Grade 7 and 8 students took part in the Four Directions Project led by Darkspark – a not-for-profit arts organization that uses songwriting and recording to engage youth and promote cross-cultural understanding – at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik (MUI) in Rankin Inlet in December.
The program helps participating youth discover how colonial prejudices and stereotypes were created, are maintained and may be broken.
Led by a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous performing artists and arts educators, the students write and record songs in response. The experience helps them build empathy, intercultural understanding and mutual respect.
The Darkspark team was in Rankin Inlet from Nov. 25 until Dec. 3.
MUI teacher Emily Gee was the lead local educator and teacher on-call working on the project with the Rankin youth and Darkspark members.
Gee said she worked with the Grade 7 and 8 teachers to select 27 students from four different classrooms to participate in the project.
She said the students had a general understanding of what the project was about and that they would be singing and recording music and talking about their community and their lives.
"All of the students had that interest to start with and the five Darkspark team members quickly got to know the students and their strengths and also got the students feeling comfortable with each other," said Gee.
"They talked to the students a little bit about colonization and tried to help them understand how their ancestors' past might affect the present.
"They brought in local artist Terri Kusugak and she did a great slide show on colonization and her experience with her own family's history with it. She also sang for the students.
"We broke the students into groups by Dec. 28 and they started learning a bit about the technique of singing, using proper strong structure and understanding about choruses, verses, melodies, bridges – all the different structures within a song – and gave them some good examples of songs that have been written over the years."
Gee said the students started brainstorming ideas about what they wanted to share with the world, the kind of things they wanted to include in their songs and what kind of message they wanted to send.
She said the Darkspark team members worked with each of the groups to come up with the structures for the songs they were going to record.
"It was kind of a process that started with the songwriting, then getting their beat and melody and then planning out each verse and the structure of the song to get how it was going to sound.
"I was careful to organize the groups so that each one had some leaders in it and well as some students who were, maybe, a little bit more shy, so each group was structured according to its strengths and weaknesses.
"So, there were definitely some kids who retreated a little bit, sat back and just wanted to do the rapping part of the song or the writing part.
"I did find, overall, that all of the kids contributed, just in different ways according to whatever their strengths were."
Gee said although the students are effectively guided every step of the way, every idea behind all of the songs produced in Rankin Inlet were those of each of the individual groups.
She said in the videos produced to accompany the songs, the students talk about how their dads, grandpas and uncles taught them about hunting and how they want to keep their moms' patterns for sewing.
"Those were all very true student experiences and the thoughts behind who they are, what being Inuit means to them and, also, what living in Rankin Inlet means to them because not all of the students in the groups were Inuit.
"There was a real effort in finding common ground and sharing in experiences."
Gee said most of the students were super excited to record.
She said the experience was unlike anything they'd ever done before, with an amazing recording studio set up in a dark room accented by Christmas lights that was very engaging for the students.
"The students definitely took away a really great experience that they'll probably remember for a very long time and that experience for most of them was the coming together of the different grades and even there being non-Inuit kids in the mix.
"They got to learn more about Inuit culture and what's important in their history through a lot of the sharing before the songwriting even started.
"It was a chance for them to find connections with each other and to remember that we're all human and, whatever our differences, there's always a way to connect.
"That would be the underlying takeaway for most of the students and they will remember that time in Grade 7 or Grade 8 with Darkspark when they got to feel unique and special."