MONASTERY: Mi’kmaq songwriter George Paul’s most famous spiritual song has been given a local reprise by a group of elementary students.
“He is a very inspirational man and we believe his legacy should carry on,” Buffy MacNeil, First Nation student success teacher told The Reporter. “Last month was Mi’kmaq history month, so we tried to come up with an idea for what we could do in celebrating that.”
After the equity team mentioned playing Paul’s “Honour Song” everyday during the month, talking back-and-forth, MacNeil suggested the students should record their own version.
“I thought it would be a very positive thing to do – for them to experience being in a studio and hearing themselves on a record,” she said. “The kids practiced extremely hard for a few weeks and we recorded it two-weeks-ago.”
The initiative saw approximately 30 youth from Antigonish East Education Centre, mostly students in Grades 4-6, come together, go over the words and learn the language together.
MacNeil, who has been a musician her whole life and has produced her own records, said she noticed the kids were really into music and took the lead on the “Honour Song” project to do something positive and inspiring.
With assistance from the music teacher who offered her space and the Mi’kmaq language teacher who helped with pronunciation, MacNeil then contacted Paul who gave her his blessing and thought it was a really good idea.
After making a quick call to a studio she worked with in her professional life, everything was a go.
“I’m so proud of all of them, they worked really hard on this,” MacNeil said. “They were all so involved. We had students playing the hand drum, I thought that was pretty cool, and the older students that were in Grade 8 volunteered to do this with a lot of elementary students.”
The origin of the “Honour Song” comes from a personal moment Paul had at a gathering of Indigenous communities in Regina back in 1980 when he was watching representatives from different First Nations dancing and singing. It struck him that the Mi’kmaq didn’t have a song of their own.
The “Honour Song’ came to Paul while he was taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony and is about honouring who people truly are, which brings about respect, dignity and identity for the people.
Because of Paul’s dedication to revive traditional songs and gatherings in the Maritimes, the song has become the national anthem of the Mi’kmaw Nation and is now being used to teach elementary school students about culture and traditions.
Three-years-ago, every elementary school music class in the province was provided a Mi’kmaq hand drum so teachers could share the song with students.
“It’s a very famous song within the First Nation community,” MacNeil said. “It talks about honouring yourself, honouring your heritage, honouring each other, respecting the earth and what it has to offer.”
Accompanied by the steady beat of a drum, the “Honour Song” is shared at powwows, sporting events, and family gatherings.
The lyrics in English translate to “Let us greatly respect our being L’nu. My people let us gather. Let us greatly respect our native roots. My people let us help one another. Let up help one another as creator intended when he put us on earth.”