April 29, 2019 --
More than 100 students were giving all their attention to the Didoh Ne Drum Group. With a fully-engaged audience in front of him, lead vocalist Francois Prince snuck in a little message about the importance of education.
Prince mentioned that when he was a boy, he was taught a particular song by his dad. Prince then told the School District No. 57 students – gathered at UNBC's Canfor Theatre for the last part of an Aboriginal Youth Conference – that if they kept this song in their hearts, they would go a long way in life.
Prince and the other three members of the Didoh Ne Drum Group, from Nak'azdli Whuten territory in Fort St. James, then launched into the ABC Song. The surprise tune produced laughter and smiles among the Grade 7-10 students but they also recognized the message in the music.
"Education is a key," Prince said during an interview after the conference, held on Friday, April 26 and organized by School District No. 57's Aboriginal Education Department. "Education is a part of all of our lives. It's involved in our culture, it's part of every aspect of our existence. So when you invite a lot of First Nations into an education system, they bring the whole culture. It's just a given and it's a beautiful experience for everybody."
"Being able to drum and sing and (tell) stories I think is imperative to the youth in general, as a lot of the culture and celebration and a lot of our stories and legends are based around teachings to the youth," Prince added. "I think that really uplifts and unites the youth in their morals and values."
The conference – designed as a cultural celebration – was being held for the first time since 2015 and brought together students from Valemount and 14 Prince George schools. The theme of the day was "Empowering Our Youth."
A variety of guest speakers shared their wisdom with the students, each of whom had the opportunity to attend two workshops. One of the 11 speakers was Michael Antoine, a Carrier artist from Saik'uz territory (Stoney Creek).
"I got an excellent response from them," Antoine said of the students who signed up for his workshop. "There was a lot of interaction. I had the opportunity to have teachings behind the feather and making feathers that they could possibly give to an elder or to relatives or to someone loved. Or they could keep it for themselves. I got some teachings to them about the drum and what it represents, and taught them a song."
Antoine is part of a drum group called The Thundering Eagles. He's also a gifted carver of masks, rattles, paddles, bowls, plaques and totems. Painting is another one of his passions, and his work can be seen throughout B.C., the United States, England and Germany.
Drumming and art helped change Antoine's life for the better and one of his goals is to take everything he has learned and pass it along to new generations. He saw great value in the Empowering Our Youth conference.
"When I was younger I never had opportunities like this – to be involved in a university and see what was available here," said Antoine, who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction earlier in life. "I think for the kids it's something to look up to with all the staff that's here and all the people that we invited to the youth conference. They give a positive example – they're role models and that's what our kids need today, especially the First Nations ones."