Introducing Indigenous Music through the Junos

3 weeks. 6 days. 23 hours. 5 minutes and 6 seconds.

As of the writing of this blog, that is exactly how much time there is until the unveiling of the 2018  Junos.

In preparation for this monumental event, my grade four classes and I have been focusing on one particular category. We will be taking on the role of “judge” and making our own decisions about who we think should win the Juno in the category of Indigenous Music Album of The Year.

For those who are unfamiliar with this category at the Juno, to win the award, 50% of your album music must include either traditional forms, hand drums/flutes, Inuit throat singing or Métis and other fiddling. The nominees may also fuse contemporary music with traditional styles and/or reflect the aboriginal experience in Canada through words or music.

There is an incredibly musically diverse group of nominees this year in this category. The nominees are fantastic examples of a variety of musical genres, diverse instruments and singing styles.

I have focused on two curriculum expectations when introducing the music:

C2.1 express detailed personal responses to musical performances in a variety of ways
C3.2 demonstrate an awareness, through listening, of the characteristics of musical forms and traditions of diverse times, places, and communities
In each class, we have listened to one piece of music for each performer and the students have had a choice to draw, write or orally share their thoughts about the music. I have given them some guiding questions for them to think about during their response: “How does this performance make you feel?” “What do you think is the message of this song?” “Why do you think the composer wrote this piece?” “Describe the music elements that you are hearing.” “How do the elements help create the mood of the music?”  I also stress with them the idea that their personal response must be detailed and the phrase “I like the music” is not enough.
After we have shared our responses, I introduce one aspect about the characteristics of indigenous music that no one shared in the class. Some examples include explanations about PowWow music, historical context for some of the lyrics, singing style, or instruments included.  Below are the five nominees for this year’s Juno awards, the music videos I used in class, and a bit of information and links to get you started in preparing your class for a fun Indigenous music exploration.
Kelly Fraser      Album: Sedna
Kelly Fraser rose to fame in my world with the viral video of her singing a cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds in Inuktitut. Learn more in the article Kelly Fraser-Revitalizing Inuktitut by singing Rihanna

She has been nominated this year for the album “Sedna” that includes the track “Fight for the Right”. The song is a combination of English and Inuktitut. This song has a direct message against land ownership. This was a song written in May 2016 to encourage people to vote “No” against the referendum happening in Nunavut that asked the question “Do you want the municipality of (city or hamlet name) to be able to sell municipal lands?”

Some additional resources for information about Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser-Facebook page


DJ Shub    Album-PowWow Step

DJ Shub has just started a solo career. He used to perform with the talented group a “Tribe Called Red” that fuses hip hop and electronic music with traditional drums and voice. DJ Shub has continued that tradition, and his video for Indomitable ft. Northern Cree Singers is a celebration of culture and community. An article with DJ Shub can be found at DJ Shub PowWow Step.

dj Shub’s Website


Buffy Sainte-Marie     Album: Medicine Songs

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album is full of old and new songs that will encourage any young person to become an activist. Her new song “You Got To Run” from her Medicine Songs album has an amazing message about believing in one’s own power. Medicine Songs Article, Medicine Songs Article CBC

Buffy’s Website

IsKwé    Album: The Fight Within

Iskwe is Cree and Irish, and the word “Iskwe” means “woman”. Iskwe has created her music to counter the stereotypes people have and push back against the idea that indigenous people won’t or can’t succeed.

Influences behind “The Fight Within”

Indian City  Album: Here and Now

Indian City is a band that has performed all over North America. The band uses dancers, musicians and imagery to represent the vibrant indigenous culture in Canada.

Indian City’s Website

Acknowledging First Nations Women in the development of Canada


If you have studied Canadian History, you will know that without the establishment of the fur trade, our nation of Canada may have been limited to the banks of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Saint Lawrence River, and the Atlantic Ocean. Without the push of fur traders called Courier du Bois (i.e. Runners of the Woods) and their exploration carving out routes through forests, creeks, lakes, and rivers, Canada may have not been established in the west as it is today.


We know that European and Aboriginal men traveled through these routes transporting large quantities of fur, particularly Beaver fur. The men lived in harsh climates, especially in the Cree Woman Norway House HBC enhancedwinter. The European men came to North American accustomed to a different less harsh weather, and faced dealing with different food sources and clothing unsuitable for the Canadian climate.

So how did these men survive and who provided the clothing and food needed to face a very different climate?

The answer is evident but not obvious to Canadians … it was the First Nations women who played a vital role in establishing Canada’s fur trade. It was First Nations women who provided travelers and fur traders with the tools they needed to explore Canada.


What tools did the First Nations Women provide?


HBC trading routes

Knowledge of the Land:

First nations women acted as guides and interpreters for fur trading as they knew the languages and trading customs of many First Nations groups. These women guided Europeans through well established aboriginal trails and trading routes and along Canada’s lakes and rivers. These women knew the best places to camp and how to set up a campsite with fires, meals, and comfortable bedding.


Food for Survival:

First Nations women knew which plants and animals could be eaten. Picking the wrong, leaves, roots, shoots, fruits, and berries to eat could result in sickness or worse, death!

pemmican-02 (1)Picking the right food could result in delicious, nourishing meals which provided enough calories to fuel long trips through the wilderness. These women taught Europeans how to fish and trap animals for food as well as preserve food for winter. They taught the Europeans how to plant corn and use it for bread, like bannock or corn stew like sagamit. The First Nations women provided fur traders with high calorie Pemmican made from dried bison, moose, caribou, or venison meat powder mixed with animal fat and berries (see recipe below). Apparently Pemmican can last over 50 years without going bad, now that’s the ultimate survival food!


Preparing Furs for Trade:

The First Nations women knew how to trap the animals to get the best fur for trade. Once caught, animal furs needed to be prepared for sale. Preparing furs for trade meant work. Furs had to be cleaned through scraping, strung and stretched while drying, and tanned so they did not rot. Well prepared furs sold for high prices.


fur trade clothing

Making Clothing for the Climate:

From the skins and furs, First Nations women made clothing perfect for the Canadian climate. They sewed moccasins, coats, mittens, and leggings to keep traders protected from the elements. They also wove blankets and used furs and skins to make shelters and bedding.

And with the addition to these tools, First Nations women provided the future of Canada with the most important resource, people. First Nations women had common-law marriages with European men who’s union produced a great many generations of hardy future Canadians, ready to survive and thrive in Canada’s northern climate.

Fort Albany family

In Fort Albany, in James Bay, Robert Goodwin (1761 – 1805) from Yoxford, England, a Hudson Bay Company surgeon, had “a la facon du pays” or a country common-law marriage with Cree Woman Mistigoose (1760-1797), a Goose Cree woman probably from the Lake Nipigon area.  Their first child was Caroline Goodwin (1783-1832). Robert also took on a second Goose Cree wife, possibly a sister or close relatives of Cree Woman’s, called Jenny Mistigoose (1765-1864), daughter of Pukethewanisk. Both these First Nations women likely provided Robert with the supplies, food, and clothing he needed to do his work dealing with broken bones, cuts, infection, consumption (TB), scurvy, smallpox, malnutrition, frost bite, gangrene, gout, and STDs. In 1797, when Robert Goodwin took his son, William Adolphus Barmby Goodwin to England to get an education (and live with his lawyer), William’s Cree mother, Jenny drowned herself from grief in the bay of Fort Albany. In this death in his 45th year, Robert included the support and ongoing care of his wives and over 8 children in his will.

At around the same time, John Hodgson (1764-1833) from St Margaret’s, Westminster, London, was Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Albany Chief Factor (between 1800 & 1810). John Hodgson had a country marriage with Ann, a Cree Woman, possibly from Thunder Bay. Their union produced a first born son, James Hodgson (1782-1826) also know as James Hudson. Ann supported her husband by providing him with food, shelter, and clothing to sustain him in his work and at the same time gave birth to over 12 children.

Fort_Albany,_Ontario_(1898) tents

CarolineFort_Albany,_Ontario,_1886 Goodwin married James Hudson and had over 16+ children together.




Their 7th child was Mary Ann Hudson, granddaughter to Robert Goodwin, Cree Woman (wife #1) Mistigoose, John Hodgson, and Ann Mistigoose.

Mary Ann Hudson was also my third great grandmother (discovered in 2017).

So, not only were the First Nations women important to the support and expansion of Canada’s fur trade, these women also helped establish the population of our future Canada. Today, like me, Canadians are here because they have, knowingly or unknowingly, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit ancestry.

So when Rosanna Deerchild on CBC Radio welcomes listeners as “your favourite cousin”, indeed, some Canadians may truly be all cousins.

Next time you look at a Beaver on the Canadian nickel … remember who did all the work to make the fur trade a success in Canada.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

PS: Unfortunately, none of the people in these pictures are related to me.



How To Make Pemmican

We recommend trying HQ’s recipe as stated above, but if you’re looking for more precise instructions, we found this pemmican recipe by the University of Minnesota. This recipe makes 3.5 lbs.


  • 4 cups dried meat (only deer, moose, caribou, or beef)
  • 3 cups dried fruit (currents, dates, apricots, or apples)
  • 2 cups rendered fat (only beef fat)
  • 1 cup unsalted nuts (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of honey (optional)


  • Cookie sheet
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Kitchen knife


First, dry the meat by spreading it thinly on a cookie sheet. Dry at 180° overnight, or until crispy and sinewy.

With the mortar and pestle, grind the dried meat into a powder.

Add the dried fruit and grind accordingly, leaving some larger fruit chunks to help bind the mixture.

Cut the beef fat into chunks.

Heat the stove to medium, and cook the beef until it turns to tallow (rendered fat).

Stir the fat into the powdered meat and fruit mixture.

Add nuts and honey to improve taste (optional)

Shape pemmican into balls or bars for easy and quick consumption. We recommend wrapping individual servings in wax paper or storing in plastic bags.



Rosanna Deerchild

Robert Goodwin

John Hudgson

“She is Particularly Useful to Her Husband”: Strategic Marriages Between Hudson’s Bay Company Employees and Native Women –

Courageous Conversations: Indigenous Perspectives In The Classroom

Over the last year and a half I’ve had the privilege of co-moderating #tdsbEd – Twitter chats for TDSB Educators. It has become a community of teachers – well beyond our board – who are sharing their thoughts and ideas around trends in education in order to ensure student success, well-being and achievement. Throughout this time, I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing educators who have been guest moderators for our chats.

Courageous Conversations- Indigenous Perspectives In The Classroom

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Christina Saunders – a TDSB Indigenous Education Instructional Leader – on a chat entitled, Courageous Conversations: Indigenous Perspectives In The Classroom. Last Thursday we had our chat and it was refreshing to take time to both reflect on my own practice as well as be inspired to take specific actions to evolve in this area. Our chat had 7 questions that focused on Indigenous knowledge in the classroom as well as reflecting on our practice and learning spaces through checklists.

Treaties Recognition Week is coming up and we also took time to reflect on how we are unpacking the land acknowledgment with students. I must admit that I often found myself being able to recite the TDSB land acknowledgement but truly understanding the diversity of the Indigenous groups represented or even having an understanding of the Toronto Purchase, eluded me. If this is true for some of our educators, how much more so might this apply to our students? I decided to unpack it with my students by asking them to research the different groups of Indigenous Peoples, the Toronto Purchase and using Google My Maps, students had a chance to visualize the parcel of land referred to. This was an extremely beneficial learning opportunity for my students because they now have a deeper understanding of the peoples, the land and the agreements that set out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of Indigenous Peoples and the federal and provincial governments. If you are still looking for information on Treaties Recognition Week, please check out this amazing article written by Christina in ETFO Voice – Getting Ready for Treaties Recognition Week.

Land Acknowledgement (1)In my class this year, I’ve made it a goal to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are reflected in both my teaching and in our learning space. In the past I’ve struggled with months or days to celebrate a particular heritage or cultural group because I find that it leads to tokenism. While there is value in that celebration, I wonder how we might be able to go beyond and infuse this learning into our everyday experiences with students. I’m learning the importance of valuing inquiry as students start to investigate for themselves diverse experiences within Canada. Earlier this year, we read Jenny Kay Dupuis’  I AM NOT A NUMBER as we heard discussions around Orange Shirt Day and the experiences of Indigenous families and residential schools. Seeing my students question the actions of others based on ignorance and not respecting difference was invaluable. My hope is that this leads them to consider the way in which they treat others and ways in which they can become change makers to speak up when they see injustices.

Screenshot 2017-10-28 at 6.43.41 PM

One of the biggest takeaways from my chat was to ensure that I have contemporary representations of Indigenous Peoples in the reading materials that I introduce and that are a part of our classroom library. I’m learning to ensure that the stories told are being told by Indigenous Peoples rather than being told for them. I’m learning to take the time to do author studies to find out more about who is writing and the influences that impact and inform their writing. I have a long way yet to go but I think that beginning to have these courageous conversations is a step in the right direction.

If you are interested in finding out more about our chat on Courageous Conversations: Indigenous Perspectives In The Classroom, here is the archive.

…What I have Learned

Well, true to form, the trajectory of inquiry can never be predicted. And so it was that at the end of the couple of weeks of exploring What Happens in Winter, our students ended up quite aways beyond knowing that animals hibernate and plants die off when the weather gets colder. Following a visit from a teacher from the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, their understanding was now in the realm of recognizing how a wintery landscape not only makes animals adapt in different ways, but how it has also influenced the lives and culture of the Inuit.

The students touched sealskin, fox, and rabbit pelts; tried on an amauti (anorak), kamik (boots), and bone snow goggles; played a caribou skin drum; held seal knuckle bones which were used to create pictures during storytelling; and played Inuit games that involved strength and stability (hilarious wrestling games which they discovered are also easily played outside in the snowy school yard). Our KWL bulletin board filled up with sentence strips on which the students wrote about what they learned and liked about the visit; “I learned that sealskin is best for clothes and boots because it’s warm and waterproof.”; “I learned that Inuk live in houses not igloos.”; “I liked playing Inuit games.” At the art table, several chose to paint what they learned; “I learned how to play a drum – a man’s drum and a woman’s drum,” “I learned that fox don’t hibernate in the arctic – they change color,” and, “I learned how to tell a story using seal bones.”

In activities and centres we set up following the visit, we offered opportunities to draw on their learning.  In math, after discussing the best shape of rock to build an inukshuk, students were challenged to draw an inukshuk with more than 5 rectangles and then to tally the total number of rock rectangles they used. Later in the block centre, several students took the challenge further and built free-standing, life-sized inukshuk (which are usually not very tall). Another day during the week following the presentation, a group of students were tipping over chairs and using them as blinds while they were hunting seal and polar bear – it started to get very physical with running and squealing, so, for safety reasons,  the crew were redirected to the art table to make paper bag puppets of seals, polar bears, hunters and dog sleds. They were so excited to use the puppet theatre to act out their skit which we were later all invited to watch. Another provocation was posting the Inuktitut ‘alphabet’ on chart paper. Next to each symbol I wrote out the sound it represented. While some students recognized that there were several triangles in the alphabet, others attempted to find the syllables they could use to write their names.

Now when we are outside for our outdoor learning every day, I ask questions about the snow, the sky and clouds, and animals; “If we had to build a shelter, would this be good snow to use? Let’s find out.”; “What are the clouds telling us? What do you notice about the weather today? Is it different from yesterday?”; “Can you hear any animal sounds? Have you noticed any signs of animals?” (scat, tracks, birdsong, etc.)

The students are also now aware of the fact that, according to our local groundhog who got scared of his shadow, we are in for a few more weeks of winter. What does that mean for them? Now that they have learned a bit more about What Happens in Winter, and have explored how arctic animals and the Inuit have adapted and survived in a wintery land, my next challenge is to provide opportunities for them to show me what they will do with that knowledge. The big question is, what do I need to do to help my 5 year old students take the next step into stewardship and sustainability?