Jan
16
2019

Oh Kanata - Learning Canada's national anthem in Mi’kmaq

Generations after residential schools eroded many indigenous languages, the Mi’kmaq version of our national anthem is ringing through Prince Edward Island schools, sung by Island children.

It is a beautiful and poignant example of reconciliation efforts and Island filmmaker Harmony Wagner was compelled to document it.

Wagner, along with her Periscope Pictures partner Jason Rogerson, wanted to do something meaningful after hearing about the federal government’s National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation report on Canada’s dark history with residential schools.

“It matters to me, as a Canadian who cares. I wondered ‘what should I do? I felt like I should ask the Mi'kmaq community directly.’”

The Commission’s final report stated although it had been “a catalyst for deepening our national awareness of the meaning and potential of reconciliation, it will take many heads, hands, and hearts, working together, at all levels of society to maintain momentum in the years ahead. It will also take sustained political will at all levels of government and concerted material resources.”

Watch the film Oh Kanata - Islanders bring Mi'kmaq language alive on YouTube

Wagner, along with PEI singers/songwriters Tara MacLean and Catherine MacLellan visited Senator Brian Francis at the Abegweit Mi'kmaq Nation at Scotchfort to ask how they could contribute toward the momentum of reconciliation. He told them that in the eyes of the Mi’kmaq, it is a process that will take generations to heal. For this reason, children are the best investment to create real change.

Senator Francis told the women of the work their community was already doing at Mount Stewart Consolidated School. A First Nations support worker, Georgina Francis, had been visiting an integrated class of indigenous and non-indigenous children of grades 4 and 5 and teaching them how to sing songs in Mi'kmaq for special occasions.

When indigenous children were taken from their families to residential schools they were often punished for speaking their own languages. Georgina Francis remembers her mother's passionate efforts to keep their Mi’kmaq language alive at home. Teaching these lyrics to a new generation, not only helps preserve the language but also helps increase awareness among non-indigenous Islanders of the distinctive Mi'kmaq culture.

On hearing of this work in-progress, MacLean and MacLellan offered mixing, mastering and the use of MacLellan’s and Chris Gauthier's Dunk River Sound studio to make a professional recording of the national anthem in Prince Edward Island’s first spoken language. Since Wagner and Rogerson had been offered provincial government support to produce a short documentary, she knew exactly what to do – carefully and lovingly document this meaningful example of true reconciliation happening here.

“I knew we had capacity to document this, and with the collaboration of the Abegweit First Nation, the school staff, the support from the province, Catherine and Tara, and the kids, we all worked together to make it happen,” Wagner said.

Rogerson felt film was the perfect medium to tell the story.

“Film is today’s commodity of global communication,” he said. "Visual storytelling is the most efficient way to share a message. It’s one of the the main ways people look for information these days.”

"This recording is important for our future as a country," Wagner explains, "but is also a way to shine a light on PEI to the rest of the world."

Wagner has already been approached by a group in New Brunswick, devoted to preserving traditional culture, to screen the almost ten-minute documentary there.

“It was the film that did that -- when you’re touched emotionally it calls you to engage in a different way. It’s such a nice story about Islanders who are doing simple but powerful things." - Harmony Wagner, Prince Edward Island filmmaker

On January 6, 2018 the students from Mount Stewart Consolidated School sang the national anthem in Mi’kmaq at an Island Storm basketball game in Charlottetown. On June 21, 2018, National Indigenous People’s Day, schools across PEI started their morning with the recording and many schools continue to play it on a regular basis.

The film is a call to action for educators and parents to download the recording so that any school in Canada can listen to the anthem in Mi’kmaq during the daily morning rotation as way of making steps along the road to reconciliation.

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