Sonic Journey Two: Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn)

September 27, 2023 Nia Tero Season 3 Episode 9
Sonic Journey Two: Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn)
Show Notes Transcript

[In Passamaquoddy] “And all of a sudden the sun begins to rise until everyone could see the sun. And the sun felt so nice and was very bright. The Knowledge Keeper says, ‘The People of the First Light know that the sun loves us.’” ~ Roger Paul, Passamaquoddy Language Keeper and Storyteller 

In Seedcast's second Sonic Journey, join the circle as we bear witness to a Wabanaki ceremony singing up the sun. We’ll listen to spoken words, music, and the ocean breeze that fills the soundscape of the short film Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn). We will have a front seat to a story by Passamaquoddy Language Keeper and Storyteller Roger Paul, warm words from filmmaker Chris Newell, a special contribution from Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (the first Native cabinet secretary in the United States), and a collaboration of music and songs from Chris, Yo-Yo Ma, and Lauren Stevens. 

This Sonic Journey is dedicated to Wayne Newell, father to Chris Newell and now an ancestor whose values carry through his son, spirit, and the people of the light.  

We send much gratitude to the collective of filmmakers who created this film as part of the first season of the Emmy-winning Reciprocity Project, which is a partnership between Nia Tero and Upstander Project, in association with REI Co-op Studios. 

If you enjoy this, listen to another Sonic Journey here

Host: Jessica Ramirez. Producer and Editor: Stina Hamlin. Story Editor & Audio Mix: Jenny Asarnow.  

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Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Sonic Journey Two: Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn)
 Seedcast Season 3 Episode 9

September 27, 2023 

[we hear the soft sound of wind]

[00:00:00] Roger Paul:[Speaking in Passamaquoddy] The boy remembers his grandmother always saying, "We as the First People, we must help it rise” 

[the sound of slow drumming begins, and Lauren Stevens begins singing in Passamaquoddy, and we hear the rhythmic sound of a shaker] 

[00:00:32] Jessica Ramirez: This is Seedcast, Sonic Journeys. 

[Reciprocity Project theme music begins with slow melodic singing and drumming] 

[00:00:59] Jessica: I'm Jessica Ramirez. Welcome, as we listen deeply to soundscapes from the Reciprocity Project; short films that are part of our storytelling family here at Nia Tero. Today, we are headed where the sun rises to visit the People of the Dawn, the Wabanaki Peoples.  

Wabanaki lands span all the way from Newfoundland to Maine, in what is now called Canada and the United States. For thousands of years, they have welcomed the dawn. Their sacred task is to sing up the sun in order to help the sun rise. It's a reminder to focus on creating a better future. The magic of promise, a possibility; a gift about to be given.  

We're going to listen to the film, “Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn)”. It captures a moment in time when the Wabanaki people sing up the sun with a special guest, cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo Ma has fostered a collaborative relationship with the Wabanaki who created the film, and whose voices you will hear today—educator and singer Christopher Newell, vocalist Lauren Stevens, and Roger Paul, a Passamaquoddy language keeper and storyteller who shares the story of a boy and an elder singing up the sun. We’ll also hear the voice of Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet Secretary of the United States.  

This film is interwoven with three languages: English, Passamaquoddy, and the transcendent language of music. 

There's a gentle sea breeze, and a meadow of grass above the ocean where a semicircle of chairs embrace the landscape. Take a deep breath with the wind, get comfortable, and enjoy this sonic journey.

[Audio plays from the film “Weckuwapok (The Approaching Dawn)” (2022)] 

[the sound of a flute plays, and we hear wind and waves in the distance] 

[00:03:41] Roger Paul: [Speaks in Passamaquoddy] Our great Mother and Great Spirit. Thank you for this beautiful day. We are grateful that you have brought everyone here. And so that we can help the People of the First Light and to help all land dwellers. A long time ago there was this young boy, he remembers some people talking about the Sun and how beautiful it was. And how sacred it is. He too wanted to see the sunrise. The boy remembers his grandmother always saying, "We as the First People, we must help it rise. 

[the sound of slow drumming begins again and Lauren resumes singing along with the rhythm with the shaker] 

[the sound of wind and waves continues in the background] 

[Lauren’s voice fades, and the sound of a cello joins the rhythm of the drums and rattle until the song ends]  

[00:05:55] Roger: Aho!  

[others chime in “aho!” and “alright!”] 

[00:05:57] Christopher Newell: Alright! Welcome, Yo-Yo Ma! 

[everyone claps their hands] 

[00:06:02] Christopher: Yo-Yo Ma asked, “What would be meaningful to Wabanaki people? How do we create something that will cause transformation?” I said, “Play your music at sunrise, because it's part of our culture.” 

[the sound of a flute plays in the background] 

[00:06:16] Roger: [Speaks in Passamaquoddy]: The young boy got up early, in the morning. He told the Knowledge Keeper he has, "Come to raise up the sun for all the people." The Knowledge Keeper just laughed at him. The young boy says then, "How would I raise up the sun?" The Knowledge Keeper says, "You must sing to the sun and welcome the sun. And everyone must help out, then start to sing." The young boy says, "What shall I sing?" "Anything as long as it comes from your heart." And so the young boy begins to sing and the Knowledge Keeper began to sing as well. 

[we hear the wind blowing softly] 

[00:07:28] Christopher: I had a really interesting idea that I would teach Yo-Yo a song, a pow wow song, and he’s gonna accompany me. So we're gonna see how this is gonna go! [laughs] So you're ready to give it a try? All right, here we go! 

[fast drumming begins, and Christopher begins singing an upbeat song in Passamaquoddy. Yo-Yo begins playing the song with him on the cello, matching the melody he is singing] 

[the song ends and everyone claps excitedly] 

[00:08:54] Christopher: Woo! Aho! Yes!  

[00:08:57] Yo-Yo Ma: First pow wow cello! 

[everyone continues clapping] 

[00:09:06] Christopher: Our ancestors have 12,000 years of welcoming the day. The meaning for me, personally, in welcoming the sun is deep. I truly am thankful for every day that I get. That I get to be a dad to my kids, and I get to raise them in a world where I hope that when I'm done here in this place, I've left it better for them. And that's what it's all about.

[the flute continues in the background] 

[00:09:40] Roger: [Speaks in Passamaquoddy]: And all of a sudden the sun begins to rise until everyone could see the sun. And the sun felt so nice and was very bright. The Knowledge Keeper says "The People of the First Light know that the sun loves us." Slowly the sun started going into the clouds and went, "To share with the other children, so they too can see the sun and feel good with the sun. We the people of the First Light, that is what we must do, that is what we love. May this be the truth forever." Thank you. 

[we hear the sound of the wind blowing softly, then Yo-Yo Ma strikes several slow minor chords and tones on the cello with higher, lighter notes over the top] 

[00:11:11] Lauren Stevens: Being able to be around our tribal elders, being able to learn songs, being able to just be present, is beautiful. We are Wabanaki, and we're still here. Our youth can see this, people that they know taking space, holding space, unapologetically. Kci-woliwon.  

[Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello continues in the background] 

[00:11:32] Deb Haaland: I feel very committed to embracing my obligation as a Pueblo woman, to care for this Earth, and to care for the people on it. When I think about what my ancestors went through fighting famine and drought, trying to live through colonization, holding on to the land, because that's what gives us life. We can't ever give up.  

[cello music continues, as notes climb up to a single high note, and then fades] 

[00:12:39] Yo-Yo Ma: I think meaning is so elusive, and yet everybody who spoke today was filled with meaning. The fact that you can think of seven generations back and seven generations forward is a big lesson for us. Who can think that way? You can. The way you take care of the land, and the way you take care of one another, we can learn from that. And so your gift to us, we now have to carry forward and do.   

[we hear the soft sound of the wind, and Lauren begins singing in Passamaquoddy to a rhythm with the shaker]

[00:13:41] Wayne Newell: We're all here to not just listen to people, but what follows is perhaps the most powerful thing. We have to take those things into consideration seriously. If we just leave here feeling good temporarily, then we've wasted our time. I see a lot of optimism because I see the generation to follow me. I see the next generation working their damnedest. We have a lot of work to do, they have a lot of work to do. Kci-woliwon. 

[Lauren continues singing to the rhythm of the shaker until the song ends] 

[End of film] 

[00:15:35] Jessica: Wow, I'm really appreciative of getting to hear this story. The last speaker we heard was Wayne Newell, who is now an ancestor. The film was made in his loving memory. And we also want to honor him by dedicating this special episode of Seedcast to him. His values live on through his son, Christopher Newell, who is the co-director of the film. Here's Christopher.  

[00:16:03] Christopher: Our film, it's really about a moment that was captured. Lauren, Roger, myself; we're part of a collaborative team with Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo Ma asked a question, “What could he do that would be meaningful to Wabanaki people?” Thinking to us, and our cultural ways as People of the Dawn, I suggested that he should experience what it would be like to play his music at sunrise, which is something that we were born up and raised with. He was 100% for it. We ended up capturing a beautiful moment of music, and what music can do across cultures. For somebody that's got a five decade plus career and 18 Grammys, Yo-Yo Ma walked into our territory as a guest and behaved as a guest. Speaking with him in his office afterwards, it changed his life. You know, he thinks about the world in a different way as a result of what happened. That's why I say I feel so much like the representation of what ended up in the film is really so much more our voice, than his. How many documentaries have been produced about Wabanaki people that were not produced by Wabanaki people, right? This was us shaping that story.  

[00:17:24] Jessica: I'm so grateful that we're able to share this story with you all. The act of listening isn't where our experience should stop. We should carry these feelings and make sure to share it with the world. And that is what is so cool about this film. It's a great example of authentic allyship. 

Yo-Yo Ma continues to show up to support Indigenous voices and lifeways with his music. He has a program called Our Common Nature to bridge humanity, music, and respect for our Mother Earth. And he's also a board member at Nia Tero. I was also so impressed to hear how powerful these moments can be, and I'm inspired to witness more of these types of collaboration and to continue to recognize powerful, authentic acts of solidarity. 

[Seedcast theme music begins and plays in the background] 

[00:18:16] Jessica: Thank you to Christopher Newell, Roger Paul, Brianna Smith, and Lauren Stevens for creating this film and the space to listen, welcome the dawn, and imagine our future together. This event was filmed at Moneskatik, Schoodic Point, Maine. Directors of photography, Jeff Griecci and Ben Severance. Editors, Jacob Bearchum and Chi-Ho Lee. 

Reciprocity theme song by Jen Kreisberg. Featured musicians, Hawk Henries, flute. Rolphe Richter, flute. Yo-Yo Ma, cello. Lauren Stevens and Christopher Newell, vocals. And Matt Dana II, Lynn Mitchell, and Christopher Newell on drums.  

“Welcome Song” composed by Blanch Sockabasin. 

“Untitled Pow Wow Song”, composed by Kenny Merrick, Jr. 

“Summer in the High Grassland”, composed by Zhao Jiping, courtesy of Silk Road.  

“Traditional Humbling Song”, translated by Deanna and Marten Francis.  

Thank you to Upstander Project and REI Co-op Studios who partnered with Nia Tero to create all the films in the Reciprocity Project. Watch this film and more at To learn more about Nia Tero, visit us at And please check out Seedcast on Instagram at @niatero_seedcast. 

This episode was produced and edited by Stina Hamlin. Story editing and audio mix by Jenny Asarnow. The executive producer of Seedast is Tracy Rector. The senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Seedcast producers are Julie Keck, Stina Hamlin, and me, Jessica Ramirez. Associate producer, Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker. Nia Tero social media by Nancy Kelsey. Transcripts by Sharon Arnold. Seedcast graphics by Cindy Chischilly. Seedcast theme song is “Rooted”, by Mia Kami. 

I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez, and we look forward to sharing more stories like this with you all very soon.  

Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami:Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…