Samantha Whelan Kotkas and Walter MacDonald White Bear preform a song they created together called Magpie. It featured White Bear playing flute and Kotkas playing both a hand drum and trumpet. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News) What happens when a Cree singer, songwriter and facilitator and a classical trumpet player and storyteller team up?
Cross-cultural workshops and experiences that embody the process of reconciliation — while educating audiences about Canada’s history with Indigenous people.
That’s the work that Samantha Whelan Kotkas and Walter MacDonald White Bear do, day in and day out for the National Arts Centre of Canada.
Kotkas was born in Canada and raised in Africa before she returned to North America for her education. White Bear, a First Nation man from Moose Factory is an educator, performer and motivational speaker.
The pair held workshops in Regina between April 12 and 14 focused around bringing music into classrooms to enrich the curriculum and shared stories of their musical journey together.
"With this truth and reconciliation time in Canada, [the workshops] caught fire with a lot of educators," White Bear said. White Bear said on occasion, the pair were met with frosty stares when entering restaurants in small-town Canada, however, by the end of their stay in any given community, people are usually more welcome to asking he and Kotkas about their work. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News) Both White Bear and Kotkas believe that artists are going to be the leaders in the reconciliation process.
White Bear said many education boards are inundated with the truth and reconciliation process and he and Kotkas work with many people in the school systems who are keen and supportive of their work.
Kotkas said people are looking for resources and ways they can teach reconciliation to their students.
"We are teaching a lot of First Nations songs and we’re empowering [attendees] to use them after we leave," she said. "We’re teaching a lot of things that don’t require a professional musician in the classroom."
She said they both encourage people who watch them perform to record them so they don’t forget what they’ve learned and so it’s easier to bring their messages back to the classroom. Kotkas performs a song she learned from a Cree woman in her travels around Canada. Kotkas said everyone who learned the song from her was allowed to pass it along to others. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News) The pair works with young people in communities and schools across Canada, an effort they make to build understanding from "the ground up" wherever they visit.
"You have to be positive in life, to grab onto negativity, that’s easy for any human being to grab onto," White Bear said.
"To carry around bitterness in your heart for things that happened historically in this country… that’s all done. To stay in that place of bitterness, I don’t think the Creator made us to stay there," he said.
"[Music] is something anybody can do, and that it speaks to all of us and it can transcend, maybe, some of these perceived barriers," Kotkas said.
With files from Samanda Brace
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