Mi'kmaw Blackbird singer honours missing and murdered Indigenous people in new video
Students and staff at Eskasoni First Nation high school contributed to song and video project
Students and staff from a Mi'kmaw high school in Nova Scotia are honouring the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Canada with a song and music video.
Emma Stevens, a recent graduate of Allison Bernard Memorial High School and member of Eskasoni First Nation near Sydney, N.S., performs the song I Want to Rise, which was written by the school's music instructor, Nova Scotian music producer Carter Chiasson.
"When I heard that we were going to do a song like that, I was kind of excited. The power of music is something that everyone can relate to," said Stevens.
"Music is within everybody, no matter how old you are, how young you are. This is our way of telling people [issues of MMIWG are] happening, and we need your help."
Stevens is known for her Mi'kmaw language verision of The Beatles song Blackbird, with other students and staff from the high school.
The concept for the new song was formed during a youth retreat by the high school before lockdown measures were put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100 staff, students and community members contributed to the project, according to the school.
Students decided the production should address the vulnerabilities and issues of sexualized violence against young Mi'kmaw women, girls and two-sprit people, said Chiasson.
"Unanimously, the kids decided that they wanted to write a song for the red dress movement," he said.
"They wanted to create an anthem, an empowerment anthem, speaking to Indigenous youth with a message that they can rise against everything that's stacked against them."
The music video depicts a young Mi'kmaw woman leaving her home and disappearing while hitchhiking. It also includes Mi'kmaw community members in red dresses and family members of Cassidy Bernard, a Mi'kmaw woman from We'koqma'q First Nation who was killed in 2018.
The group of students and staff broke the song down into three themes. The first verse talks about First Nations youth who want to leave their community to "see the world" but are nervous to do so, Chiasson said. The song also talks about the vulnerabilities of Indigenous youth in today's society, and speaks to the story of Cassidy Bernard.
"In that particular verse, which is the slow section of the song, Emma is singing as if she was [Bernard] and is speaking to her kids that are still with us today," said Chiasson.
Carol Anne Jeddore, a Grade 9 teacher at Allison Bernard Memorial High, acted in the music video as the mother character.
"As an Indigenous mother, we never ask our children to leave the home," she said, adding that communities know there is a serious risk of Mi'kmaw youth going missing.
"I was only acting, but I know it really happens. The word has to get out. It happens, and can happen in the blink of an eye."