The opportunity to share Indigenous culture through song and dance is returning after being sidelined for two years.
The Indigenous Ensemble, a division-wide extracurricular program designed to support youth through involvement in music, song, dance, storytelling, and traditional arts, will be reinvigorated for the remainder of the school year in preparation for its full return in 2022-23.
"Getting a chance to come back after the pandemic, it will be good to get some cultural programming active," said Don Speidel, cultural resource liaison with Saskatoon Public Schools. "That's the most significant part — Indigenous kids are starved for Indigenous-centred programming."
Resuming the program before the end of the current school year provides n opportunity to welcome back students who may have been previously involved, as well as those who are new to the program.
"The ensemble is an access point — a starting point — in trying to provide culturally responsive, culturally relevant, competent opportunities for Indigenous students and families," Speidel said.
"We want to restore it back to where it was. We had 85 kids before the pandemic and people have missed this program. We are looking at high school kids, Grade 9 to 12, but in the past we have taken some Grade 7 and Grade 8 students who are keen toward Indigenous arts and culture."
The ensemble's first performance in more than two years will be a June 2 assembly for students at Sylvia Fedoruk School. That evening, the public can attend a 6:30 p.m. performance at the amphitheatre in the Evergreen neighbourhood's village square. Given the limited preparation time, the public performance will be smaller scale than the ensemble's previous productions.
The absence of the opportunities provided by the ensemble and the ability to build connections with students has been felt by all involved, according to Speidel. Families are expressing their interest in the program's restart and sharing their belief in how ensemble plays an important role in supporting their child's learning and creating a connection to school.
"Everybody is hungry. We have waited two years," he said. "There is an urgency that way and I think it is just to build for the fall, or whenever we decide to have our next school season, so we are on the radar."
Speidel said in years past, the ensemble's program mentors and instructors have supported and built significant connections with 70-some students during their four years in high school. Some of those connections among staff and students were able to be maintained during the past two years, but the program's absence has been felt.
"Nobody understands the importance of this unless they can see how it transforms kids," Speidel said, adding that for some students the ensemble provides purpose and needed encouragement that allows them to engage with learning and school through to graduation.
"It's about supporting kids; it's their team. This is one small effort to say, 'here's something that you can belong to, here's something you can identify with, here's something that can build confidence.'
"We are working with young people not just to get ready to dance but building character."
For more information about the Indigenous Ensemble visit www.saskatoonpublicschools.ca/ensemble, call (306) 683-8317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.