Sounding Decolonial Futures: Decentering Ethnomusicology's Colonialist Legacies

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's "She Sang Them Home" In The Classroom

This guide is based on the syllabus of Professor Jennifer Fraser. It is appropriate for any age group.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. Her work breaks open the intersections between politics, story and song—bringing audiences into a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity. (source)

Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's piece titled "She Sang Them Home" was released in 2019 on Simpson's album titled Islands of Decolonial Love, which accompanied her book of the same name. This moving piece imagines a world in which the dams that block the salmon migration from Chi'nibiish to Asin Saagegun are gone, and the salmon return home after a hundred years of detainment.

Just like most decolonial work, a students' journey with "She Sang Them Home" begins with listening. Simpson's audio track has layered the sounds of a cello over her voice reading the poem. The combination of cello and voice evokes at times mourning, at times hope, and at times ecstasy.

Step One of teaching this piece is to listen to the audio track "She Sang Them Home" at least twice, giving students space and time to listen deeply and reflect without interruption.
After listening and having a moment for silent reflection, students may consider the following questions:

Step Two is to read the text. After students have discussed what they heard, provide them with the text from Simpson's Islands of Decolonial Love, which includes the text of the poem. Have students read the poem aloud, and then reconsider the questions above. How have their responses changed?

Step Three is to show Cara Mumford's short film, "sing them home." This dance film explores the migration route of the salmon from Chi'nibiish (Lake Ontario) to Asin Saagegun (Stoney Lake) in an embodied way through dance and cinematography. Filmmaker Cara Mumford (Métis/Chippewa Cree) travels from waterway to waterway with dancer Jenn Cole (of mixed Algonquin-Anishinaabe ancestry,) and narrates aspects of the physical and emotional landscape of their journey.

Cara Mumford (Métis / Chippewa Cree) is a filmmaker, writer and collaborative artist from Alberta, living in Peterborough, Ontario since 2010. (source)

After watching the film, have students take a moment to reflect on how Mumford's piece changed, influenced, or added to their experience of the poem and the project as a whole. Students may consider the following questions:

Step Four of teaching this piece is to read Cara Mumford's writing on the making of "sing them home." Share this text with your students and discuss once again what students have gleaned from the text.

Learning from Indigenous artists like Dr. Leanne Simpson, Cara Mumford, and Dr. Jenn Cole is an important step to include when bringing decolonizing work into the classroom. Read more about Simpsons work here and here. Find other teaching guides here and here.

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