We the North: Rallying Together to Ensure Remote Communities’ Sustained Access to Music Education

August 24, 2022
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Photo credit: Canadian North/Jamie MacDonald

MusiCounts’ vision is that all youth across Canada will have access to music education. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to the accessibility, or lack thereof, of music programs in schools across Canada. While the financial barriers to accessibility are obvious, geography is another critical component in accessing music education, and remote communities in Canada’s North are disproportionately affected. More often than not, instruments are not readily available in these communities, and the costs of shipping out worn instruments for repair or having new instruments shipped in are prohibitively expensive. For many schools in the North, music education is wildly out of reach.

This barrier to access in the North is problematic; music education is essential. Many MusiCounts Band Aid Program recipients from Northern communities report student populations facing serious hardships including poverty, suicide ideation, and complex intergenerational trauma. We know that there are demonstrable emotional benefits associated with music education in a child’s life; it can be a way for kids to express themselves, feel connected with their peers, and cope with life’s challenges. Music can also be a mechanism for young people to engage with their culture, which is especially important in the predominantly Indigenous communities of Canada’s North that have experienced cultural erasure as a result of Canada’s colonial history and the residential school system. Through music, schools can continue to do the important work of decolonizing current curricula, enabling students to partake in traditions, preserve languages, and celebrate identity.

Over the course of MusiCounts’ 25-year history, we’ve invested $756,000 to 71 schools in the Territories to support a wide variety of music education programs. These programs have varied in scope and approach, but many have faced similar obstacles in receiving their requested instruments. Qaqqalik School in Kimmirut, Nunavut received funding in 2021 to kickstart a guitar and ukulele program that has helped students build a foundational knowledge and love of music. Sivuniit School, located in Igloolik, Nunavut, used their grant in 2021 to ensure the sustainability of music education for kids in their community, starting a brand-new guitar and keyboard program at their school and purchasing recorders for a nearby elementary school. Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut has received MusiCounts’ support twice, both in 2015 and 2021, thanks to the continued efforts and advocacy work of the school’s music teacher (and 2021 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year), Dr. Mary Piercey-Lewis. As Mary told us about her approach to music education, “in [the] classroom, music is used as a portal to Inuit culture, language, and Identity.”

MusiCounts proudly covers shipping costs in addition to a school’s grant amount; bridging the gap in the accessibility for remote communities is imperative since the cost of shipping can exceed the cost of the instruments being shipped themselves. Timelines also present a legitimate challenge. Constraints on Canada’s remote shipping infrastructure mean it can often take months before a recipient school has instruments in hand.

MusiCounts is fortunate to have partners in Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. and Canadian North who share our belief that every kid, regardless of postal code, deserves the same access to the lifesaving power of music. In a year where rising oil prices and inflation further threatened access to music education in remote communities, their support eased financial and logistical burdens, ensuring each of the incredible schools above timely access to the instruments they needed to deliver urgently needed programming. “We saw a need through MusiCounts and responded to it; it was a no-brainer,” said Barry McLeod, Arctic Co-ops Vice President of Merchandising & Logistics about this partnership. “Concern for community is not just a Co-op principle, it is a way of life across the Arctic Co-ops System, and getting products and resources to the Arctic is our expertise.”

How You Can Help

While we’ve made strides in providing access to music education in remote communities, much of the work that remains cannot be done alone. If you share MusiCounts’ belief that children from coast to coast to coast deserve equal and unwavering access to music education, consider donating to MusiCounts through the form below, or reach out to Evelyn Vanderhoof, Programs Coordinator at MusiCounts, with your hands-on ideas to provide equitable access to Canada’s North.

Thank You to the Partners Who Are Helping Make Music Education Accessible to Canada’s North