Residential school survivor sharing his experience through poetry

Fort Albany member Mike Metatawabin never imagined his poetry would be heard and read by people overseas.

A former chief and residential school survivor, Metatawabin has teamed up with Swiss musician and author Manuel Menrath for a spoken word project called Songs of the Land.

The project consists of nine poems written by Metatawabin which are set to music by Menrath and Simon Ambühl. The music was recorded in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland.

“I went to Toronto to record my voice. After that, they laid out the tracks, ”he said.

On Monday evening, Metatawabin presented a video of the songs to a small group of people gathered at Northern College.

The video was accompanied by various visuals and lyrics in German, Italian and Romansh.

It was the first time that Metatawabin, who started writing poetry over a decade ago, had participated in a creative project like this. He said he was moved when he first heard the music of his poetry.

“I never imagined it would be international. I just wrote down what I felt, what I experienced and what I experienced, ”he said.

The poems provide insight into Metatawabin’s life course, the people he met and the issues facing First Nations communities.

In his poems, he spoke of the Sainte-Anne residential school, land use planning, drug addiction, the lack of justice towards Indigenous peoples, and the need to preserve and impart knowledge to young people.

Metatawabin said he wanted his poems to inspire and educate people.

A live performance of Metatawabin’s poetry accompanied by music took place at the Chur Theater in Switzerland in September.

“It was a theatrical production. There it was kind of like a 3D production that had a more visual effect, ”said Metatawabin.

Metatawabin, who originally planned to travel to Switzerland to perform in person, said all five shows were sold out. He was unable to register due to travel restrictions.

“I made the presentations by Zoom. I made them from home, ”he said.

Metatawabin met Menrath three years ago when he was in Canada doing research for his book on Treaty 9. The book is called Under the Northern Lights or Unter dem Nordlicht: Indianer aus Kanada erzählen von ihrem Land in German .

Metatawabin helped Menrath choose people to talk to for his book.

“As we got to know each other well, I started showing him some of my writing. When he read the poetry, he said the music came out of it, ”said Metatawabin. “I didn’t expect it to turn out this way. Manuel and his friends did a good job, I’m very happy.

Out of more than 50 poems written by Metatawabin, Menrath chose nine.

“It has always been a concern for me not to talk about indigenous peoples but with indigenous peoples and, above all, to listen to them tell the truth,” Menrath said in a statement. “This is why this project, in which an indigenous representative speaks his own poems and tells his life story, is so important to me.

Mayor George Pirie and Northern College President Audrey Penner were on site Monday.

After the event, Penner said she found the presentation very powerful and moving.

“It told the story in a way that had to be told, but yet it brought light out of the darkness. Hearing a story, which is a dark story, but brought with a sense of hope was very powerful, ”said Penner. “The music was almost hypnotic.

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