current Education graduate student Nicole Schutz and alumna Laurel Nikolai (MEd ‘09) showed more than 20 local music teachers and 10 current students in the elementary education program different ways to weave Indigenous music and culture into their kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms by making flutes and teaching them how to play songs.

Learning by doing

The hands-on workshop encouraged participants to decorate and play their flutes, much like they would with their students. Schutz, who is Métis herself, said that making the workshop as interactive as possible was a deliberate choice.

“We move, sing and dance all the time with our students,” said Schutz. “Why not do it with the First music of Canada? We want them to feel it and know it through the way it is supposed to be done.”

Both Schutz and Nikolai’s personal experiences teaching music in schools with large First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations provided a frame of reference when designing the workshop. It also illustrated the need to educate teachers on how to integrate First Nations, Métis and Inuit content and perspectives into the curriculum.

“As music teachers and elementary teachers, we learn through doing it and experiencing the songs and dance. We really want to connect to this through stories and [enable students to] have their own stories of making the instruments that they are putting love and time into, then pass these stories on,” said Nikolai.

“It is our job as educators to do as much as we can, share as much as we can, find accessible resources and people who can pass teachings and experience onto us so we can be comfortably educated to share this with our students,” she adds.


Participants learning to play songs on their flutes

Responding to the Calls to Action

Workshop participants point to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’sfinal report, released last year, as well as the provincial government’s promise to focus more on including Indigenous culture and history into Alberta’s curriculum as two reasons—among many—why professional development like this is needed.

“With the release of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this workshop is a response to some of those calls by learning more about Indigenous ways of knowing and being which will translate to their students,” explained event collaborator Jeremy Albert, who is a First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant with Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB).

“We’re looking to build from here and get these teachings into our schools so our First Nations, Métis and Inuit and non-Indigenous students can be exposed to this education.”

The importance of good materials

As well as receiving a lesson in making, painting and playing Indigenous flutes, workshop participants also received a walk-through of an Edukit for music teachers, developed by EPSB. The kit consists of detailed lesson plans including songs, dances, picture books, poems, and stories that can be used throughout the school year.

“We’re crying out for materials and understanding to bring this music to our students,” said Kathy Robinson, associate professor of elementary education and workshop facilitator.

All of the workshop facilitators expressed a desire for the workshop’s positive impact to spread to classrooms across Edmonton. Event collaborator and EPSB First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant Holly Yuzicapi explained that learning about First Nations, Métis and Inuit art and culture could teach students another way to express themselves.

“Every culture has forms of expression—art, music, singing, dance—it’s really people having the ability to share feelings and stories,” said Yuzicapi.

“You hear people say ‘I’m dancing for healing’, or there is history and significance behind certain songs or stories. When we turn to those things, we are acknowledging expression,” she explained. “When we deal with traumatic things in our life, we can turn to art to help us express feelings, but we don’t teach it that way. When you think about all of our cultural songs, the songwriter is sharing their feelings. So, technically everyone is a songwriter, a dancer and an artist.”

The EPSB Edukit will be available for loan at the H.T. Coutts Education Library. Part two of the workshop, to be led by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, is expected to take place at UAlberta in the fall term and will focus on drumming and drum-making. To learn more about the course, contact Laurel Nikolai or Nicole Schutz.

Taking out the trash at UAlberta

Originally posted in Sustainability eNews Vol. 71 – April 2016.  A special thank you to the Students’ Union Facilities and Operations Team and the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations.

All photos, graphics and text by K.Barnes.

Gerry, Leila and Jessie taking part in the waste audit

Gerry, Leila and Jessie taking part in the waste audit

Once it leaves your hand and enters the container, you probably don’t give waste a second thought, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure the university’s waste is being recycled or composted correctly. At home, a lot of what is accidentally thrown away can still be sorted out at the City of Edmonton Waste Management Centre, but it doesn’t work like that at the university.

“If people put things in the wrong bin, we have to reach into the bin and put it in the right one.” – Gerry, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations

“If you don’t know where something is supposed to go, it’s okay to ask us where to put items.” – Emma, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations

The University of Alberta is part of the Institutional, Commercial and Industrial sector, which means it is not part of the municipal waste system you have at home. Instead, the university must have its own waste contractors who collect and process waste and recycling. Someone who lives in a residence in Edmonton pays taxes which go toward municipal services like waste management. The university’s contract requires waste materials to be separated correctly, or it all goes to the landfill. This also means that the material in the university’s “landfill” stream does not get sorted further after it leaves campus – it goes straight to a landfill.

Gerry and Emma collect waste, recyclables and organics from the SUB food court

Emma and Gerry collect and label the bags of waste in SUB’s food court, the first step of the waste audit.

“Landfills are designed to not allow things to break down easily, or liquids to leach out. They are a highly anaerobic environment. Even a piece of food waste, which can compost quite easily, will sit there for years in a landfill.”

– Shannon Leblanc, Sustainability Coordinator, Energy Management & Sustainable Operations

Keeping as many compostable or recyclable items out of the landfill as possible is an institutional sustainability priority. For example, decomposing organics in landfills produce a gas which is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. By keeping compostable items out of the landfill, the university can reduce its ecological footprint. With this in mind, the University of Alberta’s draft Sustainability Plan  has set a target to divert 90 per cent of waste from the landfill by 2020.

Getting to Zero Waste

Purity Chart final

Data collected by EMSO and BGS staff. Purity measures the percentage of items correctly discarded. In SUB, more than 70 per cent of waste in the landfill stream could be recycled or composted instead. This means that many items are being sent to the landfills that don’t have to go there.

To meet that target, the university is piloting Zero Waste stations in the Students’ Union Building, HUB Mall and Lister Centre. These stations move the university from a six-stream system to a simpler four-stream system which captures mixed paper, recyclables, organics and landfill waste.  Once these stations are working, the system will be expanded to the rest of North Campus.

To evaluate the new system, UAlberta’s Energy Management and Sustainable Operations and Buildings and Grounds Services perform regular waste audits to get concrete data about how well the Zero Waste stations are working. That means the waste is collected, labelled and sorted to see how many of the items are correctly disposed of, and see what items cause trouble.

Shannon, Leila and Jessie of EMSO

Shannon, Leila and Jessie of EMSO

Next time you need to toss an item, check out the containers to see where it belongs and help the university keep recyclables and compostable items out of the landfill.

infographic - Waste Audit items final

Ten-year plan: revisited


Nearly ten years ago my dad took this picture of me with Trudeau Sr. at the Museum of Civilization. Ten years later, his son is Prime Minister.


**This post is intended to hold my own feet to the fire, and keep certain promises to myself.**

About  ten months ago I wrote a blog post about  coming up with a ten-year plan for myself.

With the end of the year just around the corner (and I know it will come *much* sooner than I anticipate), I thought I should get a head -start on  taking a look at  how well I’ve stuck to my goals and re-evaluate them. Why wait until New Years’, right?

a) Steady work and less contracts–  I’d love to continue working on my skills and building work experience, particularly in communications, marketing, project management, business, but I won’t say no to any good opportunities that come my way;

b) Pay off student loans– it might take a while, but it is super important to me;

c) Work out at least three times a week consistently— I’d like to get stronger and more fit, which means having a more structured attendence;

d) Learn to speak another language fluently– I’ve been working on German through Duolingo; and

e) Travel more– Top spots include New Orleans, Cuba, and the UK.

a)  I’ve definitely kept this promise, however I also picked up some more contracts as side work, and I’m enjoying it.  Maybe a better way to look at this goal is to keep steady work as well as some freelancing on the side.

b) Working on that… I can’t wait for the day when I pay less in student loan payments than my rent.

c) Here’s one of the goals I’m failing at massively.  I eat better than I did as a student, but working out consistently hasn’t happened. As much as I’d like to blame the freelance work, that’s not really fair.  There were stints where I excused myself from going to gym because the weather was so nice out. A leisurely stroll does not a workout make.

I think I need to come up with a motivator to go to the gym (eg. allow myself to buy fancy teas if I keep my goal), or find an app like Duolingo to keep motivated.

d) I’m actually fairly impressed with how much German I’m retaining, and now that  Duolingo  has expanded to include Ukrainian,  I practice French, German and Ukrainian each for once a day and I’m loving it.

e) I can safely blame the failure of this goal on  the student loans, and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Instead, I’m trying to focus on reading books that transport me to new places and get my travel fix that way.

Considering this past year was full of  upheaval and change, I’m actually fairly impressed with how well I’ve done, minus going to the gym. Still, I think these are managable goals, and I intend on keeping them.:)


How can you not get romantic about baseball?

The K. May 2011. k.barnes

The K. May 2011. k.barnes

Baseball’s a funny thing when you are North of 49°. It doesn’t seem to exist most of the time. If you want baseball that far  north, you are looking at small local leagues, the ones that are overshadowed by the almighty hockey.  Until the Blue Jays made the American League Championship Series this year, I didn’t think Canadians outside of Toronto realized baseball was a viewing option.

It’s a beautiful sport, though. Quietly tense,  but the fireworks can blow you away.  I can’t think of another sport that balances these polar opposites so well. Baseball is like a good book– it can suck you in, keep you on the edge of your seat and make you forget about the world around you, yet you still have a visceral reaction to what you witness. There’s nothing suspenseful about hockey; it’s more like a good popcorn action flick.

The K. May 2011. k.barnes

The K. May 2011. k.barnes

I’ve witnessed a lot of great sporting experiences. My dad always made sure I watched March Madness and we were ecstatic by the Chicago Bulls’ wins with Michael Jordan. I remember the heartbreak with the 2003-2004 Calgary Flames lost the cup, and I remember Crosby’s golden goal.

I still can’t get seeing the Royals in May 2011 out of my head.

We were visiting family before my cousin’s wedding, and it was decided we were going to see a baseball game.  I was excited; I’d only ever seen small local games or watched it on TV. After an early meal, we all packed into the SUV my parents rented (by packed, I mean that we had to shut Dave in the trunk) and we pulled up to Kauffman Stadium. The parking lot was pretty full since there was a Chiefs game and the tailgaters were still enjoying the sunshine.  We walked into the stadium to find our seats– down low by 1st base. I wouldn’t realize how lucky we were until my mom had to splurge for Jays tickets at the equivalent level in Toronto a couple of years later.

The stadium was remarkably empty, but Dave said it was because the Royals never win…

The stadium was so full of life, though. The families with small children who were terrified of the mascot Sluggerrr. Drunk college students singing with all their good-natured hearts. Drunk oddballs who knew every player and still could recall their stats in an inebriated state.

COME ON, BABEEEEEE! IT’S ALL ON YOUR SHOULDERS NOW! – drunk fan behind us who was wearing both home and away caps, paired with yellow-lens sunglasses

While I can’t remember who the Royals were playing, I remember feeling in the stadium. The Royals would get ahead, then the other team would get 3 RBI and the lead would switch. Pinch-hitting. Base-stealing. It was tense. It was exciting. It went for 13 innings, and the Royals won.

We didn’t get back home until midnight, but the feeling didn’t leave. That night was when I saw the romance of baseball.

Back in Canada, baseball’s beauty flies under the radar, a bit like the cute neighbour next door. Everyone is busy obsessing about the popular kid– hockey. Few people outside of Toronto seem to remember the back-to-back World Series wins for the Blue Jays and most beyond the GTA only start paying attention once there is a title at stake.

I think you need to sit in a stadium to see the beauty of baseball. Look it straight in the eye and watch your team battle back from  deficit to a win at the change of a hairpin turn. You have to feel the anxiety of the batter while you wait for the pitcher to throw. You need to hear the silence when you watch to see where the ball lands. You must feel the roar of the crowd at a home run.

Thank you, Kansas City for making me romantic about baseball.❤

The K. May 2011. k.barnes

The K. May 2011. k.barnes