The International Year of Indigenous Languages is a United Nations observance in 2019 to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous Languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation.
To bring awareness to this important cause, students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, Cape Breton recorded Paul McCartney’s Blackbird in their native Mi’kmaq language with the help of the Eskasoni School Board’s Mi’kmaq Language and Culture Consultant Katani Julian. The song quickly went viral, shining a light on issues with the preservation of Indigenous languages across the world, and also shining a light on the talents of Emma Stevens and the other students in the music and multimedia programs.
The project drew the attention of the United Nations, who invited Emma Stevens for a performance and to speak at the UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. In her speech, Emma brought attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the Red Dress movement before singing the Mi’kmaq Honor song. She also spoke about the rapid loss of language in Indigenous communities, and how we must act now to preserve the Mi’kmaq language.
The Blackbird cover also drew the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who shared the project on social media, and of news outlets across the nation. Her story has been to date one of the most virally shared news-stories in Canada this year. Most notably, Sir Paul McCartney himself gave recognition to the project; who after praising Emma’s cover during a live performance, has extended an invitation to Emma to come to a performance in Vancouver on July 6 with special VIP tickets including a meeting with the man himself.
When asked her thoughts on the recognition from Sir Paul McCartney, Emma kept it short and sweet, “It’s cool”, she said as she gave two thumbs up. Carter Chiasson, ABMHS music teacher, who plays guitar on the track had a bit more to say about the shoutout; “It’s crazy. I am such a huge, huge fan of The Beatles and now Paul McCartney has heard me play the guitar.”
Emma’s favorite part of how big this project has gotten has been the traveling, “Kenya was lots of fun, I got to learn a lot. My favorite part would have to be when we went to the giraffe sanctuary. It’s really cool being able to sing in so many different places and to know people are actually listening and hearing our language”. With this project gaining so much steam, bookings are coming in from all over from people looking for Emma to speak and perform at events, next up is a Canada Day event in Ottawa, ON, which will be her second performance there in as many weeks. She recently received confirmation about a performance at the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru later this month. Emma will be one of a dozen or so indigenous youth going to represent Canada, but she will be the only one of them representing Canada as a non-athlete.
Aside from the many performances coming up in the near future, Emma is looking forward to recording more songs, especially more original songs. Plans are currently in the works for ABMHS to record another song and video project. We are looking forward to seeing and hearing all the great things ahead for Emma and everyone else in the ABMHS music and multimedia programs!