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Students at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek make beats, learn code and promote equity

Students at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek welcomed facilitators, an Indigenous musician, and students from Airdrie into their gymnasium this week to exercise their creative music muscles.

Students at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek welcomed facilitators, an Indigenous musician, and students from Airdrie into their gymnasium on March 23 to exercise their creative music muscles.

Elementary students from Banded Peak and high schoolers from W.H. Croxford in Airdrie shared gym space in Bragg Creek as a facilitator from the Your Voice is Power national competition taught a class on coding music and mixing songs.

Your Voice is Power is a national competition for middle and high school students designed to teach the fundamentals of computer science, entrepreneurship, and social justice.

Using the EarSketch platform, students got creative as they remixed songs from Indigenous artists and used what they had learned from the provided course outline.

Funded by Amazon, the nationwide program not only exposes students to the intricacies of sound sampling and mixing, but it also offers the opportunity to submit a song to win one of two $5,000 awards – one Indigenous winner will be named and one who identifies as an ‘ally.’

The only requirement to enter the competition is the songs have to sample some part of a song from an Indigenous artist.

The motto of the program is: ‘Make beats. Learn code. Promote equity.’ It was dubbed “The Student Hackathon.”

Throughout Thursday morning at Banded Peak School, kids with headphones on could be seen totally engrossed in their laptops, their heads bopping along in time to their creations.

Saskatoon-bred, Vancouver-based Indigenous hip-hop recording artist and activist Dakota Bear was on hand to encourage the students and perform one of his songs.

Bear uses his music to promote change and spread positive messages.

“This is some of my favourite work – to speak with young people, make an impact,” he said.

He said it’s particularly important to provide positive role models for young Indigenous students, to help overcome some of the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system.

“We lost a lot, and it’s picking up the pieces, doing the best we can to teach our young people how to love ourselves,” he said.

Some Banded Peak students were so eager to create their own sounds that by the time the day-long interactive exercise started on March 23, they had already immersed themselves in the coding exercise and created their songs.

Facilitator Miguel Mojica said he was introduced to the students on Wednesday and told them a bit about the program. When he got into the gym Thursday morning and was setting up, some of them couldn’t wait for him to start.

“Because they were already excited yesterday, they were like, ‘We can submit songs, right? I’m ready to submit my song,’” he said with a laugh. “I said, ‘OK, no problem.’”

Four Grade 6 students from Banded Peak were selected to participate in the event, even though the program website stipulated it’s designed for students in grades 7 through 12. The Bragg Creek-based school selected those four students based on whom they thought might thrive in the environment.

Tilly Walsh is in musical theatre and takes singing lessons. She fell into the ‘already excited’ category and was one of the four extras chosen to participate.

By Thursday morning, she had already composed five songs that she was still fine-tuning, and was bubbling over as she recalled the day she found out she could take part.

“I got an email saying I could be a part of this and I was really excited – I’ve never done anything like this before and I wanted the opportunity,” she said.

Walsh said when done, she’ll have enough songs for an album.

“I’ll call it Till Pickles album,” she said with a laugh.

Proving she wants to invest in her future, Walsh already has plans for the $5,000 if she’s fortunate enough to win the prize.

“I’ll put it towards college, I want to go to Randolph,” the 11-year-old said, looking past high school.

Randolph College for the Performing Arts is a Toronto musical theatre school “that empowers imaginative and energetic artists to find and use their authentic voices,” according to its website.

Walsh’s mother Mackenzie said her daughter was especially excited about the project because of the Indigenous aspect.

“We’re Métis and my mom’s an elder, so Tilly’s excited about showcasing that,” Mackenzie said.

The clearly proud mother said her daughter was just as excited about the smudging and prayer ceremony as she was for the hi-tech, creative part. She was unable to describe what exactly coding was.

“I don’t know – ask the kids,” Mackenzie laughed.

Grade 7 Banded Peak student Hawk Sutton also had trouble suppressing a smile when asked about the experience.

“Honestly, I’ve always had an interest in feeling different beats, and I looked forward to creating my own,” he said.

Sutton was having so much fun playing with the software and coding, he didn’t ultimately complete his first song.

“I’ve just been playing around, making random beats and . . . it’s so much fun,” Sutton said, beaming.

He said he likes almost all kinds of music. Sometimes rap, sometimes not, he said.

“As long as it’s not too rough and aggressive – something that has a meaning behind it,” he noted.

Sutton said if he’s lucky enough to win the $5,000, he’d put some into his bank account, and give some to his family in Redwood Meadows, including his little sister.

“Cause I kinda just like giving them random stuff,” he said.

Your Voice is Power is a flagship initiative of Amazon Future Engineer Canada, a computer science and STEM education program that seeks to afford all young people the opportunity to explore their potential.

A 2020 report from the Conference Board of Canada in partnership with the Future Skills Centre estimated that less than two per cent of people working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations are Indigenous.

"This gives students and teachers an introduction to coding while demonstrating how music and computer science can be tools to advance social justice,” stated a release from Amazon. “Our goal is to help more young people – especially those from underrepresented backgrounds – develop a passion that can lead to exciting academic and career opportunities over the long term.”

The Your Voice is Power curriculum is available at no cost to teachers and students in grades 7 through 12. The lesson plan features eight modules that teach the basics of coding while engaging students in discussions on the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis experience in Canada, including topics like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action. A free online code editor is made available in English, French, Ojibwe, and Inuktitut.

For more about the program, go to

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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