In Northern Cape York Peninsula, Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya Elders are working with Pama Language Centre music educators Julie Mayhew and Joshua McHugh, building skills and confidence to transmit their languages and songs in the classroom. Developing pathways in First Nations languages teaching is an important first step toward building the corps of experienced language teaching professionals we need to establish effective First Nations Language programs in Cape York Peninsula schools.
In 2016 Northern Peninsula Area State Colleges – Bamaga and Injinoo Junior Campuses in partnership with Pama Language Centre and the Injinoo Ikya and Mpakwithi Ancestral Language Champions began hosting Singing Back Our Languages intergenerational transmission choir workshops in NPA. These workshops bring the Elders of the First Nations of NPA, classroom teachers and students together to share, teach, learn and sing songs in the fragile ancestral languages of Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya.
The first SBOL workshops in NPA in November 2016 were groundbreaking – the first time Elders had heard their ancestral languages sung by the youth of NPA. For many students this was also the first opportunity they’d had to learn about their own ancestral languages – the first languages of the land in which they live. In 2017 workshops focussed on building strong singing groups and developing some new original repertoire.
The Singing Back Our Languages project was conceived as a kickstarter to re-invigorate intergenerational transmission of Ancestral Languages, offering a means for all children to share in the rich culture and history of Northern Cape York Peninsula. Incorporating this into the formal education system provides mutual benefit to the school community: it gives the opportunity for those teachers and students not of Injinoo Ikya or Mpakwithi heritage to become immersed in the First Nation cultures of NPA and it also confirms and celebrates the identities of those who belong to our First Nations.
SBOL workshops in NPA have been lead by choir leader and music educator Julie Mayhew and Pama Language Centre music educator and composer Joshua McHugh with the six Injinoo Ikya and Mpakwithi Elders – Sandra Sebassio, Roy McDonnell, Cecelia Ropeyarn, Agnes Mark, Victoria Kennedy and Susan Kennedy – supported by their friend and creative collaborator NPA resident linguist Xavier Barker. In- school, the programme has been championed by Natalie Van Zyl and Odette Binns who have given up much of their own time to learn and practice the songs with the Choir.
Singing Back Our Languages workshops have now also begun in collaboration with Aurukun State School and the Wik-Mungkan Language Champions and with Hope Vale State School and the Guugu Yimidhirr Language Champions.