Music to our ears: How songwriting is boosting mental health in northern Ontario

Music is empowering Indigenous children to overcome trauma, build resilience and emotional wellbeing, while amplifying their voices, stories and perspectives of life as an Indigenous young person in Cat Lake First Nation. The remote Indigenous community in northern Ontario has been dealing with a public health and housing emergency for more than a year. For many children living in Cat Lake, the crisis has had a serious impact on their physical and mental health.

Through Save the Children’s arts-based Hurt and Healing Program, children from Cat Lake have learned how to express their thoughts and feelings through lyric writing, musical creativity and singing.

Cat Lake First Nation, a fly-in Ojibway community of approximately 700 people, is about 180 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout, Ont. The entire First Nation has since been struggling with the side effects of poor housing conditions, which include skin rashes and respiratory problems. The skin conditions have led to mental health issues, including low self-esteem and poor academic performance. Save the Children has been working in Cat Lake for more than a year to provide culturally sensitive psychosocial support and mental health services in response to the emergency.

Working with Indigenous artists N’we Jinan and with support from longstanding partner GSK, Save the Children facilitated a music workshop where children aged 8-14 from Cat Lake wrote and produced a music video called “Run Free”, a song about love, togetherness, family values, and connection to nature.


In times of crisis, children can experience things no child should ever go through. With appropriate support, tools and innovative programs such as using art and creativity as a base for healing and managing difficult feelings, children’s resilience can shine.

Every child and young person has the right to express themselves freely and be given a platform to amplify their voice.


Healing With Art

Hurt and Healing is an art-based mental health program designed to address the distress children have faced, and refer children to appropriate care based on their specific mental health needs.  The program is primarily designed to create safe spaces where children can have the opportunity to express their pain, fears and concerns creatively through art. The art sessions also help the children to strengthen ties with their traditional cultural practices and complement recreational activities in school. Learn more about the program here!