Mohawk College students and Indigenous musicians are coming together in an initiative called Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative that will see them share, create and perform live music.
Initiative coordinator Bob Shields said he aimed to provide an unconditioned creative space for musicians throughout the initiative.
“I thought, ‘I’d love to be able to have my music students engage in such a space with people from outside their own tradition,’” Shields said. “So they cultivate a multi-perspective understanding of the meanings and values in creative processes. These things vary from culture to culture.”
For Shields, the initiative also serves as a way to show his students a different view of history. It’s a perspective central to a history course he’s been developing.
“I wanted to create that space with multiple voices to contribute to an understanding of history,” Shields said,” “that’s not linear, determined or hierarchical. In doing so I thought, ‘If I’m going to walk my talk, we can’t just theoreticize history. We’ve got to experience it first person.’”
Shields developed the initiative in collaboration with many departments throughout the college. He first got in touch with Indigenous Education department head Johanne McCarthy. For McCarthy, the idea for the initiative came at just the right time.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I absolutely need this in my life right now,’” McCarthy remembered. “I need something very positive that’s working to sort of change the spin or the narrative on Indigenous people. So that people can see our power instead of constantly seeing our weakness and feeling like they have to then save us or help us.”
Shields had a lot to consider when assembling musicians for the initiative. It was his first time organizing an event like this, so it was important to Shields that they not try to do too much.
Crooked Trail front man Rick McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers will be mentoring the student ensemble. For Shields, a broad representation of Indigenous music was crucial to the initiative.
“We chose Rick because he is experienced in both contemporary and traditional Indigenous music” Shields said. “We chose the Six Nations Women Singers because we wanted to include a traditional group and one that celebrated the creativity of Indigenous women. So we thought these artists provided a good contrast for this initiative.”
“Ultimately,” he explained, “I wanted to have my students experience first-hand, that Indigenous music is not monolithic, and in a broader sense that Indigenous Individuals and societies are not monolithic. It’s about breaking stereotypes, showing Indigenous life as diverse, dynamic, and fluid”
The organizers are facing many challenges in bringing the initiative to life. COVID restrictions mean the event could end up being in person or online.
The student ensemble, McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers will perform together in April. Shields and McCarthy said they hope to see Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative continue for years to come. For both, the initiative is a great opportunity for students to build relationships and gain a fuller understanding of other cultures and communities.