“Apiksiktuaqn” includes musicians from the NAC Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, and acclaimed Eskasoni artists Ursula Johnson and Richard Poulette

OTTAWA, February 27, 2019 — More than 200 students from across Cape Breton, musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia, and the acclaimed Mi’kmaw artists Richard Poulette and Ursula Johnson, who are from Eskasoni, will gather on the Eskasoni First Nation on Monday March 11 to make music and art in a day about forgiveness and healing.

Taking place at Allison Bernard Memorial High School, the day’s theme is Apiksiktuaqn, a Mi’kmaw word for forgiveness and healing. The day will begin with music and arts workshops in the morning, followed by a special performance in the afternoon. Music students will work with NAC Orchestra Music Director Alexander Shelley and musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia to prepare and perform “Forgiveness,” a song by the Eskasoni duo Morningstar – the late Pi’kun Poulette and Richard Poulette – that won an East Coast Music Award. The song is about Pi’kun Poulette’s experience at Shubenacadie Residential School.

The arrangement of Forgiveness for concert band was commissioned by the NAC Orchestra, arranged by the Métis composer Ian Cusson, and has been sent to every school in Cape Breton. Both Mr. Poulette and Mr. Cusson will introduce the song at the afternoon performance. Mr. Poulette will also sing some of his other songs.

In addition, another acclaimed Eskasoni artist – the Sobey Award winning performance artist Ursula Johnson – will lead a theatre workshop based on a local Mi’kmaw story that the students will then perform. The workshop has been organized in conjunction with the National Arts Centre’s new Indigenous Theatre department, which begins its first season of programming in September 2019, and that will have a national outreach component.

Finally, a small group of students from Allison Bernard Memorial High School and their music teacher Carter Chiasson will perform a new song that is also centred on the theme of forgiveness and healing.

 “We are honoured to be coming back to Eskasoni, on what we hope will be a deeply meaningful day of making music and art together,” said Music Director Alexander Shelley. “Music and the arts allow us to express ourselves, to change our perspectives, and to understand each other in profound ways.”

“We are very excited that our students will not only be able to work with musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia, but also to engage with acclaimed Eskasoni artists like Ursula Johnson and Richard Poulette on music and stories that come from their very own community,” said Newell Johnson, Principal of Allison Bernard Memorial High School. “That’s a rare, and very meaningful opportunity.”

Following the concert, the visiting musicians and artists will continue the day’s cultural exchange by participating in workshops led by local artists, including beading and pow-wow dancing.



9:00 – 10:30
Students will participate in workshops on theatre performance and theatre design, based on a local Mi’kmaw story, led by Ursula Johnson.

The day begins with the arrival of 200 students from across Cape Breton who will join students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni.

Music students will participate in workshops led by musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia that will cover instrumental techniques, and pre-selected repertoire for the afternoon performance.

Music Director Alexander Shelley will lead a conducting and ensemble leadership workshop for teachers.

Composer Ian Cusson will lead a composition workshop for selected students.

10:45 – 12:00 p.m.:
Rehearsal with students with guest artists, including NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia musicians, Alexander Shelley and Ursula Johnson.


1 – 2 p.m.:
Performance for local schools and the community at Allison Bernard Memorial High School. Performances will include:
“Forgiveness” (massed concert band from schools across Cape Breton, musicians of NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia), conducted by Alexander Shelley;

Student theatre presentation based on a local Mi’kmaw story;

Music by Richard Poulette;

New song by small group of Allison Bernard students and teacher Carter Chiasson;

Performance by musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia.

3 – 6 p.m.:
Musicians from the NAC Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia take part in workshops led by Mi’kmaw artists, including beading and pow-wow dancing.


The NAC Orchestra and Eskasoni have been building a relationship over the past five years. It began in 2014 when the NAC Orchestra commissioned a new orchestral work called I Lost My Talk by John Estacio, based on the poem of the same name by the acclaimed Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe, who is from Eskasoni. The work premiered to great acclaim at the National Arts Centre in 2016. That same year, students from Eskasoni took part in the Rita Joe Song Project, in which students from across Canada created songs and music videos inspired by Rita Joe’s poem. The Eskasoni students’ song, Gentle Warrior, was nominated for an East Coast Music Award in 2017.

In 2017, Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra, along with guest artist James Ehnes and Monique Mojica, travelled to Eskasoni during the Orchestra’s Canada 150 Tour, and gave music workshops to Allison Bernard students, as well as students from across Cape Breton, and performed a concert that included I Lost My Talk at the Dan K. Stevens Memorial Arena that was attended by the students and the community. The Orchestra and Eskasoni student Kalolin Johnson also performed We Shall Remain (It Wasn’t Taken Away), a song written by Johnson, her father Tom Johnson, and Allison Bernard music teacher Carter Chiasson. The NAC Orchestra and Kalolin Johnson also performed the song on tour in Halifax, and at the NAC Gala in the fall of 2017.   I Lost My Talk, which is part of a larger group of four orchestral, multimedia works that make up Life Reflected, was performed in communities across Canada during the Canada 150 Tour, and will be performed for international audiences in May 2019 as part of the Orchestra’s European Tour in honour of the National Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary. 

The March 11 Apiksiktuaqn is part of the NAC’s Music Alive Program in Atlantic Canada, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, in partnership with Symphony Nova Scotia. This program is made possible with support from Fred and Elizabeth Fountain, the John and Judy Bragg Foundation, the Crabtree Foundation, the Slaight Family Foundation and Major Partner TD. Ian Cusson is part of the NAC’s Carrefour residency, a two-year professional development opportunity for emerging, culturally diverse or Indigenous composers with the NAC Orchestra, also in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts.


The National Arts Centre collaborates with artists and arts organizations across Canada to help create a national stage for the performing arts, and acts as a catalyst for performance, creation and learning across the country. Founded on June 2, 1969, the National Arts Centre is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 with an array of special programming and activities throughout the year.  A home for Canada’s most creative artists, the NAC strives to be artistically adventurous in each of its programming streams – the NAC Orchestra, English Theatre, French Theatre, Dance and NAC Presents. NAC Indigenous Theatre will begin its first season of programming in the fall of 2019. The NAC’s National Creation Fund invests up to $3 million of privately raised funds every year in 15 to 20 ambitious new works by Canadian artists and arts organizations. The NAC building has recently undergone two extensive renewal projects, generously funded by the Government of Canada, that have re-oriented the NAC to the city; allowed the NAC to become more  welcoming and accessible; and returned its performance halls and production facilities to contemporary standards. The NAC is at the forefront of youth and educational activities, offering artist training, programs for children and youth, and resources for teachers in communities across Canada. The NAC is also a pioneer in new media, showcasing the performing arts across the country through the Kipnes Lantern, the largest transparent LED installation in North America; using technology to teach students and young artists around the globe; creating top-rated podcasts; and providing a wide range of NAC Orchestra concerts on demand. The NAC is the only bilingual, multidisciplinary performing arts centre in Canada, and one of the largest in the world.


Symphony Nova Scotia is Nova Scotia’s orchestra. With a home base in Halifax and performances across the province, Symphony Nova Scotia is proud to be a vibrant, vital part of Nova Scotia’s rich cultural community. From sold-out orchestral concerts to free family events, youth and seniors’ activities, and educational partnerships, Symphony Nova Scotia creates unforgettable experiences with truly great music. Visit to learn more, listen online, or get tickets today!



Mary Gordon
Senior Communications Advisor
National Arts Centre
(613) 947-7000 ext. 849

ON SITE: Geneviève Cimon
Director, Music Education and Community Engagement, National Arts Centre
cell: (613) 290-5801