CIRCLE brings indigenous culture, language and music together

CIRCLE works with indigenous communities and researchers to preserve Aboriginal and Canadian culture. Elder Paul Skanks is shown here at Carleton’s Aboriginal Awareness Week in January.

Culture, language and music are crucial elements of a community’s development and self-identity, and they all have a home at Carleton’s Centre for Indigenous Research, Culture, Language and Education.

“By bringing music, language and culture together through CIRCLE, we can explore and preserve our identities and understand Canadian history better,” says Elaine Keillor, CIRCLE’s co-director.

“When trying to understand identities, historians tend to shy away from music and its expressions because they feel you need to have a special background in order to deal with it but this leaves out a big part of who we are.”

Created in 2003, CIRCLE works closely with indigenous communities and researchers to preserve Aboriginal and Canadian culture through the use of stories and customs. In an effort to broaden its reach, it started incorporating more use of the Internet.

A recent project called On the Path of the Elders, is a series of six online games that aim to strengthen the identities and self-respect of First Nations youth by focusing on elements of strong communities; cultural facilities, self-governance, land claims, education, health and police/fire services. In the games, youth take on the role of community elders and gain first-hand experience about decision-making and its consequences. The idea is to encourage young people to assume leadership roles in their communities.

“There is a disconnect between elders and youth created largely during the residential school era,” says John Kelly,

a journalism professor who co-chairs CIRCLE with Keillor. “That’s been one of the most disruptive and destructive elements to Aboriginal people; the continuity of culture got cut off.”

CIRCLE has developed two websites — and — which highlight instruments, songs and dances through essays, photos and video interviews. Funded by Canadian Heritage, the websites include educational kits for use in native studies or music curricula at elementary and secondary schools.

It is also working on the public release of the musical collection of Canadian folk singer and former CBC radio host, Tom Kines. Amanda Crespo, a second-year master’s music student, is assisting CIRCLE in digitizing the material, which covers a 30-year period.

“We try to bring to the attention of Canadians, and the world at large, the contributions that Canadians of all backgrounds have made, particularly in audio heritage,” says Keillor, a music professor at the School for Studies in Art and Culture.

“This is Canada’s roots,” adds Kelly.

“Sometimes it seems easier to raise money for Aboriginal programs because that’s in the public eye, but I think that unless this material is brought to the public as something that unifies all Canadians of every ethnic background, the loss would be tremendous.”

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