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Minds On: Understanding Roles

Activity 1: What is an Ally? What is an Activist? Indigenous Music! (10 minutes)

We will continue to investigate how music, computer science, and entrepreneurship are pathways to promote racial equity, and you’ll continue to gain skills to help you code your final song for the competition.

Today, you will learn about how Indigenous music is a form of resistance and the way that Indigenous activists and allies use music as a part in the movement toward racial equality.

  1. To warm up, I will give you a sticky note. On the sticky note, I want you to write what comes to mind when you hear the phrase Indigenous Music. It can be an Indigenous artist, a form of music, songs, dances, or more! 
  2. Take your sticky note and place it on the whiteboard and we will read out loud the answers together.

Indigenous Music

Music and dance represent cultural identity for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Singers, drummers, and ceremonial helpers are highly respected and honoured for their gifts of music, song, drumming, and dance.

Indigenous music comes in many different forms. A lot of the music stems back to the Earth. The earth speaks loudly and has a lot to say if we stop and listen. The wind, water, trees, and all living things create melodies that the earth sings. The earth pulsates and beats in a rhythmic and vibrational sequence. Nature has a lovely way of making its own music, and we can participate by simply listening. Indigenous peoples enjoy mimicking and incorporating nature as a base element of their song and dance which you can see within every aspect of Indigenous song and dance, from their music sounds, their dance moves and even the materials that they use to create their instruments.

Indigenous Singing

Indigenous singing is an ancient and modern form of expression. Traditionally, singing was performed on its own, or with a drum. In modern times, we see Indigenous singers and Indigenous songwriters flourish. We can see these days that Indigenous artists combine mixed sounds from traditional songs, drumming, and contemporary beats.

Inuit Throat Singing: Inuit throat singing is traditionally performed by two or four women who stand face to face. One person sets the rhythm with throat sounds while the other follows mimicking the sounds of wildlife.

Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpré are two Inuit youth working to preserve their culture by practicing Inuit Throat Singing.

Indigenous Dancing

Powwow: Powwows bring many Indigenous peoples together across many communities throughout the year. A Powwow promotes First Nation cultural song and dance. A powwow is a wonderful social gathering full of colour and sound, laughter and full of joy. 

Shanley Spence is a Nihithaw (Swampy Cree) and Anishinaabe international world class Indigenous performer from Pukatawagan and from Lake.St Martine First Nation. She began her hoop dancing career at the age of 13 and has been graced with the opportunity to perform at a variety of nationwide and international events, daycare and school institutions of all ages, conferences and interactive workshops with the Walking Wolf Singers and Dancers, Folklorama and independently.

Métis Fiddle: The fiddle is an important aspect of Métis music and culture. A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument, and in other contexts called a violin. Fiddles are different from violins only in the style they are played - as a folk instrument. The fiddle was brought to North America by people of Scottish ancestry in the nineteenth century and was quickly adopted by Métis people who used it to play music blending First Nation, Scottish, and French-Canadian rhythms. This new type of music led to a new type of dancing - jigging.

Tristen Durocher is a young Indigenous man who learned to fiddle after the death of his grandfather - who was the last fiddler in his community. Tristen was tenacious and learned to play the fiddle by ear, since there was no one left in his community to teach him. Tristen is an advocate for mental health and uses his voice to advocate for increased mental health services for remote Indigenous communities.

Jigging: Métis jigging in itself is an exuberant and celebratory form of dance. A basic step of one, two, one, kick is interwoven into all jigs and used to bridge various fancy steps. Dancers often compete with one another for the fastest, most complicated footwork in social outings. Red River Jig is the most celebrated Métis dance, and its name reflects the Red River area, which is the historic home of the Métis nation.

The Ivan Flett memorial dancers consist of three siblings from Winnipeg, Manitoba - Mikey, Jacob and Cienna Harris. They named the group after their late Grandfather, and the dancers help keep their Méttis culture alive by performing a traditional red river jig, a style of Métis dancing that blends Scottish and French-Canadian step dancing. The group hopes to attract youth to learn about Méttis culture by merging modern hip-hop dancing as well.

Inuit Drum Dancing: The sounds and animals seen in arctic nature are represented in Inuit song and dance. Inuit drum dancing and songs tell stories and celebrate events such as a child's birth or a successful hunting season. The Inuit drum is made of rawhide and is played by striking the drum's rim rather than its skin.

Indigenous Drumming

Traditional drums are used to accompany both singing and dancing. The drum frequently represented the heartbeat, whether it was the heartbeat of a human, an animal, or even the heartbeat of the Earth as Mother. Drums differ depending on the available materials in different cultural regions but predominantly are made of animal hide and wood rounds. Drums are typically played with a stick or beater rather than by hand. Drums may be held in one hand and played by a single person, or larger drums may be surrounded by groups of drummers.

Chubby Cree is a grandmother and grandson duo making waves in the Indigenous community. Singing by eight months old and having his own drum months later, Noah began performing live at the age of two. Steeped in traditional Cree music and culture, Carol has immersed all of the more than 10 children and grandchildren in their household in Indigenous music that was passed down to her from her grandfather at a young age. Noah also uses his voice by advocating for the environment and Chubby Cree opened up for Greta Thunberg in 2019 where then 9-year-old Noah stole the show at her Climate March event in Edmonton.

There are various ways to act, advocate, and be an activist for racial justice. You can fight for racial justice in a variety of ways.

What do you think about when you hear the phrase, Indigenous music, and activism or Indigenous music and allyship?

An ally is a person who recognizes their privilege based on race, class, gender, etc., and is committed to working in unity with oppressed groups in the fight for social justice.

An activist is a person who uses their voice and power to promote specific political or social changes in policies and practices.

Indigenous musicians are often allies and activists as they use their voices to raise awareness and bring change.

Extension A suggests inviting a guest to your class.