Northern College Welcomes Residential School Survivor Discussion and Album, Poetry Launch
TIMMINS, ON: As a business man, Mike Metatawabin often travelled on planes. As a residential school survivor, he also wrote on them.
Typing into his phone, Metatawabin, a member of the Northern College Board of Governors, wrote a total of 90 poems about issues impacting him and other Indigenous peoples. Themes of homelessness, displacement, abuse, and the loneliness that has become an intrinsic part of Indigenous life, addictions and extraction from the land that heals permeate his writing.
In a small gathering at the Northern College Timmins Campus on Monday night, he presented them for the first time to the group in attendance.
“I had written them all down and then thought, now what? I didn’t know how to get them out there,” says Metatawabin about an important juncture in his journey of being a poet. “As Indigenous authors and artists, we are creators, but the world isn’t always ready to hear what we have to say.”
During this first reading, Metatawabin’s words made a palpable impact on those who attended. For Metatawabin the question of what to do with his writings began to take form when he met a Swiss German artist and musician named Manuel Menrath, who had come to Canada to conduct research in the Treaty 9 Territory as part of his work to create a visual sound project. During one of their meetings, Mike introduced Manuel to the body of work he had produced.
“After taking a glance at the poems, Manuel asked if he could use them – he was wanting to incorporate them into the project, and I agreed,” reflected Metatawabin.
It was after this interaction, that Songs of the Land was born.
A 48-minute interactive light and picture immersive experience, including newly created music and abstract art to complement the powerful spoken word, featuring Metatawabin’s own experiences as well as that of others he has encountered along life’s path.
Metatawabin’s poems are read over with the background music while interpretations of the land in this Northern clime flash before the audience, a concert of sorts, drawing the listener into an immersive experience that ensure the powerful message of lived experience hits home.
“We wanted it to resonate with both survivors and those who did not experience residential schools,” says Metatawabin of the completed work. “It is about truth being told in action.”
A discussion with survivors of residential schools, along with the children of those who had experienced the oppressive and grandchildren followed the initial presentation. The Mayor of Timmins, George Pirie, Dr. Audrey J. Penner, President of Northern College, and Trudy Wilson, the Manager of Indigenous Services, were also present and among those who took in this unique and powerful display of uncomfortable truths.
“As we move towards Truth and Reconciliation, we must find ways of entering into this dialogue that demonstrates the authentic care and respect so often denied the First Peoples of this land,” states Dr. Audrey J. Penner, President and CEO, who welcomed Metatawabin and the project to campus after the Orange Shirt Day event where Metatawabin had expressed an interest in partnering with Northern to deliver his powerful message.
“We all need to listen more, and this project was the perfect forum with which to introduce the conversation. We will do whatever we can to ensure the project and Mike are supported so that others can benefit from it, and it is our hope that all students have a chance to hear these words,” Penner added.
“We will continue to create spaces where the truth of our peoples will not only be told but be heard,” stated Trudy Wilson, Manager of Indigenous Services at Northern College. We have a long way to go and this is only the beginning of the telling but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Northern College plans to work with Metatawabin to introduce this story and presentation to students as part of their learning experience.
Kyle Gennings (he/him)
Marketing & Communications Officer
Marketing, Communications, and External Relations
P. 705-235-3211 ext. 2276