Indigenize high school tour inspires, educates

The Indigenize high school tour aims to put a positive spin on truth and reconciliation through art, culture and dialogue.

'I really want people to know that you can learn through music, art and culture'

William Komaksiutiksak, a.k.a. Northern Knowledge, says the Indigenize tour is an opportunity to spread his message of suicide prevention. (Tracey Lynne Photography)

When Justin Holness started thinking about ways to help educate students in Ottawa about Indigenous culture and reconciliation, he asked himself a simple question: "What do I have to offer?"

As a hip-hop artist, he knew he could contribute music. As someone who worked with Indigenous youth during his time at Wabano Centre, he knew he could offer his experience as well.

Indigenize was born.

Holness credits Nancy Henry, Aboriginal instructional coach with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, for taking a chance on his idea for an educational high school tour aimed at highlighting local Indigenous youth and their stories.

A 'positive solution'

"Indigenize is our positive solution to the whole topic. So we definitely are providing insights and messages and having a voice as a way to achieve reconciliation differently," said Holness, whose stage name is Jah'kota, a nod both to his Jamaican and Indigenous heritage. 

"It's definitely two-fold where we educate the non-Indigenous community within the school board and provide that experience, but as well, the young people that are on tour with me, they also get the experience of what it's like to perform," said Holness. "For example, one of the [performers] is from a group home actually, and this is the first time he's ever performed, so he's learning and growing and finding himself."

Ottawa Technical Secondary School was the first stop on the tour. During the dialogue portion of the show, Holness said he was thrilled to hear from Indigenous students who were excited to see positive role models in their school.

A healing path 

William Komaksiutiksak, a rapper from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, whose stage name is Northern Knowledge, is one of the four artists currently on the Indigenize tour. He told CBC Radio's All in a Day that his prevailing message is suicide awareness. 

"I really want people to know that you can learn through music, art and culture. And by learning that way, through that positive outlet, it just gives the energy that our people need," Komaksiutiksak said.

"There's addiction problems in my family. Abuse. Loss of identity. And being able to let my voice be heard about this subject is something that, even though I'm on my healing path, I know there's many of my people that need that healing path."