Creating poetry connects First Nations youth with elders

As part of the Elder Project, Indigenous youth in B.C. partner with an elder to conduct interviews and write poetry about their life. The 18th edition of the book series was just released in Salmon Arm.

'Startling and beautiful' results from interviews for Elder Project

Salmon Arm student Brooke Keating, left, wrote a poem about her grandfather Lindsay Keating, right, and his wife Toni for the latest edition of the Elder Project released this week. (School District 83)

Indigenous youth in B.C. are partnering with local elders to tell their stories through poetry as part of the ongoing Elder Project series of books.

The project started in 2009 with the goal of bringing together young First Nations students and elders or "knowledge keepers." 

Since then, the project has visited more than a dozen schools around B.C., producing 18 different poetry books.

"The results have been startling and beautiful and painful," said Wendy Morton, author and Elder Project founder.

"I think it has connected students to their elders and elders to the young people in a way that perhaps needed to happen and in a way that hadn't happened previously." 

'Everybody gets changed'

As part of the workshops, Morton trains students to write poems and then guides them as they interview elders about their personal histories.

While the students are primarily First Nations, not all students who participate are Indigenous.

Students interview elders as part of the Elder Project then write poems about their lives. (Wendy Morton)

"Over the years, the elders have told me how important it was for them to have a young person ... hear some of their history, which is not always happy," said Morton.

"I see, as the process takes place, what happens, which is very moving for me. Everybody gets changed."

In one poem, student Hannah Hackl tells the story of elder Virginia Wooldridge who attended a residential school.

Student Hannah Hackl wrote this poem about elder Virginia Wooldridge. (The Drums of Hope/ Wendy Morton)

"A young person hearing that, would they not be changed in terms of their understanding of First Nations people?" said Morton.

Latest edition released in Salmon Arm

The Elder Project has visited schools in Vernon in B.C.'s north Okanagan, Golden in the Kootenays, and the Vancouver Island communities of Saanich, Victoria, Nanaimo and Courtney, among others.

The 18th edition of the book, The Drums of Hope: Knowledge Keepers' Words, was released earlier this week in the southern Interior city of Salmon Arm as part of a collaboration with students at Storefront School and The House, alternate school programs.

Morton has received the Order of British Columbia and a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General for her work on the Elder Project.

Student Brooke Keating interviews her grandparents Lindsay and Toni Keating. (Wendy Morton)

With files from CBC's Radio West.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email