There's a lot of music talent in First Nations across Canada waiting for an opportunity to express itself, according to one Quebec hip hop artist — and he's one of the co-founders of a program that aims to help young people develop that talent, and express themselves, by making their own music.
"This project is to really demonstrate the artistic capacity that kids can have in a school environment.… They have all this artistic talent that is not being nurtured or developed," said David Hodges.
He co-founded N'we Jinan, a non-profit organization that teaches music production and video making by taking its mobile recording studio to First Nations communities across Canada.
This month, a partnership between the Treaty 4 Education Alliance and N'we Jinan connected the group with two Saskatchewan First Nations.
Hodges and Joshua Iserhoff, a producer, arrived at Kawacatoose First Nation — about 115 kilometres north of Regina — early last week, and are now working with students at Ochapowace First Nation, about 155 kilometres east of Regina.
The program gives young people in grades 7-12 the chance to write their own original music, and later star in and produce a music video.
N'we Jinan provides the equipment and guidance for students in an intensive four-day workshop. Each group is made up of about a dozen participants, who are mentored and guided through the process of writing and performing.
Every community that's visited during the N'we Jinan 2018 tour will produce its own original video and song, which will be compiled in to an album and released at an official launch party in Richmond, B.C., at the end of the tour.
Untapped artistic talent
Hodges, a former teacher, says he noticed a lack of artistic programming within the school system while teaching in several northern Quebec communities. So he and Iserhoff decided to do something about, it and N'we Jinan was created.
They're now collaborating with the youth from the communities they visit to help them discover their talents and voices.
Hodges points out that there is usually some hesitation at the beginning of the process.
"The response I get at the beginning … is a lot of anxiety more than anything, because the opportunity that they always wanted — like recording in a studio and shooting a music video — a lot of kids … desire that. They are the YouTube generation. Kids on reserve are consuming so much music nowadays."
Hodges believes that providing a safe environment for kids to be creative is essential for positive growth. Even though there is some hesitation at first, he says he sees the participants' confidence grow.
"[They] realize this is their moment to step up, and we have seen it, like, a hundred per cent of the time — the kids just step and do it."
The goal of the tour is to help communities and the kids they work with understand that music is a large part of life and can be a positive creative outlet.
Hodges said he's often surprised not only by the talent they find, but at the feelings expressed as the participants create their music.
'It's good for them to be empowered.' - Reona Brass, Treaty 4 Education Alliance community engagement co-ordinator
"This was just this crazy experience where I went into these communities, and I discovered all this amazing talent … hidden talent that people didn't even know, like, that eight-year-old girl could sing … or that this 21-year-old felt this way."
And working with youth has given him the chance to learn ways to make the experience as comfortable as can be in a the new environment.
"We have ways to make them feel safe and feel comfortable to kind of … express themselves in an honest kind of way about their community, for their people and what they see for their future," said Hodges.
'Threw themselves into it'
Reona Brass, the community engagement co-ordinator for the Treaty 4 Education Alliance, accompanied the pair to the two communities.
She points out that even though she was just observing, she noticed skills and confidence growing within each of the youth.
"They kids just threw themselves into it," said Brass.
"So they are certainly learning some skills here and work ethics, but in addition to that they are really learning to put their ideas and feelings into a format that can express everything that they are thinking and feeling to a wider audience."
Currently, Hodges is designing a curriculum that will expand this idea of music creativity in the classroom.
He is developing a course that will integrate his arts program and give young people exposure to all aspects of music making, in a variety of genres.
The course is already implemented in several Cree schools in northern Quebec and Hodges is in talks to bring the program to Saskatchewan.
Brass said the Treaty 4 Education Alliance is looking forward to the release of N'we Jinan's school curriculum. She's impressed with the work being done, and hopes to integrate Hodges's music education into the classrooms of Treaty 4 territory.
"It's good for them to be empowered. To say OK … this is all about you, this is your voice, what do you want to say?" she said.
"They are learning how to come out of their shells and work as a team. Over that four days they really came together and bonded."
N'we Jinan's next stop is Pikangikum First Nation in Ontario, with more stops scheduled in the coming months in B.C. and Yukon.
The album launch party in Richmond, B.C., will be held on April 22.
A previous version stated Hodges is in talks with several Cree schools in northern Quebec that are ready to adopt his program in their communities. In fact, the course is already implemented in several Cree schools in northern Quebec and Hodges is in talks to bring the program to Saskatchewan.Feb 09, 2018 10:38 AM CT