Pathways CSA, in partnership with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and United Way of Calgary and Area, is proud to have presented the Youth Speaker event on February 23, 2017. For four months, Pathways staff, CBE teachers and trusties met regularly with a group of Indigenous high school students to help the youth organize this special event. The group gathered weekly with the goal of developing an event that was centred on and led by the youth.

Each planning session would begin with a smudge and a talking circle to honour cultural teachings as well as to bless the space and the ideas shared within it.  Each student took on or assisted with important tasks, such as planning meals and other event details, recruiting artists/speakers, creating posters, getting the word out on social media, and managing event logistics. Guided by Pathways and CBE staff, the youth took charge of developing the event and making it a reality.

In addition to weekly planning sessions, the planning committee – students, teachers, trustees and staff – participated in a Sweat Lodge ceremony hosted by Pathways. It was an amazing day and a great experience for both the youth and the teachers to be able to share in ceremony together. Though there is still much work to be done, the ceremony represented how far we’ve come in acknowledging and respecting indigenous ceremonies and the land we inhabit. Never as a young person would I have imagined going into a school and smudging or sharing in a sacred sweat lodge ceremony with both students and teachers present.

The event planning process really started to take shape following the ceremony. We (the planning committee) secured the event artists, including Frank and Darcy Turning Robe to perform traditional Blackfoot drumming and singing. The headline act was international indigenous hip-hop artist, Supaman. Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, professionally known as Supaman, is an Aspa’alooke National rapper currently residing in Seattle, Washington. Well-known through multiple outlets such as his videos on YouTube, Supaman has developed a solid following from around the world that continues to grow daily.

In addition to being the main performer of the event, Supaman agreed to host a special workshop for around 50 indigenous students from Calgary and other surrounding areas. The workshop was held at the Jack James Junior High School prior to his evening performance, which took place in the Forest Lawn High School theatre.  Youth who were present at the workshop were excited as many knew about Supaman and were very familiar with his music through his videos.  

Supaman kicked off the workshop by serenading the crowd with a traditional flute song followed by some fun and engaging icebreaker activities. He spoke openly about the trials and tribulations of growing up in foster care, the death of his father and how he came to be an artist. It was truly inspirational to hear him speak, and many of the youth were able to draw parallels between his story and their own lives. Students were able to interact with the rapper and ask him questions as well as take photos with him after the session. At the end of the workshop, students performed some of their own art – spoken word, rap or beatboxing – in front of the group.

After the workshop, there was a feast for all the youth participants and volunteers. Elders Patrick and Patricia Daigneault kindly provided and blessed delicious moose stew and fried bread for everyone to enjoy. Following the feast, the evening performances began with Frank and Darcy Turning Robe sharing some great stories, drumming and singing, which set the stage for an amazing night. It wasn’t long before Supaman hit the stage, which is when the theatre went wild as he displayed his many artistic talents. Dressed in full, fancy dance regalia, he showcased some of his impressive dancing abilities alongside some fellow dancers, including a husband and wife accompanied by their young daughter in a jingle dress.

Supaman blended hip-hop elements with traditional indigenous culture beautifully. His performance that night proved that he is an excellent rapper who delivers conscious lyrics drawn from life experience. He is also a comedian, an accomplished music producer and DJ, and an all-around performer. Before the end of the night, he had youth and adults on stage having a dance-off competition as well as five brave individuals sharing their rapping skills in front of a packed theatre. This part of the performance was so inspiring. The sight of young people getting on stage to share their art was an epic conclusion to an evening that attendees – youth and adults alike – will never forget.

I spoke to some of the youth afterwards, and they expressed their feelings of inspiration to create and share their own stories. One man in particular is currently in talks to perform his own songs in schools here in Calgary. I think the resounding theme of the event was “hope” – hope that healing and change can come through the voice of our youth guided by the teachings of our elders. Hope that art can bring us all together to talk about issues in our society and acknowledge the beauty of our indigenous roots through stories and ceremony. The event was one we were all able to draw strength from to build momentum and move forward as we continue bridging gaps in our society, our nations and the world. 

by Chris Wainwright, Pathways CSA Youth Lodge Keeper