By Leigh Nunan, Community Trainer
Shortly after my arrival in Eabametoong, the radio and cable station where I have my office space held a grand opening celebration.
There is a space designated as a cable studio that was not yet equipped, so I decided to set up a temporary green screen to help give community members a hint at things to come as they toured the new facility.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that this was especially popular with Eabametoong’s younger community members. They jostled and clamoured, demanding to see themselves superimposed on the bridge of the space ship Enterprise or the mid-field at the Sky Dome. But one kid was a little different, he had a more serious interest in the process.
Thomas stood back quietly and watched carefully as I worked, wave after wave of his peers coming in and out. Eventually, he asked me if he could operate the camera.
I assented, and the serious 13-year-old became my camera person for the rest of that afternoon. Once the crowds had dissipated and we had packed up the green screen, Thomas lingered in my office – he wanted more.
The green screen and camera had to be returned to their respective owners, and the cable studio was not set up yet, but the radio station was fully operational. And so we sat down and brainstormed, Thomas and I, the youth radio show that became The Kids Wanna Know.
Thomas’ friend Ursula was the first to join the show. Together they decided on a format, they would interview adults in the community who had interesting jobs and play music that “isn’t older than we are.” And I had my task assigned to me, it was September and school was starting. I had to draw up a plan and propose it to the vice-principal (who was very enthusiastic about the project.)
There were some bumps along the way: conflicts with gym class or after school sports that made for low attendance. But we got the schedule worked out and with the help of school staff and particularly one literacy trainer (Rob Fowler), we got the kinks worked out. We started broadcasting a show every Friday at 5 p.m. and since out first episode we have not missed a broadcast except in case of a few deaths and over the Chrismas holidays. Through rain and snow and sleet those kids have made their way to the station every Friday after school.
Each of the thirteen 12-14 year olds in the group brings a different energy to the show. Ursula and Thomas are the eldest and the most serious. Paulie brings an irrepressible (and uncontainable) energy and verve – the perfect foil to his friend Samuel whose quiet presence is always strongly felt. Irene and Jamal really step up when they’re needed (especially when we need an Anishnaabemowin speaker to talk to an Elder). Akira has a preternatural knack for the radio and keeps things running smoothly, filling any dead air with happy banter or going to music when things get off-track. Tara works hard and cares deeply, filling notebook after notebook with notes, prep-work, stories and interview questions. Levi, Malachi, Darian, Lydon and Nathan are boisterous and chummy until we go live and tend to clam up on air, until someone brings up hockey that is. Chiara and Monica mostly keep quiet and keep to themselves, but there is little that’s more satisfying to see than seeing the flashes of brightness when they break out of their shells.
And that’s really the best part of the show. Yes, they’ve learned to conduct an interview and operate the mixing board. But more than that, they’ve taken ownership of the show. These kids now march into the radio station, knowing they belong. They turn on the mics and shout their booshoo’s (Oji-Cree greeting) to the community with gusto.
Each Tuesday we gather at the school to plan that week’s episode and each Friday they make their way to the radio station after class. And yes, it feels a lot like herding cats at times, but every episode has been filled with their voices and their ideas. I haven’t needed to touch the mixing board in months, they run it like pros. In fact, more than once I have found them helping out as technicians or co-hosts when a grown-up community member is running a bingo game or making announcements.
And this sense of ownership, of having a platform, is contagious it seems. I’ve been inundated in recent weeks by younger kids showing up at the radio station wanting to do shows of their own – a report on sledding conditions, a shout out to their gogo, or a rundown of all the things that make them happy in this world.
As I prepare for my last show with them tomorrow I am devastated, but I can take solace in knowing that this is not their last show. These kids have support in the community and they are going to carry on growing and learning and sharing their voices. The community of Eabametoong won’t have to wonder, they can just tune in on Fridays if they want to know what it is that The Kids Wanna Know.