The Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artist and Mohawk College Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative event day took place in the GRETI Theatre in the Grand River Employment Training Centre in the heart of Ohsweken on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
This was the initiative’s second edition since it first started in April 2022 and was coordinated by Bob Shields, a professor at Mohawk College’s applied music program and advised by Rick McLean, a professor of Indigenous studies at Mohawk College.
The collaborative project started at the beginning of the Winter 2023 semester and took place between six Mohawk College music students, the Six Nations Women Singers and award-winning Nicole Joy-Fraser. The event day had both participants and the audience exploring the concept of learning and healing through the art of music, celebrating Indigenous culture, culture-based teaching, student creativity and creative agency.
The initiative allowed individuals to come together as equals and explore the social capacity of music in an unconditioned shared space – meaning Shields stepped back from professional and administrative agendas as far as how the students were expected to learn as he encouraged open engagement and dialogue to help localize knowledge within the space.
Event day was kicked off with McLean lighting sage medicine as he gave a Thanksgiving address followed by an opening song from Joy-Fraser and a land acknowledgement and speech by Shields.
“To bring this initiative to fruition once again, has been the most fulfilling time in my life as a musician and an educator,” said Shields. “As a participant, I acknowledge now that there is more than one way of knowing and more than one way to flourish and that a sustainable world vision is one to which all voices contribute. I affirm that what we are doing together here today matters. Indigenous perspectives have taught me that the social capacity of music must be elevated and celebrated as a responsible act of relational justice. I have learned that music is medicine, that it brings us together with one another and with the natural and spiritual worlds.”
“…,In a hierarchical education system creative meanings and values are frequently abstracted from their local context, including Indigenous context, and supplanted by colonial settler creative meanings and values,” said Shields. “Music research and education for example, have historically looked for ways to reduce cultural meanings – whether to fit in with Eurocentric definitions of what music should be to diminish their value or to appropriate them for profit – as a result indigenous non-monetary social means and values are marginalized.”
The ten Six Nations Women Singers (SNWS) led by Sadie Buck, were welcomed to the stage first to perform several of their call-and-response songs both passed on by elders, as well as created by themselves.
Buck and her group had attendees laughing as they told stories and experiences over the years in-between explaining where their songs came from and the social meaning behind them.
Joy-Fraser took the stage next and spoke about her journey to reconnecting with her culture roots through music and the confidence she gained along the way.
The Mohawk College music students then performed two jazz songs before joining with the SNWS to perform a song they created together throughout the semester. After, Joy-Fraser and the students performed the songs they had chosen together before the three groups teamed up for one final closing song.
The event closed with a talking circle to talk about the lessons learned throughout the year, as well as the importance of collaboration.
“This experience was very special and very validating, I’m so grateful because we ended up reflecting on how things happen and it’s given me the opportunity to share and feel like I can give back in a way to these students,” said Joy-Fraser.
Bonnie Freeman of the SNWS also spoke about the initiative and the importance of relationship building behind the scenes.
“I’m truly amazed with the various layers of learning and the various groups of people that have come together to put this experience on and its more than us and the students,” she said. “To the community that has come out – I’m really appreciative that there’s so much support for this project and I hope it continues because this is a fantastic way of learning and teaching and learning from each other and that we can continue to grow in a relationship.”