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Finding their Voice: Indigenous Students Create Hip Hop Song at School

A group of Indigenous students from throughout the District came together at Burnaby North Secondary for five days to create and record an original song that reflects their experience and shares their collective voice in a powerful and creative way.

“This is about getting our voices out there,” said Max, a Grade 12 student from Burnaby Central. “As kids, we put up a shell and hide our emotions behind a mask. We need to have the voice to speak out and say what we need. I just want everybody to know that it’s ok to be who you are.”

The opportunity was created through the Burnaby School District’s Indigenous Education Department, which provides culturally relevant programming and services to students of Indigenous ancestry. Mary Hotomanie is a District Indigenous Enhancement Teacher who arranged the week-long experience for students.

“We have to be creative in finding different opportunities and different ways to engage the students with the education system in ways they can connect with,” said Hotomanie. “There is so much diversity in where these kids come from and where they are in their own learning journey. It was interesting to see them change throughout the process.”

The process was led by two Indigenous Hip Hop fusion artists – Craig Edes and Travis Hebert – who together make up the group Mob Bounce. They got involved in this work through an umbrella organization, N’we Jinan, which provides experiences in music education for youth to develop skills and confidence.

“We use hip hop to create a sacred space for people,” said Hebert. “In this day and age, it’s a lot more difficult for young people to express their emotions. We can build up walls around ourselves and create appearances with things like Facebook pages. Music can bring your own emotions to the surface in a safe space. Music is medicine.”

And, according to Byrne Creek student Jayden it’s also a lot of fun.

“I really liked it,” said the Grade 12 student. “It’s different hanging out with Indigenous kids rather than other kids, just because of the community. I got to learn a lot about song writing and production of music, which is something I did want to learn. I really respected the chance to do this and hope I get more music opportunities in the future.”

It was that same sense of community that inspired Kyra, a Grade 8 student from Moscrop. Kyra discovered what she wanted to express through working collaboratively with Max. The girls made their portion of the song like a poetic back and forth between the two of them.

“Lots of people feel like they’re alone,” said Kyra. “That’s part of the lyrics that I feel alone sometimes. We decided to do the lyrics together and it was fun.”

At the end of five full days of working on the song, the recording was played for family, friends, and educators in a celebration of the students’ achievement.

“When I actually heard the product, I was amazed,” said Hotomanie. “Most kids didn’t know each other. We had kids from Moscrop, Central, Byrne Creek and Burnaby Mountain from Grades 8 through 12. They were shocked at what they could do with a little bit of time and the words they already had inside of them. This kind of opportunity with Indigenous role models helps them to see ways of achieving success and connects them to our education system in a way that has meaning for them. We want to connect as many kids as we can along the journey and make them proud of who they are. This is one step, but I’m really excited that we’re taking it.”