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Indigenous musicians mentoring experiential learning

Experiential learning at Mohawk College comes in many forms, but this winter term some music students are getting a brand-new learning experience.

Music teacher Bob Shields developed Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative as a new opportunity within the Applied Music program at the college.

Over the course of the semester, a group of six students will be mentored by local Indigenous artists Rick McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers in an “unconditioned creative space” with a culminating performance at the end of the term.

“I thought that if I could show my students through firsthand experience the value of the social capacity of music, its intrinsic values linked to individual, communal and societal well-being,” Shields said, “then I can give them knowledge they can use to make informed, independent decisions on paths they may want to take.”

A young man plays a set of drums on a dark background
Performances by music students like drummer Jadon Haughton show how learning hands-on is a key component of many programs at the college. (Jadon Haughton)

Mohawk College has been offering experiential learning for students as a core component of program delivery for over 50 years, Cebert Adamson, Mohawk’s vice president of Students, International and Alumni said.

Examples of this include news publications like Ignite News and the campus radio station Indi 101.5, which are spaces where media students can obtain real work experience in their field of study.

“By giving students their opportunities to be able to participate through these kinds of hands-on experiences, it really gives them a good birds-eye view of what they’re going to be experiencing in the real world of work,” Adamson said.

“It also gives students an opportunity to begin to develop their work skills, their work ethics and the opportunities to collaborate with diverse organizations and people,” Adamson added.

As a part of Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative, students in the music ensemble have multiple mentorship sessions with the Indigenous artists in a collaborative environment.

Shields modeled the learning experience with a focus on what will be organically created in a learning space without strict learning objectives while incorporating diverse knowledge from the Indigenous community.

“I wanted to provide my students with a space in which more knowledge from different voices can inform their decision-making processes,” Shields said, “to provide space for cultivating a multi-perspective understanding of the world they live in, rather than a single viewpoint.”

Indigenous Education consultant Johanne McCarthy, who helped organize the initiative, said the model for this experiential learning is reflective of how Indigenous education operates.

“It is so important to have Indigenous people in systems of education because fear is conditioned in the culture of education,” McCarthy said.

“You get the wrong answer, you fail, right? That’s how your school system is set up,” she said. “Indigenous education is not set up that way. [Indigenous people] are experiential learners, which means that we create those safe spaces and that opportunity to experiment and to learn, and to develop, through making, trying, practicing, making mistakes and correcting mistakes.”

This model is also a way to open students and educators up to discussions on meaningful acts of reconciliation.

“It’s interesting how this project really is powerful at showing not just how to reverse the narrative and do reconciliation in a good way,” McCarthy said, “but also those subtle lessons that teach us about letting things organically evolve.”

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