Saskatoon high school students use coding to remix Indigenous music, learn about history, reconciliation

Around 100 Saskatoon high school students participated in the 'Your Voice is Power' Hackathon. They learned to remix music from Indigenous Artists using coding.  (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)
Around 100 Saskatoon high school students participated in the 'Your Voice is Power' Hackathon. They learned to remix music from Indigenous Artists using coding. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)

A unique computer science event used coding and music from Indigenous artists to teach Saskatoon high school students about First Nations culture and reconciliation.

Approx. 100 students from St. Joseph and Bethlehem Catholic high schools participated in the Your Voice Is Power Hackathon at the University of Saskatchewan on Friday, and remixed songs from Indigenous artists using coding applications and participated in discussions about Indigenous experiences.

Joice Bear, a grade 11 student at Bethlehem Catholic High School, came to the event to further his coding skills and learn how to make his own beats — but listening to Indigenous artists also allowed him to reflect on his own heritage.

"It made me think about what my family has gone through," Bear said.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Jasmyn Albert, one of the hackathon organizers and an Indigenous educator with ITGlobal, hopes the event encourages more students from diverse backgrounds to explore computer science.

"The hope is that they hear the songs,they hear the stories and it kind of lights this spark inside them and helps them see what opportunities are out there," Albert said.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

A 2020 report from the Conference Board of Canada estimated that fewer than two per cent of people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations are Indigenous, according to a press release from Your Voice Is Power.

Other Your Voice Is Power events, which are an initiative from Amazon Future Engineer Canada, are also taking place across the country.

Messages of reconciliation in the music 

Dakota Bear, a Saskatoon-born and Vancouver-based Indigenous hip-hop artist and activist, helped run the event. His song "Freedom" was included in the Your Voice Is Power curriculum.

Bear performed at the Hackathon and talked about the challenges Indigenous people face in Canada. He said his music aims to empower youth and spread awareness around the importance of reconciliation.

"My music is a vehicle for me to drive a message of inspiration to uplift youth, especially Indigenous youth, and also to spread awareness around the social injustices and issues we face as Indigenous people," Bear said on Saskatoon Morning.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Josh Weimer, a St. Joseph student, says it's important to learn about reconciliation outside of the classroom.

"Sometimes we learn about it in school, but I think it needs to be stressed a little more on how important it is to learn about that stuff and how important it is that history doesn't repeat itself and we include everyone," Weimer said.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Albert said it's important for youth of all backgrounds to hear about the experience that Indigenous people have had in Canada.

"Those different traumas that we've experienced as Indigenous people, a lot of young people and even adults haven't had that opportunity to hear about that," Albert said.

Albert said a highlight of the event was hearing Dakota speak about how he is thriving after overcoming addictions.

"It's really awesome to see an Indigenous person that has been through things come out the other end in such a good way, and inspire youth so they understand that their traumas don't have to be the end of the road."