Aklavik students spend their week with music video producers

Last modified: January 28, 2023 at 1:00pm

“We’re not looking for no sorry. Everybody has a story. Addiction can be lonely.”

Those are lyrics from Gabrielle McLeod, one of 10 students at Aklavik’s Moose Kerr School developing an original hip-hop fusion music video this week.

She and other high school students are working with the Quebec-based mobile production studio N’we Jinan, from non-profit inPath, which is beginning a tour of the western Arctic.

“It’s a good experience to know what it feels like singing in a studio, thinking of lyrics, and what they are doing now, making beats,” said McLeod as fellow students experimented with melodies over a laptop program, while recording lyrics they had developed.


McLeod, who is also preparing to compete in Dene Games at next week’s Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, said the lyrics in question focused on a teenager in lockdown, struggling with drug addiction.

Hear Aklavik music students’ song and watch the songwriting process. Video: Karli Zschogner

The program, featuring a mobile production studio, lasts four to five days. Grades 9 to 12 attending the program receive credits.

N’we Jinan means “we live here” in James Bay (Eastern) Cree. The group is in the NWT for the first time. After Aklavik, the next destinations are Tuktoyaktuk (January 28-31), Paulatuk (February 2-5) and Fort McPherson (February 8-11).

The crew of four includes two First Nation youth mentee facilitators. Former participants in the program who now have careers in the music industry include northern Manitoba Oji-Cree blind artist Mattmac and Montreal-based Cree songwriter Siibii

“Being able to see yourself in the people here teaching you is really special,” said Kim Wapachee, a N’we Jinan mentee filmmaker originally from Cree Nation of Mistissini and Kitigan Zibi, Quebec.


“I’ve always wanted to make content for Two-Spirit and Indigenous kids because I didn’t see myself in media growing up.”

Lyrics to the song Aklavik students are creating
Lyrics to the song Aklavik students are creating. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

Wapachee, who first became involved when the team came to the community high school to facilitate a video, said: “The program itself made me realize that … it was possible to become an artist and be able to survive off of that.”

“I feel like it brings students out of their shell,” said another facilitator, Andrei Savu, “and they’re doing something that they never did before.” Savu has been with N’we Jinan since 2014, travelling across Canada to some 80 communities. 

N’we Jinan says it has facilitated around 160 songs and 110 music videos in the eight years since it was founded, mainly written and sung by Indigenous community members. 


Songs from this Beaufort Delta trip will appear on N’we Jinan’s ninth album, in June. The group expects to celebrate the album’s release at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, in British Columbia, in the company of around 35 First Nations and more than 300 youth performers.

Aklavik students Destiny Benoit and Deena Benoit recording with N'we Jinan members Derwin Watt, a 17-year-old God's Lake Narrows, Manitoba rapper, and Milan Andre
Aklavik students Destiny Benoit and Deeandra Benoit recording with N’we Jinan members Derwin Watt, a 17-year-old God’s Lake Narrows, Manitoba rapper, and Milan Andre. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
Moose Kerr School students recording together with N'we Jinan music producers
Moose Kerr School students recording together with N’we Jinan music producers. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

“We all share personal stories and we ourselves are pretty vulnerable right away with the students,” said Savu, describing the first day in Aklavik as students developed song lyrics. “So it gets to feel kind-of comfortable to share their stories.”

On days three and four, students will work on a music video. On the fifth and final day, they will present a draft of that video at school.

Running the course costs around $20,000 per community, said David Hodges, N’we Jinan’s director of music programming, outreach and partnerships.

The Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council funded the Aklavik trip. The MakeWay charity, through the Western Arctic Youth Collective, is covering costs in the remaining communities.

In the fall, the team travelled across BC, Alberta and Ontario.  Following the Beaufort Delta trip, N’we Jinan will head to Klemtu and Tl’azt’en Nation, BC, then Deer Lake and Constance Lake, Ontario.