“It’s dark in this community and we came together to share our thoughts on these situations. This is the voice of our youth. Welcome to Cross Lake.”
Back in March, the Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba declared a state of emergency after seeing six suicides in the community within two months and 140 attempts within two weeks prior.
While the community sought out help from the provincial and federal governments, a group of artists from across Manitoba took it upon themselves to intervene in the best way they knew how – by sharing their gifts with the local Pimicikamak Cree Nation youth, and empowering them to explore and use gifts of their own.
“It was all forms, from painting to writing, recording, performing and dance to video art,” said Leonard Sumner, who helped pool together funds along with the other artists to get to Cross Lake as urgently as possible. “We went on their spring break and got the word out. Young people showed up and we all started working together on ideas.”
Leonard did lyrics and recording workshops with Charlie Fettah of Winnipeg's Most and collaborated with Erica Daniels and her film workshop kids in creating a music video. The whole team of artists played a vital role in the project, including Wab Kinew who helped workshop the youth on their second day in the studio that they had set up in a classroom.“We helped them from start to finish. Some were ready to go, some were a little shy. Everyone was supportive of each other and they applauded and encouraged dope lines from each other. There was a creative energy in the room that enveloped everyone who came through.”
“It was really cool because we picked the 'Pitch Black' beat, which was done by Boogey [the Beat] and then me and Leonard started some of the writing and they seemed pretty receptive to the understanding of song structure”, said Charlie, who along with Leonard, oversaw the work the youth came up with on their own and then guided them through the process of creating the song and shooting the music video in a span of only 2 days.
“They did a really good fucking job! It's dark, but that’s where they were in their heads and wanted to express themselves like that. It was really their own creation. Me and Leonard started with the hook and kind of showed them how to make it catchier, to make it something people can remember, and they kind of took that and ran with it.”
“One of the artists explained to me that in the past year he had lost three of this family and two really good friends to suicide, and I was completely floored," says Charlie, who remains in contact with the group. "Even now I keep up with them on Facebook and they consistently hit me up and let me know they’re writing more, even the ones who didn’t have much experience writing before. It’s good because now they have a better way to deal with those feelings. So it was really inspiring to see them through that.”
“We really have seen a lot of change in the youth. They’ve been continuing writing music for themselves,"says Kendall, a youth counsellor in Cross Lake who facilitated the workshops at the community school. "The group that made Pitch Black have all been working together and they’re still doing that now. The experience they had really helped them express their feelings through music. There are other youth that didn’t come out that saw the video and thought 'Hey, I could do this!’ so it’s just getting them out there, and getting them more involved in the community and music."
“The arts are empowering. We don’t need any more victims, we need to build upon their resilience and strengthen our identities. Arts can play a big role in that,” said Leonard.
“I believe projects like this are key in helping our youth. Multimedia gives them the opportunity to express themselves in a creative and artistic way," said Erica. "I have been doing this work for many years and I have seen many youth change their lives around and grow as strong individuals. This work is so important and I wish there were music and film programs in each community because I know that it can help young people heal. I can tell the youth are so proud of their song and video and I feel that it has inspired them to be leaders in their community and keep working hard to have their voices heard.”
See what happens when creative minds come together to give voice for a community in hardship.
This is "Pitch Black" featuring Jonny Jesus, Skinny-Gee, Errol Mckay, Tyrese CJ Scott, Chrisduut Bailey, Brent Fruit Loops Richards and ViciouZKidd: