A Winnipeg teacher has combined her love of music and computers and her pride in her own Indigenous culture to help create a unique computer science program for students that has now been launched across the country.
Christine M’Lot of Winnipeg is a descendant of the Swan Lake First Nation and teaches high school at the Collegiate at the University of Winnipeg, and she is one of the educators that has worked to bring your Voice is Power program to Canada.
The program, which was launched by Amazon Canada in February, combines lessons in music with lessons in computer science and computer coding in a way that helps teach students to remix their own musical creations from existing songs, while also learning computer technology and coding skills.
According to M’Lot a big reason the program was created is because educators wanted to give Indigenous students and students from underserved populations more opportunities and more inspiration to learn skills in computer technology and computer science.
“Indigenous communities are underrepresented in the field of technology and in computer science, so we wanted to inspire Indigenous students to be interested in careers in coding and technology,” M’Lot said.
A recent report from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University showed that only 1.39% of Canada’s technology workforce identifies as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.
M’Lot said that often when people talk about computer science and coding they assume it will be something too complicated for them to learn, but she has now learned that it is not as difficult to pick up as most people assume.
“I’ve always loved computers, but going into this I had no idea what coding even was, but I have learned coding is essentially a set of instructions, so you code instructions into whatever program to do specific tasks, so it’s not this big scary thing that people think it is,” she said.
And while the program teaches those computer skills, it also teaches skills in music and does it in a way that showcases the work of three successful Canadian Indigenous musical artists.
Students who take the program will use computer coding to remix music from Indigenous recording artists Jayli Wolf, Dakota Bear and Samian.
And while M’Lot hopes to inspire Indigenous students and all students to learn about computer technology, she said she also hopes that the program and the Indigenous artists it showcases will inspire them to learn more about music and songwriting.
“We have a video the students can watch where each artist talks about their career paths and their inspiration for getting into the industry, and how they use their voice in an empowering way and in a way to make change,” she said.
The program also allows students to submit their music for a chance to win prizes including scholarships as well as cash prizes.
According to M’Lot educators from across Canada collaborated to create Your Voice is Power, and a big part of her role was bringing Indigenous perspectives to the program.
“My job was to make it relevant with Indigenous topics,” she said. “We want the program to be Indigenous-centered, and it’s important for all students of all backgrounds to learn about Indigenous topics.”
The program was originally introduced by Amazon in the United States as a way to inspire more people of color in the US to learn about computer technology, and was so successful that the decision was made to bring it to Canada, but with a focus on Indigenous artists and topics.
“They wanted to bring it in to Canada, and that is where my journey with the program began,” M’Lot said.
According to M’Lot, Your Voice is Power is also available in Indigenous languages, as it is currently available to teachers and students in English, French, Ojibwe and Inuktitut.
M’Lot said the program has a website where educators can sign up and find “step by step” lessons plans.
She now hopes to see educators from across the country consider using the program to help teach and inspire young people.
“I am excited for more teachers to become aware of it, and I really hope this spreads because it’s a really great program,” M’Lot said.
“I’m so honored to be able to help teachers implement this in their classrooms.”
Any educator that would like to learn more about the Your Voice is Power program and how to register can visit yourvoiceispower.ca.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.