It’s my pleasure to introduce Cathy Elliott, an artist educator with DAREarts’ First Roots program. Cathy is amazing and has graciously agreed to start blogging for the ArtBridges Community Blog. Once a month, Cathy will share her stories and experiences working with our First Nations youth in remote northern communities such as Webequie (ON), Marten Falls (ON), Sioux Lookout (ON), Attawapiskat (ON) and Indian Brook (NS). It’s an honour to be able to share these stories with the ArtBridges community and I want to thank Cathy and Marilyn (the founder of DAREarts) not just for their amazing work, but also for their willingness to share. I hope you enjoy!
- Cora, Indigenous Community Arts Coordinator & Communications Assistant, ArtBridges
“Our day begins with a Circle. It’s made very clear what our goals and accomplishments will be. The kids know that we expect nothing but excellence from their efforts to engage, learn and ultimately, to teach.
DAREarts kids don’t start off knowing they’re DAREarts. They come from difficult backgrounds with seemingly overwhelming challenges. Some have toxic environments at home, some are incredibly shy and awkward, some are brilliant bullies acting out of frustration or fear. The challenges are universal, but the circumstances are unique to them, depending on where they come from.
We know that these kids are high priority. We know that they have much to offer. We know that, for everything we teach, we also learn twice as much from the children. They show us adults things we forget, all the time. Like how to listen.
Our philosophy is that, given the opportunity to explore all the arts, kids can find pathways to hope and empowerment. “When I was 22, I taught in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Toronto,” says Marilyn Field, founder of DAREarts. “Kids always came late to school and problem behaviours were rampant, so there was a lot of detention time. When I figured out that the regular method of writing out lines “I will not bring a knife to school” wasn’t working, I tried a different tact.”
That tact is to “trick” kids into finding out what their passion is. They get a taste-test of everything from culinary arts to sculpture, to architecture, to painting, to the dramatic arts like drama, puppetry, and singing. They stretch their literary skills by writing songs, stories, building idea structures and sticking to them, and joyfully embracing their own cultures and exploring others. Underpinning this exploration is the challenge to engage with each other in a safe, playful atmosphere. They take all that stuff and teach it to their little siblings, their classmates, their communities.
Marilyn has been devoted to this work for over 18 years now, “I don’t play the piano anymore. It used to be that when I was a youngster, playing the piano was important to me. I thought the day I didn’t play the piano would be the day I died.”
Marilyn’s work has positively impacted over one hundred eighty thousand kids since then. She’s alive and kicking, thank you very much.
I am a Mi’kmaq/Irish/Acadian multidisciplined artist. My territory is in Nova Scotia, Sipikne’katik First Nation, formerly Indian Brook. But I found my heart through DAREarts eight years ago in a land far from that territory, in ‘Nish land. Webequie First Nation.
I was asked by Marilyn to work with her and the DAREarts team to fashion an Aboriginal arts program for the community of Webequie, in a call from Elders there to help their teens cope with recent youth suicides.
Prior to this request, I had been working as an independent artist, always looking to my own need for expression. I started to think, it’s so much easier to talk about a secondary passion than one’s own. But, in short time, that secondary passion became number one.
In a Sweat Lodge in Webequie recently, Elder Bill Jacob said, “You have to pray for yourself first. Then the person sitting next to you. Then everyone else.” I had never thought of that. If I take care of my own learning, I’ll be a better teacher. If I keep myself healthy, believe in myself, I can teach others that same philosophy. The Seven Sacred Teachings (embraced by Nations across Turtle Island) help with that, and they mesh beautifully with the DAREarts principles: Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence.
In a funny way, this work is, in its simplicity, a form of prayer. And I am the better for it. My blog will be about those prayers, past and future. I hope you enjoy and visit often.
First Nations kids receive 50% of the funding that other kids in Canada receive. Recent changes in the Indian Affairs Education Act may help, but the jury is still out on that, as Aboriginal and Canadian Governments go back and forth with details. The hard fact is, that any funding increases proposed won’t take place for another two years. That still leaves a big gap for the kids who are on Reservations now.
DAREarts, along with other charitable and independent organizations, is helping to bridge that gap, not only by bringing programs in consultation with Aboriginal community members, but by creating programs that bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids and communities together through the arts.
Cathy Elliott is the Director of Communications for DAREarts, and the Lead Artist/Educator for the DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program (nee-tum-ochi-bek.) In recent years, she is widely known for her plays “Moving Day”, “Fireweeds: Women of the Yukon.” Her musical, “The Talking Stick” was the first all-Aboriginal musical in the 37 year history of the Charlottetown Festival and was performed in part for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on their visit to PEI. The Talking Stick also toured to Halifax for the Atlantic Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in October, 2011. She is a singer-songwriter who has been writing songs with Aboriginal youth for seven years. In 2012, she was the Aboriginal Liaison, composer and actor (Ariel) for the New World Theatre Project’s “Tempest” in Cupids, NFLD. In 2013, “Fill My Hollow Bones,” a documentary narrated by Graham Greene about the first three years of the DAREarts Webequie pilot program was premiered at the Tiff Lightbox.
DAREarts acknowledges the support of: our lead sponsor, Northbridge Insurance, BMO Financial Group, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, CIBC Children’s Foundation, HUB International, Noront Resources, Telus Toronto Community Board, TDSB, TD, Ontario Arts Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Government of Ontario.
Visit www.darearts.com for information on how you can get involved.”
Read DAREarts’ profile on ArtBridges’ Community-Engaged Arts Directory and Map.
Photo credit: DAREarts
Photo credit: Julian Sale
Photo credit: Julian Sale
Photo credit: DAREarts