In her autobiography, Rita Joe, Mi’kmaw poet and songwriter, challenged indigenous youth to find their voices, share their stories, and celebrate their talents. Inspired by this idea, the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa, Ontario, asked teachers and students at Eskasoni high School, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia,
from Joe’s home community, to be the catalyst for a national youth project and to come up with a ‘big idea’ to inspire the nation. They decided to create and record a song based on what “I lost My Talk” means to them and their community. The NAC invited four other communities to participate as well, asking each
to create their own unique song inspired by Rita Joe’s poem. The communities were Kitigan Zibi — Anishinaabe, Western Quebec; Norway house — Cree/Métis, Northern Manitoba; Cree/Métis from Edmonton, Alberta; and Inuit from Iqaluit, Nunavut.
The online videos were launched at the Voices of youth: The Rita Joe Song Project held at the NAC’s Fourth Stage in January. The event included performances by students from Kitigan Zibi and Eskasoni, a screening of the videos, a presentation from Jessica Bolduc from the 4rs youth Movement, and a youth workshop led
by Moe Clark and Jessica Bolduc.
Attendees were also invited to view the legacy of hope Foundation’s exhibit “100 years of loss,” which was on display in the Southam hall lobby prior to the event.
In partnership with the 4rs youth Movement, the NAC has produced a facilitation guide, “let Me Find My Talk”: Engaging youth in reconciliation Through the Arts, for secondary school-aged youth. The guide concentrates on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples’ experiences in residential school, and uses the lived history and work of Rita Joe as a foundation for learning about the changes to Indigenous ways of life under colonialism and the effects of the residential School System in Canada.
The inspiring songs and videos can be found at www.nac-cna.ca/ritajoesong.