Rita Joe with short curly salt-and-pepper hair, glasses, and a patterned shirt.
Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe, C.M.

About this resource

Cree-Dene songwriter and educator Sherryl Sewepagaham describes the profound impacts of Canada's residential school systems on First Nations people and communities.

Beginning with Rita Joe's poem “I Lost My Talk” to address themes of loss and resilience, activities encourage students (spanning grades 4-12) to engage with the history and troubling legacy of residential schools, fostering empathy and understanding through poetry analysis, creative expression, and personal reflection.

Components include analyzing Joe's work, composing new poems and songs, and creating art projects informed by the resilience of survivors. This section is meant to build students' understanding of reconciliation and raise awareness about the enduring impacts of Canada's colonial past on Indigenous communities.

Author’s note

The traditional First Nations teachings and historical content contained in this document are representative of teachings obtained through various Cree elders, drum teachers, and family members. They do not represent all First Nations or Indigenous peoples throughout Canada. The teachings vary within families, communities, and nations, but share commonalities on a general level.

—Sherryl Sewepagaham

  • About the author

    Sherryl Sewepagaham is Cree-Dene from the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta and currently lives in Vancouver, BC with her 12-year old son. Sherryl holds a Bachelor of Education degree and has worked as a music teacher, teacher consultant, and children’s choir director. She also holds a Level III Orff-Schulwerk certification through Carl Orff Canada and was an invited clinician for two national Orff conferences.

    Sherryl is a co-founder of the Aboriginal women’s trio Asani, which received a 2006 Juno nomination. She released her debut solo album, Splashing the Water Loudly, in October 2014, which received a 2015 Indigenous Music Awards nomination for Best Indigenous Language or Francophone CD.

    She is a composer of children’s drum songs, education and arts resources, and documentaries. Sherryl continues to work in schools and health organizations presenting music and holistic workshops while pursuing a Bachelor of Music Therapy at Capilano University.

  • Credits and acknowledgements

    A special thank you to our Indigenous contributors and consultants: Andrew Balfour, Daniel Gervais, Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight, Amanda Lamote, Walter MacDonald White Bear, Emily Sewepagaham, and William Sewepagaham

    Cree Language and Cultural Advisors: William and Emily Sewepagaham (Little Red River Cree Nation)

    Additional editorial assistance and layout provided by Natasha Harwood, Geneviève Cimon, Corey Rempel, and Allyson Rogers at the National Arts Centre, and by Alison Kenny-Gardhouse at Connexionarts.

    © 2015 National Arts Centre