One of the most inspiring performers on stage at the Métis Jamboree was 2018 First Nations Role Model Denza Phung. Audience members and fellow musicians appreciated her talent and stage presence, as well as her backstage heartfelt volunteering.
At the Métis Jamborees at McLeese Lake Community Hall, the 13-year-old helps in the kitchen, does the till, helps cook as needed, does clean up and takes out recycling.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “Now I also play music at the festival, thanks to Borderband. I play ukulele and started playing violin here, and also play guitar, recorder and a bit of accordion.”
She been coming to Métis jamborees and potlucks her entire life, including the years when they were held at Felker Lake. “What I always liked about these events was helping out with the younger kids: keeping them entertained and figuring out games for them to play,” she explained.
“Playing music here feels like I’m really involved — really, the whole point is the music. I feel like I’m really getting the whole experience.”
Cariboo Chilcotin Métis Association president Marlene Swears said that having her granddaughter Denza on stage playing for the jamboree is a gift.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see that. She was born and raised in the Métis office, but I was so surprised to hear her up there playing music,” Swears added.
Denza’s volunteer efforts go far beyond the Jamboree, and were part of what won her the First Nations Role Model role.
She is a community volunteer through the ‘Be the Change Club’ at her school, where she went Christmas caroling at a local seniors’ health facility, raised money for the Fire Relief Centre, and made purple snowflakes for World Mental Health Day and put them on lockers at school.
She helped make cards for all the teachers at the beginning of the school year, putting together humorous treat bags for each one.
Denza believes that it’s important to set an example for younger children, to help them get involved with their culture. If they don’t, she says they can lose touch with their culture and their family.
This is a belief she both takes to heart and puts into practice. “I really like little kids and do lots of babysitting,” she says. “I want to help them do better, help them join in – it makes me happy.”
Achieving the School District #27 role model status was an enormous accomplishment. “A Métis has never won or entered before — I was the first, even though Métis outnumber them all,” she said.
“To enter you had to write a huge essay, including a page on what kind of volunteer work you’ve done, about how you’re involved in your community.”
The win came as an absolute surprise to her.
“I had no hopes I’d win: the odds were insanely against me,” she added.
During her year as First Nations Role Model, she has participated and volunteered at various events.
She has participated in Me to We, a global program focused on humanitarian issues. She spoke about being Métis and about the volunteering efforts she has undertaken, in front of 20,000 people in the Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
“It is such a pleasure to have Denza join us on stage,” said Borderband member Al Giddens. “She’s a girl who really wants to play music — she has technical ability and also plays by ear. She has the desire to do it all.”
Al Giddens has been playing for the MétisJamboree for at least 12 years — starting when they held it at the Felker Lake campground. “My wife and I were camping there all summer, and I would always sing around the campfire in the evening,” he continued.
“They heard me and invited me to come play for their jamboree. It was my first time singing in a microphone. I’ve been singing at the jamborees ever since.”
He said it’s great to see that future generations will carry on the Métis musical tradition.
“We are so proud to be on stage with her,” he said. “She is music.”