First Nations Songs For the Classroom

As we entered the room on this clear, mild January morning we were welcomed into a circle of seats, creating a warm sense of openness and calm. After acknowledging the peoples on whose traditional territories we were on, Sherryl sang us a welcoming song in which we had to face East, then South, then West and North back to East. The power of Sherryl’s high-reaching voice and the drum beating like the heart beat of Mother Nature had us all ready and keen to learn songs from the First Nations, embracing what the songs mean to people of the nations that they come from.

In the morning we were introduced to songs of chant, songs of praise, songs with drums, and songs with Orff instruments. The songs consisted of words the Cree, Blackfoot and Dene languages as well as English and French. Sherryl taught us all the songs with superb effectiveness through the oral tradition of echoing, welcoming us to record the songs on our devices to accompany the transcriptions included in the handouts, giving us all the freedom to take the songs away and be able to pass them on through our own teachings. Find a link to the lesson plan for “Music Alive” here.

The afternoon’s activities varied wonderfully, keeping us all fully engaged right to the end. A song about water, with ocean drums and people moving with blue scarves to resemble ocean waves, was one of those unique moments in which we were all involved and looked around after with expressions to say “wasn’t that beautiful?” Versions of familiar songs such as ‘Old MacDonald’ incorporating Metis words got us all thinking about how our teachings of First Nations songs can reach out across to Language Arts and other curricula. A song-based stick passing game at the end of the day rounded things off perfectly, making us all feel ready to take what we’d learned today back to our classrooms and provide all our grade levels with joyful musical learning. Find a link to the travelling stick game here.

Many people came today with the key motivation of discovering Aboriginal content that we can use in our classrooms and meet some of the demands of our new provincial curriculum. However, we all came away with way more than just that. Besides being enlightened from delving into Aboriginal perspectives and learning the songs, language and culture of many First Nations, we have furthered our abilities as practicing Orff teachers and discovered ways, as encouraged by our school system, to connect with other subject curricula, but with an Aboriginal Education focus. I cannot wait for it all to be passed onto our students!

Adrian Clift
Music Specialist
Seaforth Elementary – Burnaby