Climate Apocalypse + Tanya Tagaq // Soundtrack to Settler-Colonialism

This post on NiCHE is an introduction to Kateryna Barnes’ recently published Gothic Nature II article, “Soundtrack to Settler-Colonialism: Tanya Tagaq’s Music as Creative Nonfiction Horror.”

Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when the Zhaagnaash1 came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us…Yes, apocalypse. We’ve had that over and over.

W. Rice, Moon of the Crusted Snow, p. 157

In the documentary SILENCE=DEATH(1990), poet and philosopher Allen Ginsberg declares AIDS to be an allegory for anthropogenic environmental destruction, saying that living with AIDS is dying with AIDS, be it planetary or personal. He says:

The planet has AIDs… ozone layer depletion, acid rain, greenhouse effect––they are lesions on the skin of the planet. Desertification, deforestation, and poison-dumping both in oceans and land… the key problem is the immune system of the planet doesn’t seem to be able to repair the damage done by the human virus (n.pg.).

Further to Ginsberg’s analogy, I posit that maybe the planet is undergoing radical radiation treatment – killing what is healthy along with the deadly in an effort to survive. It’s an impending apocalypse where death isn’t the end, but extinction is. It’s an existential end of all we know. As anthropologist Ernest Becker (1973) explains in his landmark book The Denial of Death, it is “an impossible paradox: the ever-present fear of death in the normal biological functioning of our instinct of self-preservation, as well as our utter obliviousness to this fear in our conscious life” (pg 15).  This impossible paradox is like philosopher Eugene Thacker’s (2010) framing of an unthinkable world, a speculative world.

Read more at NiCHE.

AGNIQ SUAŊŊAKTUQ AND KISIMA INŊITCHUŊA (NEVER ALONE)

The main theme of Kisima Inŋitchuŋa is made clear through its English name, which is based on a direct translation from Iñupiat: never alone, or “I am never alone”. Nuna may be the only human actant in the vast majority of the game, but she’s never solo. She has her steady and dependable companion, Fox. Fox’s dependability continues after their death and they are reimagined as a spirit that can continue to connect Nuna with both the natural and spiritual world, which are considered one-and-the-same in Iñupiaq culture. Spirits, the Aurora Borealis, and other animals are constant presences throughout the game, and engaging with these beings in respectful relations brings game play success. 

Read more of this essay at First Person Scholar.

Unsettling Colonial Mapping: Sonic-Spatial Representations of ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ

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kisiskāciwani-sīpiy – amiskwaciwâskahikan // Original art by k.barnes

This project is supported by the Digital Rights Community Grant Program, a partnership between Digital Justice Lab, Tech Reset Canada and Centre for Digital Rights.

It is with deep gratitude that we bring this project to the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, Stó:lō, Stz’uminus, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.  


This map is a sonic engagement of Treaty Six on the North Campus of the University of Alberta. Campus has a long history as Native Land, be it as a traditional meeting place for diverse Indigenous peoples (Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Dene, Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, Haudenosaunee, and others) on the banks of the kisiskāciwani-sīpiy (North Saskatchewan River), as the homestead of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, or as a Papaschase Cree settlement – forcibly disbanded by the government only 20 years prior to the university’s founding.

Featuring bioacoustic sounds of South Quad, the recordings converge around the Sweetgrass Bear, a granite sculpture created by carver Stewart Steinhauer as a physical expression of treaty obligations (Almond et al., 2018, para 8). According to Steinhauer, the use of granite calls into being the Rock Grandfather – a facilitator of human communication: “the Rock Grandfather uses a non-linguistic approach to communication, speaking directly, consciousness to consciousness, bypassing language altogether”. The materiality of the sculpture thus facilitates a sensory encounter meant to engage the holistic teachings of the Sweetgrass Bear.

With this digital experiment, it is our goal to detail spacetime aurally on this Land where we learn, grow, and imagine with a focus on Indigeneity, sacred ecology, and deep listening. Where colonial mapping logics delineate and contain space for the sake of state seizure and control, sonic mapping begins to chart the complex entanglements and fluidity of spacetime that defy borders and static representations of space and place. It is our hope that this map becomes a site of heard (and felt) connection wherein resonance with the sounds of the environment requires a (re)orientation to campus – a place sounding with the vibrancies of the Land and hi/stories of Treaty Six.



kiskinowasihta – listen carefully, so that you will know it after

Pauline Oliveros has taught me a lot about sound. Her declaration that “everything is sounding”  shifted my listening practice and, somewhat painfully, revived a personal awareness of the bioacoustic environments through which I move (Oliveros, 2017). Pauline’s life’s work was oriented towards deep listening: “creating an atmosphere of opening for all to be heard, with the understanding that listening is healing” (Oliveros, 2017). This resonates with me, I believe that all kinds of healing and connection occurs when we allow ourselves to listen to (and feel) that which animates our surroundings.

When I typically navigate campus I usually have my oversized headphones on, blasting the world away through music. I usually have a certain amount of time to run errands on campus, or I’m rushing from one meeting to class to another meeting. There’s no time for intentionality or exploration. Sound easily distracts me. As such, my surroundings fade behind the auditory boundaries I’ve constructed in an effort to focus. Still, sounds seep past the headphones. Making this map forces a reorientation. Headphones off, listening intently with my audio recorder at hand, ready for action.

I always have my headphones. In a panicked, I-can’t-leave-the-house-until-I-find-them, sort of way. My headphones allow me to disengage with the sonic environment – or rather, to curate my own, one in which I choose what I want to hear when I want to hear it. However, it is not lost on me that this protective act of retreating disconnects me from the intimate (and intimately-connected) kinesthetic  and sonic awareness that Pauline champions. And so, headphones off, I too reorient towards a campus that is sounding.

This reorientation is and always will be informed by our own orientation(s): how we move through the world, the social locations we inhabit, the relationships we prioritize. As arbiters of its content (and process), we have deeply embedded ourselves in the map. Which, by way of its creation, operates as a proposition, an “argument about the world” (Harley, 1989, p.11) and particular places on campus asserted through our curation and navigation of it.

Memories shape the sounds of this space, and this map. As a student, I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible Indigenous scholars who shape my understanding and perspectives, and their wisdom echoes inside me while I track sounds. Listening for the crunch of snow, voices in the distance, the wind, I also hear the voice of Trudy Cardinal (Cree/Métis) describing the importance of listening to learning, and the respect inherent in that act, saying “When I’m honouring what I’ve lived as Indigenous pedagogy, it comes from my grandmothers. It’s not that they lived the traditional Indigenous lifestyle on the land, it’s just their way of being and knowing. It’s an embodied knowledge, if we learn to listen to that again.” In other words, listen, learn, and live.

Treaty

Treaty Six is based on nêhiyaw laws and understandings of treaty. In nêhiyaw oral tradition, the treaty with the crown was a “ceremonial covenant of adoption between two families” (McAdams 2015, p.41), a friendship and peace treaty to last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. However, the written treaty used by the state of Canada (but made with the crown of England) conveys otherwise: the surrender of Indigenous Land for minimal compensation and reserves. According to Sharon Venne, nêhiyawak “have a relationship with [their] Creation based on a legal system designed to protect and honour the land. These are the laws that guided Cree Peoples when the Chiefs negotiated and concluded Treaty Six in 1876” (Venne 2007, p.2). Dwayne Donald further articulates that at the heart of the nêhiyaw legal system lies two cardinal concepts, that of miyo wichitowin (human-to-human relations) and miyo wakohtowin (broader kinship, including with plants, animals and rocks) (Cited in Stewart, 2015a, p.140). In Nationhood Interrupted, Sylvia McAdams reinforces the importance of these connections: “Indigenous nêhiyaw laws are “written” in the landscapes of the hills, the rocks, the waters, everything in the land tells of our history and our laws…to follow these laws means to follow a sacred life inextricably connected to the earth: one without the other would die” (McAdam 2012).

This is the version of treaty that the Sweetgrass Bear, a campus focal-point, represents, asking, as Emily Riddle (2019) suggests, “what does it mean to acknowledge treaty in a place [the university] that is constantly dispossessing Indigenous Land?” Further, what stake does the university have in reconciliation when, as Riddle suggests, nêhiyaw treaty “un-reconciles us” (2019)? The above questions point to the dis/harmony our map hopes to highlight: what might a practice of listening to the stories of the Land teach us about dissonance and the points of irreconcilability of the university and nêhiyaw treaty?

The Institution

The University of Alberta is mapped in many ways: Google, ArcGIS, campus tours. These mappings situate a complicated space in a rather depthless way. Superficial geography. We, the human element, write the Land’s context. This Cartesian delineation is an inherently colonial understanding of Land that imagines humans and other-than-humans as separate from one another as opposed to intertwined. The question these maps answer is what the space is as opposed to what it does.

What does space do to us? What does the Institution do to us?

When the Land writes upon us, it becomes place and consequently we become part of it. It is space with meaning. Travelling from Treaty Six, Haudenosaunee scholars Joe Sheridan and Roronhiakewen “He Clears The Sky” Dan Longboat (2006) explain how Land, cognition, creativity, and knowledge are inextricably braided, writing:

restoration of mind, spirit, and imagination is a sequence that requires us to know the antiquity we embody and from there to plan the ecological restoration blood memory demands. Without maturation of our primal condition, neither we nor Mother Earth can know reciprocity on its own terms: as mind in nature, as nature in mind (p. 366).

More simply put, our ability to think, imagine, and theorize are dependant on the Land. It is affective and corporeal. When we consider ourselves as scholars, researchers, and educators at the University of Alberta, it’s imperative we acknowledge the Land and strive to live and work in relation to it, lest we ignore our own embodiment.

Wither a map – a disciplinary intervention

As digital humanities students, our project hopes to stage a disciplinary intervention – one that takes seriously the ontological and epistemological shifts required to challenge the colonial state apparatus. In honoring sound and story as cartographically significant, we aim to challenge a practice of mapping reliant on GIS (a product of the state) and its visual focus. How might the digital facilitate an engagement with the sensory composition of the Land? How might this engagement challenge the productive power of vision? How might this challenge remind us of our obligations to Treaty Six?

A map is what it does. A map is a communicative, contextual, spatial representation, a place-making feedback loop. It is a particular representation of a relationality to space and it asks that we recognize our position within and/or outside of it. It is a mediation of our understanding of the world, the multiplicity of our relationships to it, and how we may move through it. It is, forever, imbued with power and, subsequently, potential for subversion. Not a radical practice in and of itself, mapping in this way is a counter-argument to colonial logics of space – this map is in direct communication with the Map as state-apparatus, in particular, the state-treaty map as an articulation of power-knowledge that delineates space for the sake of colonial containment and control wherein this delineation cuts across Nations, waterways, traplines, and does not allow for the flow of relationships inherent in nêhiyaw law.

As such, we attempt to reject the settler-colonial visual-written supremacy of state mapping and instead prioritize spoken, sounding, story-based, mapping. Place is space supplemented with memory (Lippard 1997, p. 9), and memory is not always written. It is felt, heard, sensed, and this map honours this reality and praxis.

Sensing space

As sound scholar Mickey Vallee (2018) tells us, bioacoustics are inherently about communication, recording the sounds of the environment as they communicate with each other and the listener (p.206). The power of bioacoustics, he states, lies in its ability to “repair the damage of aesthetic distanciation as well as corporate extraction, both of which belong to the same colonialist enterprise” ( p.206).

This distanciation is productive, it allows for the disconnection required to continue to enact colonial erasure of the non-human animations of treaty. Sound shapes our experience of place; its vibrations, movement, audible expressions, emotional cues, inform our encounters with the university. It is both disorienting (reawakening and shifting things within the body) and orienting (connecting us to place in a meaningful way).

shut the fuck up and listen

Sound recordings are a particularly ephemeral resource, a challenge that speaks to essential archival questions: what counts as a “document” worth saving and what material realities inform our archival practices? Further, the majority of the historical sounds we had access to were produced sounds, human animated sounds – promotional videos, lectures, music recordings. We wonder how different this project might be if we could engage a bioacoustic record of quad, the river valley, the library, from 50 years ago? What continuities might we recognize what shifts might we witness?

I was always taught that listening is an honour. To listen is to experience generosity of wisdom, knowledge, insight, and memory. Pedagogically, to listen to the Land means to respect the Land and learn from it. Further to this perspective, artist and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017) states that Land is both “context and process” (p. 151) and that “being engaged in land as pedagogy as a life practice inevitably means coming face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance, and violence” (p.166).  As such, if the Land is a teacher and an archive, how could the ambient sounds of this map help us better understand campus across space, place and time?

Ultimately, it’s time that we shut up and listen.


biographies

Kateryna and Kendra, among many other things, are graduate students in the Digital Humanities program at the University of Alberta in ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, Treaty Six territory. They are committed to feminist collaboration that prioritizes relationships, care, and systems-fuckery in their work together.


References (written)

Almond, A., McMahon, R. Janes, D., Whistance-Smith, G., Steinhauer, D., Steinhauer, J. (2018) We are All Related: Using Augmented Reality as a Learning Resource for Indigenous Settler Relations. Northern Public Affairs. Retrieved fromhttp://www.northern publicaffairs.ca/index/volume-6-special-issue-2-connectivity-in-northern-indigenous-communities/we-are-all-related-using-augmented-reality-as-a-learning-resource-for-indigenous-settler-relations/

Barnes, K. SE. (2019). Trudy Cardinal [Personal interview]. 2019, January 24.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2014). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Harley, J. B. “Deconstructing the Map.” The Map Reader, 2011, 56-64. doi:10.1002/9780470979587.ch8.

itwewina – Online Plains Cree dictionary. University of Alberta. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2019, from http://sapir.artsrn.ualberta.ca/itwewina/

Kerry, and Brien. (2017) “Listening as Activism: The ‘Sonic Meditations’ of Pauline Oliveros.” The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/ listening-as-activism-the-sonic-meditations-of-pauline-oliveros.

Lippard, Lucy R. (1997). The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New Press.

Malpas, J. (2015). The Intelligence of Place: Topographies and Poetics. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ualberta/detail.action?docID=2194781

McAdam. S. (2015) Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems. Purich Publishing Limited. Saskatoon, SK.

McAdams (2012). “I Hear Many People Talk About Treaty, Far Too Many of Us Do.” Idle No More. Retrieved from http://www.netnewsledger.com/2012/12/15/ idle-no-more-i-hear-many-people-talk-about-treaty-far-too-many-of-us-do/

Sheridan, Joe, and Roronhiakewen “He Clears The Sky” Dan Longboat (Nov. 2006). “The Haudenosaunee Imagination and the Ecology of the Sacred.” Space and Culture, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 365–381., doi:10.1177/1206331206292503.

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. University of Minnesota Press.

Riddle, E. (2019). Thoughts from am Traitorous Albertan: Treaty Feminism [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63ymjDsUOfM&feature=youtu.be &fbclid=IwAR3v0W5cxJzqxYiDQdK6Tjik84an3dSgvJiedNssGdBgy28MpJe8GetZjPY

Steinhauer, S. (2016) Consider this. Retrieved from https://blog.ualberta.ca/consider-this- stewart-steinhauer-on-the-sweetgrass-bear-in-treaty-six-territory-4077941a254c

Stewart, C. (2015). Treaty Six from Under Mill Creek Bridge. Toward.Some.Air. Wah, F. De’Ath, A. Banff Centre Press. Banff, AB.

Vallee, Micky. (2018). Sounding the Anthropocene. Interrogating the Anthropocene: Ecology, Aesthetics, Pedagogy, and the Future in Question. edited by jan jagodzinski. Palgrave, 201-214.

References (map)

Barnes, K. SE. (2019). Trudy Cardinal [Personal interview]. 2019 January 24.

Cheng Thom, K. (Writer), & Lam, K. (Narrator). (2018). The River. Live performance in Alberta, Edmonton on 2018 December 7.

Akinomaage’win – Bringing Anishinaabe knowledge to the classroom

sharla peltier
Dr. Sharla Peltier with the Sweetgrass Bear, a sculpture by Cree-Anishinaabe-Mohawk artist Stewart Steinhauer.

Being at the crossroads and deciding between two paths is a metaphor, and a reality, that Sharla Peltier knows well. More than once she has faced a choice between two journeys, including one on the TransCanada Highway: east to Nippissing First Nation, Ont. to work as a speech pathologist and get her Master of Education, or west to Edmonton. While she chose to go to Nippissing, she still found a way to return to the University of Alberta, her alma mater for her 1986 Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology. As a new faculty member in the Department of Elementary Education, focusing on language and social studies education, Peltier brings her knowledge of Anishinaabemowin and Anishinaabe pedagogy, fusing them with her experience in curriculum development and speech pathology.

“I’m really excited about the programs here,” says Peltier, a Chippewa from Rama First Nation, Ontario.  “There is an opportunity to look at a totally different pedagogy because the University wants native language teachers from the communities to spearhead the Indigenous languages program. We know that’s going to create cultural and social economy of the language, which I think is missing.”

With her rich history from working as a speech pathologist for 30  years with Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, with Nipissing First Nation in North Bay, and with public schools in the Sudbury area, along with Aboriginal perspectives curriculum development with Ontario’s Ministry of Education, Peltier’s background gives her a strong knowledge base. It is this context that she brings to the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and to the expansion of Indigenous language education at UAlberta. As an Anishinaabemowin-learner, Peltier is excited by the growth of these programs.

“We’re at a critical point”, she explains.

“Anishinaabemowin, Cree, and Inuktitut are the three most likely Indigenous languages in Canada to survive, just by sheer population of those Aboriginal groups, but when we look at the number of speakers, it’s dwindling. It’s really, really scary. So many Aboriginal languages in Canada have been lost. There’s a lot of documentation of the languages by linguists and language keepers have made dictionaries and videos to preserve the languages, but the schools are not turning out fluent speakers.”

One strength Peltier sees with the Indigenous language education expansion at UAlberta is the potential for collaboration with communities and local knowledge keepers. Building capacity for Indigenous people  to become teachers through the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and for language speakers to gain university credits through the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute brings Peltier hope for the future.

“People don’t see the language used in the community or they don’t understand the value of it,” says Peltier.

“If we have our people working together to teach it and to bring it out, then it’s going to work. The issue has been that while it’s been in the schools, it’s been disconnected from the community. Even where I’m from, there were Anishinaabe who were in high school who aren’t fluent speakers.”

Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin

Peltier doesn’t just bring a wealth of work experience to her role; she also embeds her cultural knowledge into her practice and theory. She sees her family clan–the loon– and the associated symbolism as a directive in her work.

“What I’m finding out is our clan will lead us through to find out life work in the community,” she explains. “The loon flies and has a voice, so it’s exciting when you think of it in that context.”

For Peltier, sharing her Anishinaabe cultural knowledge and world views to education is only natural, even though traditionally-Western perspectives on education have a completely different paradigm and practice. Still, she doesn’t see the two approaches as incompatible.

“There’s that whole institution of education that sets up teachers to be the authority figure in the classroom and to be responsible for the children’s learning and behaviour,” says Peltier.

“When you’re in a circle of Anishinaabe pedagogy and way of being, there is no hierarchy whatsoever; everyone is equal and each person is an important part of the process that generates new knowledge, stories and experiences. Knowledge is not a tangible thing. It’s not a stack of books. It’s a lived process of coming-to-know. In that way, everyone is knowledgeable and has wisdom. When we talk about how we transmit knowledge, it’s through shared experience and stories. Everyone has a story, so if we bring that into our schools and institutions, it will naturally bring people together. It’s inclusive as no one is excluded.”

Now Peltier has the chance to share this knowledge in the classroom before the students become teachers and make a bigger impact.

“To be in this position now, and to have the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers and educate educators, I have the time, their ears and their hearts so we can start to change things up so that they realize hope – it’s okay and it’s going to work for everyone. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s amazing to be here.”


Gikendamowin – Gikinoo’amaagoowin: Knowledge – Education. Translated by Melody McKiver, Lac Seul First Nation, and Stanley Peltier, Odawa Elder and Language-Keeper.

Film about Edmonton’s Indigenous history no walk in the park

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre
Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Making a film isn’t a walk in the park, but Conor McNally (BA’15) may have found a way to make it about a walk.

The graduate from the Faculty of Native Studies was in his final semester when he was encouraged to go on a river valley walk with Education professor Dwayne Donald. Donald uses the walks to paint a picture of the Indigenous history of the river valley surrounding the University of Alberta’s North Campus and tell traditional Cree stories. The film, ôtênaw, which is Cree for “a settlement” or “a city”, gives viewers the chance to explore what Donald calls “the pentimento” or layers of Edmonton.

“The thing that really struck me was the delivery,” says McNally about Donald’s walks. “Presenting that history on the land, in the locations he’s talking about and interweaving it with Cree philosophies– I thought, ‘This is the best!’”

The experience inspired McNally to pitch the idea of filming the walk to Donald. McNally sees natural similarities between oral storytelling and film-making, which is why he thought it would make a perfect documentary.

“For Indigenous storytelling, there are limitations to the written word,” McNally explains. “A lot of it is being with people and people feel it differently as opposed to reading it in bed, wearing pyjamas. There’s more respect in person.”

The film, which is screening at Metro Cinema as part of April’s FAVA Fest, was awarded the festival’s Award of Excellence for “Outstanding Long-Form Documentary”.

ôtênaw: uncovering the layers of community

otenawfilmstill
Film still of Dr. Dwayne Donald

Once he got the green light, McNally leveraged some additional resources, such as a freezer full of 16mm film and grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council.  In ôtênaw, McNally superimposes different shots of the river valley and archival images over Donald’s storytelling. McNally explains that Donald’s narration lead the way for the visuals.

“Looking at the rough edit I had, I’d say ‘it’d be great if I went down to the EPCOR power plant and shot some stuff there’,” says McNally.

McNally utilized another valuable resource while making the film– his community and their artistic skills. With the help of a friend, he reused animated painted slides from another project to emphasize Donald uncovering layers of Edmonton’s history. He also brought in other film-making friends to help him collect extra footage.

“It’s weird to call it ‘my film’ when there’s so many other people involved in every step of it,” says McNally. “The day we filmed Dwayne’s walk, I had this whole crew of people helping. My parents were watching my daughter and they invited the team  over for chili after the walk.”

McNally notes that it was easy to connect with Donald beyond the film’s subject matter, bonding over their favourite hockey team, the Oilers.

“We had this moment where Dwayne thought he’d met me before and I was sure we hadn’t, but sometimes you meet someone and you think ‘We could be old friends’,” says McNally.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much from him, especially after watching the film a trillion times!”

The feeling of respect forged between McNally and Donald is mutual.

“Conor is a pretty cool guy and I admire him a lot,” says Donald. “He’s very passionate and committed to doing work that shows connectivities. To be a self-taught filmmaker and employ the sensibilities he does in this film– I love the music, the Elder’s words and the artfullness of it all.”

While Donald wasn’t originally comfortable with the idea of making a film about the river walks and storytelling he shares, he had the sense that something good could come of McNally’s initiative, and trusted him. McNally hopes that viewers take home a little more knowledge about their city and its story.

“All my films are about Edmonton in some way– I was born here and I’m not leaving anytime soon,” explains McNally. “I just want to raise awareness about these stories, because so many Edmontonians have no clue about any of this history. While Dwayne’s walks are free and open to the public, with film, one advantage is that it can be shown across the country. In that regard, I think it’s cool to tell very local stories and share them with a global audience.”


ôtênaw will screen at FAVA Fest on Wednesday, April 19 at Metro Cinema and at Vancouver’s DOXA Film Festival in May.

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.

IMG_2316
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.