How Do We Listen?

A project about healing and reconciliation.

         Back in 2017, associate professor of music at Mt. A  Dr. Linda Pearse brought together a literary scholar, a historian, a composer and performer of jazz music, a group of early music performers, and Indigenous performers and drummers to make music together. At some point during these rehearsals, Mi’kmaq singer, drummer, and composer Hubert Francis ended up singing one of his traditional songs, while Mount Allison professor Dr. Vicki St. Pierre sang the chant “Ubi Caritas” over top of Hubert’s melody. This coming together of traditional Indigenous music with religious chant moved Wolastoq singer, drummer, and educator Angela (Angee) Acquin to tears, and inspired her to share with the group the story of the Acquin family, and their experience in the residential school system.

         Fast forward to fall of 2019, when Angela Acquin, Hubert Francis, Dr. Linda Pearse, Dr. St. Pierre, Jade Polches, Michel Angers, Marie Bouchard, Maximilien Brisson, Dominique Lortie, Kirsty Money, Karin Cuellar Rendon, John Watkins, and Ann Waltner tour schools in New Brunswick with a concert entitled How Do We Listen?. The tour, which had primarily consisted of middle and high schools, ended in October of 2019 with a performance at Mount Allison University, which I was lucky enough to see in person for myself. Fast forward again to October 1, 2020, when the How Do We Listen? video project, led by Mi’kmaq director and producer Brian Francis, premieres.

         Despite it being only 28 minutes in length, the How Do We Listen? video project is incredibly moving to watch. Angela Acquin does not shy away from the trauma Indigenous peoples and their elders carry due to their painful memories in the residential school system. At the centre of both the How Do We Listen? video project and the original concert series is the story of residential school survivor, and Angela’s grandmother, Virginia, whose sister Doris drowned while at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. In the video project, which follows the aforementioned group of artists from 2017 through to their final performance at Mount Allison last year, we see the performers bond and heal together. During rehearsals, Angela not only shares the story of her grandmother with the group, but also traditional teachings and cultural practices, including leading the performers in a smudging ceremony.

         Not only is the combination of music and spoken word beautiful to hear, but important to see. As Dr. Linda Pearse says, “The title, How Do We Listen?, puts the onus on non-Indigenous people, those who need to engage actively in the processes of decolonization and whose ability to connect meaningfully with Indigenous Peoples can contribute to the betterment of our society as a whole.” A part of both the performance and the video that always stands out to me is when Angela says, over the study beating of a drum, “So gently, I offer my hand and ask, let me find my talk, so I can teach you about me,” followed by two non-Indigenous performers responding with, “So I can learn about you, I listen,” and “teach me how to listen,” respectively.

         It is important to know the horrors of the residential schooling system in Canada, especially since residential schools are a part of Canada’s very recent past, and to acknowledge the pain and trauma that still clings to Indigenous communities as a result of residential schools and colonization.  It is also very important to uplift and empower Indigenous voices, to learn about Indigenous cultures, and appreciate Indigenous art. Settlers have a responsibility to allow Indigenous voices to not just be heard, but celebrated, and one first step to take is simply to listen.

You can watch the How Do We Listen? video project by going to the Mount Allison University news website.


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