Rekindling a Passion for Culture

The students of Eliza Van Bibber School, along with numerous supportive partners, are reviving the cultural wellbeing of the community through traditional practices.

It started with a music psychology student from Ryerson University in Toronto. Arla Good had the incentive to learn about the traditional music of the North.

“I had a spark of an idea last year to look at how learning the music of your own culture can assist in developing a sense of cultural identity, self-esteem, pride, a sense of community, and a connection to the school system,” says Good. “For personal reasons I wanted to travel to the Yukon and learn about the North. I did an Internet search in hopes of finding Yukon Aboriginal music and one man’s name continuously appeared.”

The name was Jerry Alfred, Keeper of the Songs. Alfred is a Juno Award winner, a well-known Yukon musician and an elder belonging to the Selkirk First Nation.

“I sent Jerry Alfred an email with my ideas and he was interested about the suggestion and put me in touch with Eliza Van Bibber School (EVBS) principal, Keith Clarke,” Good says.

“Keith and I then started a partnership, but to make a program like this work, we needed the support of Pelly Crossing. We reached out to members of Selkirk First Nation. Individuals like Carmen Baker who has the passion and spirit to bring music to the children and youth at the school was included in the partnership.”

Baker, who is of Tlingit/Northern Tutchone descent, is also the founder of the Selkirk Spirit Dancers (SSD). She, along with local elders SSD members played the traditional role in educating the students this winter — teaching them the songs and dance that instilled pride in the community.

A gala event was then held in December to show their talents.

Elder Lizzie Hall, Ernestine Hager, many parents, families, and numerous supportive community members worked hard to ensure that each child was dressed head to toe in traditional regalia at the evening.

A misty-eyed performance of singing, dancing, and drumming by the youth left the community with a sense of pride and hope that their Northern Tutchone culture will be preserved by instilling traditional values in their youth of today.

“I’ve had trouble putting into words what I experienced at the gala event,” Good says. “We never could have imagined the success that we witnessed in the performances and in the responses of the community. A lot of tears of joy were shed.”

Baker says she is very proud of the children for all their hard work.

“I knew right from the beginning that they were going to have a powerful impact on the community for learning our culture and bringing it back alive in this community,” She says. “A lot of the children were looking forward to me coming in. I started to hear feedback from the parents saying that their children were singing traditional songs at home, so it showed that they were interested in learning.”

Baker would like to explore possibility of taking the young dancers further and says the majority of the children will be joining the Selkirk Spirit Dancers group.

“The positive energy was so high and it gave the children a sense of pride to be able to bring the community to such a profound moment of healing,” says Baker. “It has also been suggested to take the performance and show their talent to the neighboring Northern Tutchone communities of Carmacks and Mayo.”

The successful program and event has left a solid connection between the community, Eliza Van Bibber School and Selkirk First Nation.

Each partner played a vital role; Carmen Baker, Arla Good, Eliza Van Bibber School, and Selkirk First Nation would like to extend their great appreciation and gratitude to all who made this possible.

Mussi Cho.

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