Leela Gilday performed for students at Range Lake North School on Wednesday as part of her ambassadorship with the Downie Wenjack Fund.
The fund was established by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip and the family of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died while running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in 1966.
The Downie Wenjack Fund aims to bring conversations surrounding residential schools and reconciliation to students across Canada.
Gilday performed for Range Lake North’s students during a lunchtime assembly after morning workshops that involved a presentation from a foundation representative and conversations about how students can engage in reconciliation activities.
“It’s about celebrating the resilience of Indigenous people,” said Gilday of her role as an artist ambassador, “and also talking about not just the difficult things, but the beautiful and incredible contributions of Indigenous people.”
Gilday stressed the importance of including arts in conversations about reconciliation, especially with young students.
“My message is always about vocal empowerment, so not just your voice, but your creative voice,” she told Cabin Radio.
“Everybody is unique and special, and everyone’s voice is valuable. I think a lot of kids need to hear that – some of them might hear it from their teachers or parents, but some might not.
“From an outsider coming in, saying ‘you are valuable and special just for who you are,’ I think is a really beautiful message and one that I like to share.”
Correction: November 17, 2022 – 14:12 MT. Owing to a typographical error, this article initially stated Chanie Wenjack died in 1996. The correct year is 1966.