Partner Profile: Artist Response Team Educates The Next Generation Through Collaborative Music Project
Educating the next generation on how and why to care for the planet is important to us, that’s why each year, TSBC joins Interchange Recycling in sponsoring the important work of Artist Response Team (ART) and Voices of Nature–an in-school music program that promotes environmental awareness through engaging music-based ecology education. This year, the program expanded from an elementary school curriculum to a high school program that focused on a collaboration between the grade 10 students of Imagine High Integrated Arts & Technology Secondary in Chilliwack, and Stó:lō First Nations language carriers to create bilingual songs on the topic of stream restoration. Here’s some background on how the program went.
Photo: Good Medicine Songs singers (L-R): Kevin Wright, Sulisulwut Bibiana Norris, Holly Arntzen, Lolehawk Laura Buker, Xótxwes Jonny Williams, Siyamiyateliyot Elizabeth Phillilps
It started in the spring of 2022, with an email from Amber Kostuchenko at the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, to Brooke Haller, Principal at Imagine High. Brooke was seeking “meaningful Indigenous education experiences for our students.” Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright of ART are co-founding members of Ey Stélmexw St’elt’ílém/ Good Medicine Songs. They work alongside Stó:lō First Nations language carriers to create bilingual songs in English and Halq’eméyelem—the upriver dialect of the Stó:lō peoples.
No one knew how the grade 10 students would respond.
The concept was to collaborate with them to create a song about stream restoration. They did a short performance, introducing students to Good Medicine Songs. Then asked students, “Why did you choose stream restoration? Why is it important?” Their answers were recorded, and those statements were used to work with the Halqeméylem speakers to create song lyrics. Then they collaborated with the school’s rock band students to work on the music. Everyone was blown away. The students wholeheartedly embraced the project. The result was a hauntingly beautiful bilingual song in Halq’eméylem and English, called “Listen to the Stream/Xwelelam te Stótelō”.
Photo: Students at Imagine High performing with Good Medicine Songs on National Day of Indigenous Peoples, June 21, 2023
The Imagine High students joined Good Medicine Songs in numerous performances throughout the following six months. This was particularly meaningful because students saw that the work they had done was not a “one-off ”; it was a way to connect
with the broader community while sharing an important message.
At the conclusion of the program, we received a heartwarming letter from the school principal. Here’s just a bit of what she shared.
“This was a completely new venture for all of us. We didn’t know how it would turn out. We couldn’t
predict how our grade 10 students would respond. The results surprised, amazed and
surpassed our expectations on every level. Students and teachers progressed through 10 weeks of
sessions. At the first introductory performance by Good Medicine Songs, students were asked: “Why did
you sign up for Stream Restoration? What do you think it is important?” Student responses were
passionate, thoughtful and visionary.
This project proved to be one of the most beautiful examples of authentic cross-curricular learning at
our school. Students embraced the opportunities to learn in an authentic way, and in particular, built
deep and sustaining relationships to language, the land and community. It served as an example of what
reconciliation could look like from a practical, relational level- they truly internalized the learning and
emerged as allies and contributors, with a commitment to be future stewards of nature. They didn’t just
learn things, they felt things. They also felt empowered to share this work with their school community
and beyond; their learning reached far beyond the walls of our school.
Students and staff have also carried this work and learning with them past the school year; this project
has received attention both locally, provincially and nationally as a feature story on APTN. Students
participated in a series of follow up events, performance and conferences. This meant a lot to students
because it connected them into the community, it gave their work in helping to create a bilingual song in
Halq’eméylem and English a context; they could see how it was meaningful and meant so much to the
Stó:lō language carriers that they were singing in their language. The community of learners has shared
their music and reflection at Chilliwack Canada Day,UFV Chowiyes-Xwithet/Rise Up-Wake Up gathering,
BC School Superintendents Conference at the Westin Bayshore and this year’s UFV Educational
Leadership summit. Students received standing ovations for their performances. They touched the
audiences with their passion, presence and performance.”
– Brooke Haller, Imagine High School Principal
Our friends at ART are doing great things, and we are very much looking forward to working with them again in 2024, with some exciting new projects already underway. We encourage you to check them out, give them a follow, and reach out if you think their program might be a fit for your school.