Music has always united appreciative fans from around the globe, but recently it was music that united a nation.
During a February, 2007 hockey game in Calgary, Akina Shirt, a young 13-year-old singer from Edmonton, made history by singing Canada’s national anthem in Cree. With television cameras focused on her, it was the first time many Canadians had ever heard the Cree language in song.
“For many people, it instilled a lot of pride…we got emails from all over Canada,” says her mother, Jean Cardinal. “It brought a nation together”.
Akina was given one week to prepare and she worked diligently, says her mother. The anthem’s translation into Cree was provided by an instructor from Hobema, Alberta, although Akina’s great-grandmother also speaks Cree.
“My great-grandmother, Edna, has a beautiful voice…she used to sing in church,” says Akina. “She taught me a few words in Cree but I had to look over the notes everyday.”
“I wasn’t nervous a few days before but, about 20 minutes before, I got scared,” she says.
Akina says hearing all the crowd cheering gave her to confidence to perform. “It was a proud moment for me,” she adds.
More recently in March, Akina was asked to perform at a Government House francophone event in Edmonton. In another first, she sang the anthem in three languages; Cree, Akina Shirt – The Spirit Of Song French and English. “It turned out lovely…and these events have provided so many opportunities,” says her mother, Jean.
“Now, she has become a public speaker…she speaks on education and on being a role model for others.”
“I had no idea she could speak like that,” she says, proudly.
Akina’s message to others is one of perseverance. She also talks about the role of supportive parents and the work needed to develop a talent or skill set.
Despite singing in four choirs and at numerous engagements including a gang symposium, headstart conference and an educational seminar, Akina works hard herself to keep up with homework.
Currently in Grade 8, she is an honors student at the Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts in Edmonton.
Recently, Akina was commissioned to perform a new piece of music that is being translated into Cree. She has also been asked to perform at a new installation in the Royal Museum in Toronto.
“Despite all the exposure, she is still grounded and takes it all in stride,” says Jean.
And Akina’s advice to other hopeful singers? “Take every opportunity to do what you love and follow your dreams,” she says.