In a darkened makeshift recording studio at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik, four groups of students from Grades 7 and 8 recorded songs they wrote themselves.
Twenty-eight students participated.
The four songs – developed in conjunction with a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous songwriters, producers, and art educators called Darkspark, under the umbrella of their Four Directions project – are melded into one video shot during a two-week span in November and December.
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The video opens with the Elder involved with the project, Quluaq Pilakapsi.
“I have something in my heart that is bothering me. If I don’t say it to anybody, they won’t know me. If I don’t say I need help, nobody will be there for me. Only if I express my needs will someone help me,” she says.
“I thank you for coming here. By sharing knowledge, we can help each other.”
Artist Terrie Kusugak was also part of the project.
“Inuit are not a people of Elders anymore – we’re a people of youth. Last year in Arviat there were 105 kids being enrolled in the kindergarten. We’re stuck between wanting to be true to our culture, but also growing into the future,” says Kusugak in the video.
“Inuit have always adapted and I’m sure we’ll adapt again.”
But the bulk of the video shows scenes from inside and outside the school, featuring the students, their thoughts, their songs, and their considerable talents.
Nancy Karetak-Lindell, former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, met members of Darkspark on a Students on Ice expedition, where they were leading similar workshops with students.
Ilitaqsiniq Nunavut Literacy Council came on board to help with funding.
Mel Larkin, one of Darkspark’s co-founders, explains the group’s mandate is harnessing the power of pop music in order to empower youth to create social change.
“The Four Directions project came in 2014 on the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, which is in Ontario, close to where myself and the other co-founder live,” said Larkin.
They did a month-long workshop there in songwriting and recording, where the youth decided they wanted to tackle Canadian history from their perspective.
“And talk about the ways that colonization had really impacted them and their families and their communities,” Larkin said.
At the conclusion of the workshop, the youth challenged the co-founders to take the project to the four directions of Canada.
‘They were so very proud’
Rankin Inlet is the sixth stop of a cross-Canada endeavour for the multi-cultural team of musicians, music producers, videographers and photographers.
As Ilitaqsiniq’s executive director Adriana Kusugak explains, the base funding for Darkspark from the federal government didn’t allow for travel to Nunavut.
“Of course we jumped at it. It was hitting everything that is within our mandate at Ilitaqsiniq, promoting literacy, working in Indigenous context, culture and language, incorporating elders and youth,” said Adriana.
Because Ilitaqsiniq has staff member Kelly Clark-Lindell in Rankin Inlet, and there’s no music programming at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik, that community was targeted to receive Darkspark.
Ilitaqsiniq enlisted the Department of Justice, through its Ikajuqtigiinniq program. The stipulations for that funding are: a large population and a high crime rate.
The local district education authority and the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet also came on board.
The students were excited.
“But I don’t think they really had any idea what was going to happen,” Clark-Lindell said.
“They did a lot of activities … Classroom work, discussing a lot of Canadian colonization history, the Elder Quluaq Pilakapsi telling stories, and Terrie Kusugak helped them create their songs and motivated them as a young artist.”
Clark-Lindell says the students were nervous, but when they heard their voices play back, they couldn’t believe they were theirs.
“They worked really hard,” she said.
The video and the songs relate the students’ messages – strong, hopeful and beautiful. The project concluded with a community event, where the students heard the final edits of their songs for the first time.
“They were so very proud,” said Clark-Lindell.
“It’s empowering stuff, it’s moving,” said Adriana, adding that includes the sections of the main video where the students are interviewed.
The two women especially note one boy, who they say has every reason to be angry at the world.
“But in this workshop he got to be the star of the show. He was the leader for his group. He was the joker. You just saw his personality shine through. He really enjoyed the mixing, the producing. I think it was just something that spoke to him,” said Adriana.
“It was definitely worth it with the results that we saw come out of it. That’s what all the fundraising was for.”
She says Ilitaqsiniq hopes to bring Darkspark to other Nunavut communities.