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Indigenous artists share creative spaces with Mohawk College students

Students and staff at Mohawk College are preparing for an upcoming cultural engagement project with Indigenous artists and music students called Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative.

Bob Shields, organizer of the initiative, came up with the idea while developing a Music and Wellness course. The initiative includes a mentorship process allowing Applied Music students to shadow Indigenous artists Rick McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers.

Bob Shields is sitting and playing an electric guitar.
Bob Shields, Mohawk College teacher and organizer of the cultural engagement initiative, said he wanted his music students to experience Indigenous culture first-hand.

“I want the voices of the students and Indigenous artists to be elevated so that the value of music beyond its monetary form can be revealed,” Shields said. “Through this process, I hope the students involved will see the value in cultivating a multi-perspective understanding of the world, contributed to by multiplicities of creative meanings and values. Ultimately, we’re talking about providing a space for increasing the creative resources students have to draw from towards making independent decisions about their lives and the type of world they want to shape.”

Johanne McCarthy, teaching and learning consultant for Indigenous Education at Mohawk College and a member of the Six Nations community, said engaging in these types of learning environments helps create a connection that focuses on strength.

“People formulate these negative narratives that we are traumatized or we’re broken, we need to show that despite all that, we’re still here,” McCarthy said. “We’re still practicing our culture, we’re still celebrating and are open to sharing. We’re still open to connecting, diversity and inclusion. That’s part of our culture.”

Mohawk College President Ron McKerlie said it’s important that the college attempts to use post-secondary education to fix problems created by educational systems in the past.

“We want to embed that [truth and reconciliation ideology] into all parts of the college so that people have an opportunity to learn about Indigenous culture, language and history,” McKerlie said. “We would like them to at least walk away with a better appreciation of our shared history and what our shared future might look like.”

The ensemble’s pianist, Amos Tilley, said he is looking forward to performing alongside their mentors.

Amos Tilley is sitting and playing the piano. He is wearing a blue sweatshirt and black faded jeans.
Amos Tilley, a first-year music student, is the pianist for the student ensemble.

“I’m really looking forward to learning more about how music is valued in different Indigenous societies,” Tilley said. “Music is such a universal connecting point for people, I find people can find an emotional connection to music [it can make] people feel certain things and in different ways.”

The initiative’s performance will be held during the first week of April.

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