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New initiative aims at reconciliation through music

Music is an important aspect of many lives and can connect to people in ways words can’t.

This aspect of telling stories is one of the many things that Mohawk College’s music department is trying to showcase through Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative.

Educator and musician Bob Shields set up the initiative with several ideas in mind. 

“The idea to have a cultural engagement and exchange initiative between music students and Indigenous artists emerged as a result of my research and talking to Indigenous people from different walks of life,” Shields explained. “I learned that many local Indigenous creative practices, experiences, and representations resist commodification through these talks. I’m saying that the intrinsic values and meanings of creative processes linked to individual and social wellness can be greatly diminished when commodified. The ability for anyone’s’ creativity to contribute to their health and wellness is also diminished when reduced to its exchange value.”

“Simply put,” he summed up, “the most wonderful gifts of music and the arts, things like community building, relational justice, egalitarianism, patience and compassion, resist reduction, especially economic reduction. This initiative is about rebalancing priorities towards a more sustainable worldview, one contributed to by many voices.”

The event aims to accomplish a meaningful act of reconciliation through the cultural exchange between Indigenous artists and students from the college’s music program. 

A group of students is working with Indigenous artists over a six-week period. The mentorship aims to bring a sense of togetherness for the students and artists.

Drum set
Drums are among the instruments being used by student performers for the initiative

“It goes without saying it [music] is a language,” Indigenous artist Rick Mclean said. “Language, you know, can even be universal, you don’t necessarily have to speak the language that the lyrics are written in to understand the themes of songs. Some songs impact us, and they have no lyrics in them. It’s just a fantastic form of communication.”

The students say they are hoping to grow both musically and personally through the shadowing process. 

“I would really like to sort of just meet as many people as I can,” guitarist Calvin Mulder said. “I know, at the end of the semester, we’re actually going to the reserve, and we’re going to be playing there. And so I’m really excited for that, to just meet people and sort of be less ignorant than I am right now, I guess, more culturally aware.” 

Introductions with the Indigenous artists were made through Zoom meetings with in-person practices planned for later in the semester 

Shields said he was hoping to hold the event on Six Nations territory but Covid restrictions might prevent it.

Student playing an instrument
In-person practices are being held with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind.

“All these are ongoing issues,” Shields said. “And they’re COVID-related because if we go off site,  if the COVID protocols don’t match, that can be a problem. The college won’t allow students to be in those spaces.” 

Despite the challenges  Shields says he believes that it’s important that the event take place.

“Okay, so there may be all this frustration on the way,” Shields said, “but when I’m dealing with the students, or the artists or the coordinators, things are great. You know, it couldn’t be better, it’s just red tape, COVID and technology, accessibility and navigation ability.”

The event will be held in April and the performance day event is planned to take place in the Six Nations Community. However, if COVID-19 guidelines won’t allow this, the event day will occur at and be livestreamed from the Arnie, on the Mohawk College Fennell campus.

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