Indigenous students in the Abbotsford School District have put out a pair of music videos with almost entirely original direction and songwriting from the students.
Two groups of students each worked on a song, one titled Strong & Brave and the other titled A Warrior’s Dream, working with Montreal-based non-profit N’we Jinan.
The organization, founded and operated by former teacher David Hodges, works with Indigenous youth to provide an opportunity to stretch their creative and cultural muscles to provide empowerment and a sense of belonging. Hodges says he’s gone out to communities like Surrey and Chilliwack, but also specifically to more remote First Nations.
“The music production studio project that people are now familiar with there in Abbotsford, where we worked with the district, that’s kind of a seed program, essentially, where it’s just to create a project from start to finish, really quickly, to get the kids really creating and expressing themselves right from the get-go,” Hodges said.
“We have philosophy that all people in general have music talent, or music ability potential, and so we just figured out what that potential is. Some kids are extremely talented and have more of a natural, intuitive gift, and then there’s others that … have been told something like they can’t sing or they’re not good at singing, so they never really developed that aspect of their creativity.”
But even for those who have experience with music programs in schools, it was a learning experience. Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts student Victoria Francis, who worked on Strong & Brave, said she is “very involved” in her school’s music program.
“And it’s rehearse, rehearse, rehearse until it’s perfect, and then you perform. So to have a day to write and record a song was completely uncharted territory for me, so I think that really pulled me out of my comfort zone.”
Aiden Silver of Yale Secondary School said he, on the other hand, had little experience with music, but called the video “comforting” because he got to meet new people and see some people he already knew in the project.
“I’m really proud of myself. I was surprised by how – I never was a part of anything to do with music, because I didn’t have the time to do it, to be honest. I was surprised I actually could sing,” Silver said.
Silver said he was “proud” to be able to promote the culture of the Sumas First Nation, of which he is a part, and said his own, personal heritage, the Silver surname, was part of his inspiration.
In particular, the video, A Warrior’s Dream, is about his late great-uncle Ray Silver, a widely recognized member of the Sumas Nation and Aiden Silver’s great-uncle – though, “I just called him uncle because everyone knows he’s great.”
“His name is Xéy’teleq in the (Halq’eméylem) language. They came up with “A Warrior’s Dream” because ‘Xéy’teleq’ in Halq’eméylem means ‘warrior,’ and he was a warrior himself,” Aiden Silver said.
Through the project, Francis said she was able to learn more about clear and present struggles of Indigenous youth today, like the foster care system in which Indigenous youth are widely disproportionately represented. In school, she said she had learned more about past issues like residential schools.
“I know it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s all past things,” Francis said. “I’ve been lucky enough not to have lived through something horrible like that. But seeing and hearing stories of kids my age or just about my age, it really brought an actual lens into play, because it was like ‘wow, this is actually happening in my community. This is my neighbourhood and this is happening.’ I was completely unaware of it.
“To see them feel comfortable enough to actually talk about it with someone they’ve never met and sing about it – and I’m a big music geek – letting music help them cope and help them spread the word was really powerful to me.”