Multilingual Quebec musicians Andrée Levesque-Sioui (Above, left) and Kyra Shaughnessy are in the Yukon this month for a series of workshops with high-school students. The workshops are aimed at promoting bilingualism in the Yukon and are conducted in French and the Huron-Wendat First Nation language.

“It’s been wonderful. Andrée and Kyra are really making an impact on the kids. It’s especially beautiful when they sing in the Wendat language and French. It’s truly wonderful that they’re sharing their language with us,” said Danielle Bonneau, French Cultural Partnership Officer with Yukon Government department of Education. Along with Yann Herry, coordinator of French programs at the Education Department, Bonneau organises cultural programs aimed at helping the Yukon’s high-school students experience the French language and culture firsthand.

“This gives children a chance to live the language that they are learning through cultural events. It keeps the language living in their minds and helps them relate to it better,” said Bonneau.

She said it also helps the students feel like a part of the wider community.

“The program showcases local talent and occasionally we bring people in from other parts of Canada to share their culture with students, too.”

Bonneau said it’s especially good for Yukon students to see that there are Francophone First Nations in Canada. This helps aboriginal students connect with French in a special way as well as giving all of the children the opportunity to engage with First Nations people from across the country.

“Learning new languages really opens doors for children. It expands their minds at the same time as promising better opportunities in the future,” she said. “It helps them gain a unique kind of openness. Everyone deserves the chance to be bilingual.”

Andrée Levesque-Sioui works for the Conseil de la Nation huronnewendat in Wendake Québec. She was invited to lead the sessions partly because of her unique perspective as a French speaking Aboriginal woman.

Levesque-Sioui teaches the endangered Huron-Wendat language at the elementary school in Wendake (Huron-Wendat First Nation Reserve) in Québec. She’s an accomplished musician and won best producer at the Native American Music Awards in 2012 for her album Yahndawa.

“It was interesting for me to see that in the Yukon they teach the First Nations languages as well as French,” said Levesque-Sioui. “We’re here to promote not just French, but to promote bilingualism. Not to diminish English, but to open people’s minds to speaking more than one language,” she said.

Levesque-Sioui thinks it’s important for young people to realize that traditional languages can be part of life today.

“Kyra had the idea of beatboxing along with some of my songs in the Wendat language and it worked super well. So, you can have a foot in your culture as the same time as you’re doing something really cool and modern.”

Kyra Shaughnessy

Kyra Shaughnessy is a rootsy folk-singer from Québec’s eastern Townships. She is currently working on her fifth album, to be released in the spring. Her style of music can be compared to Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco. She’s also working on an ancestral languages project with support from the Canada Council for the Arts. Shaughnessy’s collaborative work with various First Nations and Francophone communities in Québec goes way back. Shaughnessy said there’s less of a barrier between them and the children in the workshops. She said children are encouraged to be curious and involved.

“We do a mix of things. We sing, play music and share our cultures in French and Wendat. The kids participate and engage with us a lot. They play instruments, sing and talk with us.”

Shaughnessy hopes to encourage a new generation of female artists in the North. “It’s touching when the kids come up to us, ask questions and interact. I hope that we can help inspire them. As two women musicians, I especially hope that we can be an example for young women to follow.”

Levesque-Sioui and Shaughnessy are doing workshops at high schools in Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Faro, Mayo and Dawson City. Shaughnessy will be playing some of her music along with up-and-coming Yukon musician Calla Kinglit at Baked Café in Whitehorse on March 17 at 5 p.m.

Levesque-Sioui will likely join in a duet with Shaughnessy during the set. Attendees can expect a mix of folk and roots music in English and French, with possible tunes in Irish Gaelic, Huron-Wendat and Spanish. Tickets are available at the door.

Southern Tutchone Lives In Song