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Uplifting the narrative surrounding Indigenous reconciliation

According to members of Indigenous communities, using a strength-based narrative when approaching reconciliation is a positive step toward engaging in meaningful ways. Applied Music students at Mohawk College are joining Indigenous artists Rick McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers this semester to conduct an experiential cultural exchange through an artist-led mentorship.

The idea of an unconditioned creative space is important to the initiative.

Indigenous musician Rick McLean playing a guitar and singing on-stage.
Rick McLean, a contemporary Indigenous musician mentoring Mohawk College music students, has been playing in various musical environments since the 1980s. (Rick McLean)

“We sit in a circle, and because nobody’s in charge, everybody’s in charge,” McLean said. “We have our humility teachings, where I’m no better than anybody else, or anything else in all of creation, but I’m no worse. We all have what we’re supposed to contribute to that circle. It’s about being relational, and it’s about being interconnected.”

McLean says that sort of interconnection leads to more meaningful relationships between people.

“When you have a space like that, where there is no agenda, where there aren’t expectations, you know, where the marks or anything else like that are not assigned to anything, it’s just the goodwill. That’s in line with how we do things, it allows [the group] to speak and share as equals, it’s a heartbeat, it becomes alive, it becomes an entity of its own.”

After recent discoveries of children’s bodies at former residential schools, Johanne McCarthy, a teaching and learning consultant for the college’s Indigenous Education department and a member of the Six Nations community, says she felt she was reliving the experience repeatedly.

“This is not healthy for me to constantly be in this vortex of negativity and really having to highlight the negative relationships, instead of the positive relationships,” McCarthy said. “So when Bob came to me with this idea, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you have no idea how much I need this in my life, right now.’ I need positive reconciliation, so this to me is action in movement towards what real reconciliation can look like, which is repairing relationships, rather than reinforcing the negative narrative that Indigenous people are traumatized or broken or flawed in some way.”

A woman playing guitar and singing with a headset on.
Johanne McCarthy supports faculty in learning about approaching Indigenous education. The goal is to remove any barriers to Indigenous students in the classroom. (Johanne McCarthy)

This initiative is an opportunity to introduce the idea of celebrating culture and Indigenous-focused learning styles. The lessons and outcomes of the mentorship take place during the experiential process.

“I feel very, very positive and enthusiastic about the possibilities,” McLean said.

Bob Shields, the organizer of Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative, says he feels this type of learning experience will bring communities closer together.

We live in such a polarized society right now,” Shields said. “Where fear of the other is running rampant. It has manifested and spread across the globe over the last decades. Unconditioned shared spaces help extinguish fear of the other because we enter them in the spirit of mutuality, in the spirit of sharing and openness.”


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