A project taken on by students about a current issue will be performed live later this spring and is already gaining a following on the internet.
“The Highway,” written and performed by eight students at ‘Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo School in Kitsumkalum, honours the missing and murdered women and men along Hwy 16, also known as the Highway of Tears.
The eight students were given one week to choose a topic of interest to them, preferably a local issue, and write a song and video about it late last year with Colleen Austin, principal of ‘Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo School.
“The topic of missing and murdered indigenous women and men was chosen by the students after they brainstormed about concerns they had,” said Austin.
“Some of the students are related to Lana Derrick so this topic touched them deeply.”
Derrick was a student at Northwest Community College and was 19 when she disappeared in 1995. No trace has ever been found. Eighteen women are included in a BC RCMP list of those missing or murdered along the highway since 1969.
“I thought it was very courageous of them to tackle that and questioned how emotional the journey of the video release might be for everyone,” said Austin.
The idea of a storyline video which includes an abduction, was decided by the students, who were determined to get their message out, she added.
And the resulting video, although difficult to watch, does bring the reality of the truth to light, said Austin.
Students wrote the lyrics in sections, then recorded them.
“They were specific about what they wrote and often shared very deep concerns they have for themselves and others,” said Austin, adding students referred to their Sm’algyax language classes they have with Austin and used it to express their desire for hope to prevail.
The students also learned how to use technology to empower themselves, she said.
They have grown in confidence, collaborating with each other and becoming more committed as advocates of issues of critical importance to them, said Austin.
“I had N’we Jinan, a non-profit organization from Montreal, produce the song and video with the students,” said Austin.
The video debuted Jan. 23 during a candlelight vigil and live performance at the Kitsumkalum Hall.
Afterward, the students were studying and writing exams, as well as fielding questions from media, said Austin.
They received congratulatory letters from the former Prime Minister Paul Martin, BC Premier Christy Clark and First Nations Schools Association president Pam Lewis and more than 100 emails congratulating them.
The students will perform “The Highway” live at the First Nations Schools Association Conference and AGM at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on April 21 in Vancouver. To raise money for activities while in Vancouver, DVDs of the video are on sale at the school’s office in Kitsumkalum.
The link to the video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG_9d260YeI.