“Our voices are powerful”: Students at Tsuma’as elementary school prepare for Spring Fest | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

“Our voices are powerful”: Students at Tsuma’as elementary school prepare for Spring Fest

Port Alberni, BC

Every Thursday and Friday, for the last six weeks, students of Tsuma’as Elementary School have been gathering during lunch to learn and perform two songs for SD70’s and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal council’s Spring Festival.

The first class had roughly sixty students, and six weeks later there are around thirty students that attend the drumming and singing practice consistently, shared Jean Thomas, Nuu-chah-nulth Education Worker (NEW).  

She said that some students are so dedicated they will run directly from track practice in order to make it in time and will arrive out of breath. 

As the class prepared to drum their first song, The Equality Song, composed by Patrick Aleck of Stz'uminus First Nation and Penelakut Island, Martin Watts, lead singer and drummer, asked them, “We start without the drum because?” 

“Our voices are powerful,” responded the class. 

The entire class began singing together. 

When Watts asked for the “loud version,” their drums followed suit.

When Watts first heard this song, it was on a canoe journey when Aleck shared the meaning of the song; giving everyone an opportunity and remembering your voice is powerful, shared Watts.

“I felt that was a good message to give the kids,” said Watts. “Their voices are powerful.”

For the song, Moving Forward in a Good Way, both Watts and Thomas asked the composers Connie Sam and Melissa Gus for permission.

“How I see it is the kids are opening up their heart to our culture,” said Watts. “They've all grasped the song very well.”

During the practice, Watts shares teachings that accompany the songs such as “respecting yourself [and] respecting who you are as a person,” he said.

They’ve also talked about helping their grandparents and their family. 

When students began singing, Moving Forward in a Good Way, the sound of their voices and drums burst through the room as they sang loud and with pride.

“Wow,” said Thomas.

“That’s near perfect,” added Watts.

The practice then moved outside where the students could enjoy the sun. 

“Of all the times I’ve done Spring Fest, I’ve never seen any students as excited as I have at this one,” said Thomas.

Spring Fest usually is held every two years, but because of the pandemic the 2023 Spring Fest will be the first in four years, said Thomas.

“I think this is the most exciting one for us,” said Thomas.“We're going to have a lot of students there.”

Thomas chose Lily and Violet Evans, two kindergarten students, to drum next to Watts on the day of the performance. 

The twins learned the song swiftly and can keep up to Watts’ drumming, said Thomas.

“You listen to the kids… how strong [and] how well they're singing; it's amazing,” said Watts.

Spring Fest was held at Alberni District Secondary School on May 18, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

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