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Songs of the Spirit : attending to Aboriginal students' emotional and spiritual needs through a Native American flute curriculum



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This narrative inquiry explores how the "Songs of the Spirit" Native American Flute curriculum, a culturally-responsive curriculum which involves learning to make and play a PVC version of the Native American Flute while learning the cultures and histories of this First Nations instrument, impacted spiritual and emotional aspects of the learning and lives of Aboriginal students, their families, their parents, and their school community. My research took place at an urban Aboriginal high school in Saskatchewan from January to March, 2006. I conducted recorded conversations with three students, two parents, two teachers, two administrators, two Elders, a former principal, a former school caretaker, an artistic director, and the young woman who inspired the Heart of the City Piano Program, a volunteer driven community piano program, in the fall of 1995. Aboriginal individuals, who have too often been silenced in education and in society (Giroux, 1997; Freire, 1989; Fine, 1987; Greene, 1995 & 1998; Grumet, 1999), were provided with a voice in this research. Because of the voices of my research participants, I chose to use the Medicine Wheel and Tipi Teachings (Lee, 2006; Kind, Irwin, Grauer, & de Cosson, 2005) as a lens (Greene, 1995) rather than situating my research in a traditional Eurocentric body of literature. Along this journey, I reflected inwards and outwards, backwards and forwards on how my past storied experiences (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) shaped my teaching practices and way of being in the world today. To better understand the hurt I observed and which was described by research participants as present in the lived lives and circumstances of many Aboriginal people, I moved backward in time as I reviewed the literature on the Residential School experience and gained a deeper sense of the impact of colonialism on generations of Aboriginal people. This inquiry foregrounded how hearing and playing the Northern Spirit Flute impacted the emotional and spiritual aspects of students' being, and contributed to a process of healing. When participants heard the music, "it [sounded] so eloquent and so spiritual. It [was] almost like the flute [was] weeping," (Onawa Gaho, Recorded conversation, March 17, 2006, p. 5) bringing about "a calmness to the anger that some [Aboriginal students] have" (Sakima Qaletaqa, Recorded conversation, March 15, 2006, pp. 25-26). The research findings indicate that the "Songs of the Spirit" curriculum, in honoring the holistic nature of traditional First Nations cultures and teachings, invites Aboriginal students functioning in "vigilance mode" to attend to their emotional and spiritual needs. They speak to a need for rethinking curricula in culturally-responsive ways, for attending to the importance of the arts in education, and for reforming teacher education. Sound files of the Northern Spirit Flute and selected research conversations have been embedded within the electronic version of this thesis to allow the reader to walk alongside me and share in my research journey.



Music therapy, indigenous music, inner city schools, First Nations instruments, Curriculum evaluation, at risk youth, Aboriginal spirituality, Spiritual healing, Aboriginal students, Native American flute



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Curriculum Studies


Curriculum Studies


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