Three young boys from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School eagerly take the opportunity to jig with Ginny Gonneau, a Métis descendant from Barrie. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Toronto students celebrate aboriginal culture [w/ audio]

  • June 22, 2012

TORONTO - Some 75 staff, students and parents were treated to a day of aboriginal music and dancing as the Toronto Catholic District School Board celebrated National Aboriginal Day June 21.

"We invited some aboriginal people to celebrate with them and to demonstrate some of the celebrations as part of their culture," said Bruce Rodrigues, TCDSB's director of education. "It's important to acknowledge (aboriginal culture) so that our students can have an understanding of the diversity that we have within the system."

National Aboriginal Day has been celebrated in Canada since 1996 to recognize, celebrate and preserve the unique aboriginal cultures while acknowledging their contributions to contemporary Canada.

Nicholas Delbear-Sawchuk, a 21-year-old member of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, showed off the musical side of the French-aboriginal mixed-race people at the event held at the Catholic Education Centre.

"Fiddle music is very important to the culture of the Métis because it represents the cross of cultures between the aboriginal people and the Europeans," said Delbear-Sawchuk, who first took up the fiddle at 15 months old. "The thing about our music is there is no (sheet) music; it's all by ear."

He said the Métis adopted the fiddle, as well as their musical style, from the Europeans. Rural Métis communities would wrap wires around trees to function as antenna allowing them to pick up radio signals, listen to music and then reinvent it with an aboriginal twist.

For Delbear-Sawchuk, fiddle music symbolizes the cultural melting pot that is Canada.

Accompanying him was 28-year-old Ginny Gonneau, a freelance jigger, the official dance of the Métis people. Just like the music and the people, jigging is a fusion of cultures.

"Métis dancing is a mix of First Nations steps and European, Scottish and Irish dancing," said Gonneau, who learned jigging during her early 20s as a way to meet other Métis in her community. "It's a unique mix of both cultures and it's basically our way of being joyful."

Now fluent in the fancy footwork, Gonneau facilitates cultural workshops with ISPAYIN — Métis Youth Express Yourself! The ISPAYIN project works with schools and communities across the country to build awareness of identity, health and cultural well-being for Métis youth.


With full concentration Nichole Leveck does the First Nations version of a ballerina’s pirouette. (Photo by Evan Boudreau)

"I didn't have any Métis culture infused in my education experience so it's really important to me that young Catholic students, be they Métis or non-aboriginal, get to experience Métis culture as well as First Nations and Inuit culture," said the graduate of Barrie, Ont.'s St. Joseph's Catholic High School.

After the duo opened the two-hour event, a First Nations drummer, Isaiah Cada, produced the rhyme which Nazavene Pope and Nichole Leveck performed various powwow dances to. They were followed by an Inuit mother-daughter throat singing combo, Jennifer and Raigelee Alorut, who closed off the morning program.

Each act encouraged those in attendance to join them in the performances which were followed by Q-and-A sessions.

"By participating we become more aware and immerse ourselves within the context of the culture," said Rodrigues. "By doing so we realize that common sense of humanity and dignity. We being to see each other as people of God."

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