'Teenagers are sad, and adults don't even know': Innu teen voices amplified through hip-hop song
Music producer helps Natuashish youth make a 'super impactful' song
A talented group of Innu teenagers with a powerful message about growing up in Natuashish got a chance to share it widely through a newly released music video.
In early October, the group wrote and recorded a hip-hop song with the help of N'we Jinan, a non-profit organization that runs arts and educational programs in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and schools.
The song Mushuau Uassits, which means 'children of the barrens,' describes the pride the students feel as Innu and they love they have for their “beautiful land,” but also the struggles they face as teenagers.
Gwen Poker, who at 15 years old is the group's youngest member, admits she felt shy about singing at first. Then she started getting compliments.
“I actually sing a lot but I never show people that I can do it so this is really a new experience for me,” Poker told Labrador Morning, adding that it's important to sing in Innu Aimun because it's her first language.
Seven high school students at the Mushuau Innu Natuashish School produced the song with guidance from N'we Jinan, which means 'we live here' in James Bay (Eastern) Cree. The organization has worked with hundreds of Indigenous youth across the country, giving them an opportunity to express themselves through art and music.
N'we Jinan executive director David Hodges and videographer Andrei Savu travelled to Natuashish for a week with a mobile studio and helped the students tell stories from their own perspective.
“This is really about amplifying Indigenous youth voices and giving them different opportunities to connect through the arts,” Hodges said.
'Teenagers are sad'
Mushuau Uassits begins with Gwen singing:
Do you see it's hard
when there's nothing to do
People drown in the dark
so I'm running to you
“I like the lyrics,” Poker said. “It's about my hometown and what the situations are that's in Nat, like the drinking.”
She wants adults to know what teens are going through, and that youth need more activities to do in the community, she said.
I'm proud because I'm doing this. I'm doing the hip hop.– Garfield Rich
“Teenagers are sad, and the adults don't even know,” she said, adding that parents need to spend more time with their children.
“They need to talk to them. Tell them how they feel,” Poker said. “It would make them feel loved, and wanted, that they matter.”
Her own family shows her love every day, she said, and she wants all of her friends to feel that way.
“My friends go through stuff. They always come over to my place because of their parents drinking,” she said, noting that her parents are sober and don't drink.
Amplifying youth voices
The song created by the Natuashish youth has a strong, positive message to show where they're at in their personal lives, Hodges said. Hip hop is music that speaks to the teens' language, he said, as in the song's chorus:
We are strong and we are proud
We're the future singing
Hear our voices, hear the sounds
We love our land
Hodges said working with Indigenous youth is about showing them that they have worth. The teenagers about their potential and value when given an opportunity to talk about the things that matter to them, he said.
“Most of the time, young people never get the chance to really express themselves in a way they feel they're being heard,” Hodges said.
“Most young people just feel like adults or people in their community, or people surrounding them, don't really care.”
The group's job, he said, is to provide a safe and fun environment for learning while also creating something that is “positive and super impactful” for their community and the surrounding communities.
A strong message
“I'm proud because I'm doing this. I'm doing the hip hop,” says Garfield Rich, 16. “It was great, and I liked it.”
Although he expected it to be hard at first, Rich said he got into expressing himself through the writing process:
No more fighting, no more drinking
There's people dying, there's people missing
There's people crying, use our tradition
Innu Natukun, the medicine is giving
“Me and my friends come up with it, and we started to write, and then we gave it to David. He was like, 'Whoa, whoa' and he liked it,” he said of the lyrics.
The song is about “sad stuff” in the community, said Rich, who wants parents to “sober up and teach something else to their kids. Teach them, teach them how to hunt.”
It's an issue that's close to him, Rich said, because he's lost people himself.
The N'we Jinan Natuashish artists are Gwen Poker, Sam Rich, Cavelle Rich, Jersey Tshakapesh, Garfield Rich, Tyrese Rich and Cole Piwas.
The next step for the teens is fundraising to go to Montreal in April to attend an arts festival and youth conference organized by N'we Jinan, where they will perform their song.