Immigrant youth learn Indigenous culture through music - New Canadian Media
Newcomers learn about Indigenous drumming during a session with the Vancouver Youth Choir Kindred. Photo: Submitted

Immigrant youth learn Indigenous culture through music

The free program for runs for six weeks beginning in March.

A Vancouver-based youth choir is connecting newcomers to the country by teaching them about Indigenous music and culture.

The group, Vancouver Youth Choir Kindred, is offering a free six-week program beginning next month to anyone new to Canada aged 14 to 22.

Molly Bushell, the choir’s VYC Kindred project manager, said moving to a new country can be a daunting experience, especially for young people because cultural and language barriers can make it hard to relate to others. 

“Through VYC Kindred, we hope that we can provide newcomers a space that makes them feel welcome, and encourages them to build deepened connections with each other and the Indigenous community,” she said.

Since Indigenous music is taught through oral tradition, passed on by singing or playing rather than noted scores, choir members don’t need verbal and written English.

“Indigenous drumming is also part of the teachings through Kindred, and participants learn the basics of rhythms in music by copying the instructor and keeping beat,” she said.

During the past three sessions, at least 125 youth who are new to Canada and from various backgrounds have been guided and mentored by Indigenous music instructor and composer Deanna Gestrin and musician Russell Wallace, said Bushell.

Gestrin said the program teaches newcomers not only to help make cross-cultural connections but also to break down barriers by sharing their own cultures and stories, making new connections and finding a place to belong.

Bushell said newcomer youth are not typically exposed to Indigenous culture when they arrive in Canada. For most of the participants, it will be the first time they hear in detail about Indigenous culture. 

According to the 2021 Census, there were 1.8 million Indigenous people, representing five percent of the total Canadian population.

Newcomers often rely on stereotypes about Indigenous people because they lack information. During citizenship, they struggle with unfamiliar topics.

According to recent research, one in five Canadians is a first-generation immigrant who has little understanding or doesn’t know as much as other Canadians about indigenous history, culture, and the reconciliation process because they have not been socialized in Canada. Second and third-generation immigrants know more about Indigenous history, especially Residential Schools.

 The VYC Kindred program aims to bridge that gap by using music and performances to foster a connection between newcomers and the Indigenous community.

Said Bushell: “Many of the singers reflected that there were things they had learned in Kindred about the Indigenous culture that were reflected in their own cultures and the values of their families and communities, which I thought was a beautiful and important realization.”


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Diary Marif is an Iraqi Kurdish journalist based in Vancouver, Canada. His writing has appeared in the Awene weekly, Livin, and on KNNC TV as a documentary researcher by the name Diary Khalid. Diary earned a master's degree in History from Pune University, in India, in 2013. He moved to Vancouver in 2017, where he has been focusing on nonfiction writing. He can be found on Twitter: @diary_khalid.

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