• Christy | the Practice Pro

#50 Teaching diversity to your children and with music

Updated: Oct 6



By Christy | The Practicing Pro

www.ScotiaSuzuki.org

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This week marks the first of a new Canadian national holiday - National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.


Both the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day take place on September 30th.

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day to recognize and raise awareness surrounding the history of the residential school system and to honour its victims. The reason an orange shirt was chosen is a nod to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. On her first day attending a residential school, she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was promptly taken from her. The orange shirt is now symbolic of cultural genocide and the confiscation of freedom, self-esteem, and respect experienced by Indigenous people over generations.

On September 30th, Canadians are encouraged to wear orange to raise awareness of the tragic impact the infamous residential school program inflicted on the Indigenous population and to honor its thousands of victims.

This is an important day for remembrance and reconciliation.


What are some ways that you can show respect, on this important holiday, with your students/children?


You can find the time for quiet reflection and to learn more about Indigenous traditions and cultures. For instance, you could visit the library and borrow books on Indigenous topics, or purchase children’s books from a bookstore or online that are written and/or illustrated by local Indigenous authors and artists. You can also participate in your local National Day for Truth and Reconciliation community events.


Check it out:

An amazing resource for learning about the Indigenous culture with your family is on YOUTUBE - Tribal Trade Co


I have a few to share with you today from Jenny Eaglespeak.

I met Jenny at a Pow wow and fell in love with her books! She has written quite a few. She told me one reason she wrote them was that she wanted boys to have books that showed other boys with long hair.



As a school, a few years ago, we were introduced to some very special Indigenous songs from Brian Knockwooda Mi’kmaq singer from the drum circle Eastern Eagles, here in Nova Scotia. We spent the entire year learning them. When we purchased our own school pow wow drum, which Brian taught us to play, he came to our school to perform a smudging of our new drum. He taught us how to store it and care for it properly when to use it and how. We shared our new Mi’kmaq songs at a concert where Jaci Silliboy came and danced. It was an amazing year.



When children learn traditional music and dance from people that are knowledgeable and passionate about their cultures, it changes them. They see and understand what makes others unique and special. They participate in learning something that they haven’t experienced in their own culture. They learn why they are important to someone else. They see and experience that differences in people are interesting and something to be curious about, rather than a reason to be afraid of them. This is monumental!


If your child/student is exposed to cultural differences at a young age, they will grow up much more accepting of other people’s differences.


A few years ago, we had an Indigenous fancy shawl and hoop dancer come to our school, Samantha Lewis, from Prince Edward Island, and teach for a week. Mark and I made over 80 hoops for the workshops and we helped make 30 fancy shawls. It took most of our summer to make them but it was worth it.



Over 75 children learned Indigenous dance that would otherwise not have been able to have this experience. Moving forward, if they attend a Pow Wow, these children will now understand how hard these two dances are, and will also understand how sacred and important they are from Sam’s amazing classes and the time she gave and shared to them so that they could learn. They will also hopefully be curious and comfortable to keep learning more. By knowing the foundations of the dances and the stories behind them, these children will be much more inclined to respond respectfully and positively.





A download to share with your children/students about Hoopdancing.

About Hoopdancing 

Make an “Indigenous teachings” craft that you can make and use for your review songs at your practice on September 30th, or any day in the year. Learn and talk about the 7 Grandfather teachings.


This is in the next post coming up.


Like traditional stories, traditional music is also usually taught orally to the next generation, rather than through written verse or sheet music. Because of this, traditional music and dance can be learned at festivals or special events. Try to always include learning about other cultures whenever you travel, and base your traveling around festivals and events that include multicultural workshops.


Try dining in restaurants that showcase food from different cultures. While you are there, you will likely hear music playing or see art on the walls from that culture. Teaching your children while they are young to try and experience different flavors and spices in their food also helps them to be open and accepting. This mindset will better prepare them later on in life to seek out playing music and learning dances from different cultures.


Holidays are a fun time to take part in cultural traditions different from your own, such as learning songs significant for the time of year. You might find yourself saying “this is a holiday our family doesn’t celebrate, I think it’s fun and important to learn about other cultural traditions. Let’s add something new this year!”

(Note: Make sure you also make an effort to learn about other cultures at all times of the year though. This will help children see that other cultures are always around them, not just something they learn about during holidays.)



Both as a teacher and a parent, you will encounter a wide variety of diversity amongst the children and families you encounter - be it language, cul­ture, abilities, socioeconomic status, or developmental levels. Pave the way for respect and acceptance in your children by modeling empathy and displaying enthusiasm for diversity every day. Put your time, money, and energy into seeking out cultural experiences.


With support from you and the other adults in their lives, all young learners can help each other feel proud, accepted, and valued.


Here are TEN things you can do to teach your child/ students to be more open and accepting of other cultures and people’s differences:

  1. Read books that are set in different countries and cultures.

  2. Eat in restaurants from various cultures and lead by example by trying different foods.

  3. Listen to music from all over the world in your home, not just the same artists and styles of music.

  4. Attend festivals and events that showcase traditional music and watch for special guests coming in from different cultures and countries. When you have experiences of other cultures, say things like: “Wow, that is so interesting!”, “I am really glad to learn about that,” “I really like that tradition,” or “Our family does things differently from yours, but isn’t it great that there are so many different ways families can show that they love each other?”

  5. If you live near a university, check to see if they have any international student clubs. They will often put on cultural events open to the public. When my children were growing up our local university had and Chinese new years dinner each year with a variety show. We also went to some African dance workshops and an Indian dinner with Indian dance. After the dinner, I was able to make friends with one of the dancers and she ended up eventually teaching my daughter ballet lessons for two years as well as a traditional dance from her home. When she graduated she presented to us her traditional dress for the dance she had taught my daughter as a gift. It was life-changing for her. It was no surprise to me when my daughter grew up and went to university - she auditioned for and danced her whole degree in a Traditional Folk Dance performance group. One Spring she traveled with the group from school to school teaching children dances from all over the world.

  6. Make friends, talk to everyone, sit next to people that are different from you, and introduce yourself. One summer day we were in the front yard working in the flower garden and a young girl was walking down the street in front of our house. We greeted her by saying “Hello” and her whole face lit up. She came over to say hello to the children. She had beautiful braids in her hair and she noticed my older daughter admiring them. She offered to come over and braid her hair for her some time. I invited her from breakfast in her PJs the next morning for a Canada Day breakfast feast that we had planned. She was delighted and a wonderful friendship developed. She was at the university in our town and had just arrived from Tanzania. She hadn't met anyone yet and she was delighted we had said hi. We learned she had 27 brothers and sisters and that her Dad had 7 wives. She made us some wonderful food over that summer and we learned a lot of things like all about the bugs they have in Tanzania. She was lovely and we were grateful to have had her for a summer friend.

  7. Lead by example and change your language in everyday conversation to make a point to acknowledge and appreciate other cultures. That’s cool! I never knew that before!” “I like the way you do that.” “Can you tell me more about that?”

  8. Talk openly about how wonderful it is that people are so different but equal. Point out that sometimes people treat other people badly or differently because of their looks, the color of their skin, their cultural beliefs, or their gender. Share with children that this is unfair and is not how people should treat one another.

  9. Learn to play music from diverse composers from different countries as extra projects. Make sure you bring in experts from different cultures. Don’t learn on youtube or by purchasing books but go to the source. Employ and invite someone from the cultures you want to learn about from them directly whenever you can. Make it a priority in your budget and plan for this.

Example for Christmas String Orchestra: Holidays Extraordinaire - by Deborah Baker & Janice

McAllister, are winter holiday songs including songs from a variety of traditions, practices, and religions.

  1. Host performances and workshops from guests at your school that teach music from other countries. Make an effort to learn the music and finish off the year by performing them together.


One of the things we do every year at our school is to focus on a cultural project. Sometimes we spend two years and make it an even bigger project. This was the case the year we learned a few Gaelic songs from a teacher who came to our school twice a month for a year. We sang them until we perfected them, and then kept singing them the year after that. We sang them so much so that the children remembered them for years to come. This was really important to me. At the end of the two years, we flew in Mary Jane Lammond from Toronto to do a big school presentation. It was moving, powerful and an experience the children will surely remember forever!


It was a similar experience when our school learned about Indigenous music from Brian Knockwood. Many people in the audience were moved to tears during the final performance, as the children’s love for the songs they were singing was apparent. This project took almost two years, but now these children have these songs “inside of them” and can share them with their children one day.


Here is a link to watch our Indigenous presentation. Please watch, enjoy and remember the many Indigenous children who fell victim to the Canadian residential school program.


Please watch it to the end, as there is a message from Sasha, one of the Nova Scotia Youth Ambassadors, to conclude the presentation.



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