How Gaels Jam


by Melissa McMaster

A group of Nova Scotia’s Gaels take time to dive into questions that matter, see new possibilities, and forge a root system of ongoing relationships.

At first I was hesitant to commit to an event that asked me to leave my daily routine for six consecutive days. With Gaelic-centred events in general, we often have to leave our daily lives to connect with our people because our community is so scattered across the region, and that is always a challenge. The organizers encouraged me to fill out an application form anyway, to see if the Jam was going to be the right place to give my energy to.

The application turned out to be very inspiring! The questions got me thinking on a bigger scale in regards to the Gaelic community in Nova Scotia and got me dreaming up possibilities—questions like…

  • What does it mean to you to be a Gael?

  • What inspires you to make a positive difference in the world and/or Gaelic community? What are you most excited about in the Gaelic community right now?

  • What are your top three questions that you’re sitting with about the Gaelic community?

  • In your opinion, what does the Nova Scotian Gaelic community need to do to create more speakers and a stronger culture? What’s missing?

I became so excited that I was ready to give the time necessary to gather and delve deeper into these topics.

The thing I appreciated most about the Jam was its slow-moving pace. We had time to actively experiment with “what's alive in our community” and “what we can make together.” We spent a lot of our time talking about the bridge between tradition/culture and modern times and understanding what is asked of us now as Gaels in this region.

To be able to slow down with a group of 20 people felt outside the norm of the usual fast-pace of the mainstream. This slower pace was held with great care by the facilitators in the way they spoke, the way the day was scheduled with time for rest or connection in other ways, and with the deep welcome for all perspectives or challenges in the circle. I found the whole model to be very supportive and kept me stitched into the experience the whole time.

What surprised me was that the Jam has its own culture, which isn’t necessarily rooted in Gaelic traditions. This Jam culture included ideas and assumptions about being a human and what is needed in our world. For instance there was an emphasis on the belief in hope and the idea of self-development as a tool to be in service to the world at large. These seemed to be a foundational worldview for the Jam design. Having the awareness of these basic skills certainly does help with understanding our accountability, consequences of our actions, and responsibility to our communities.

The Jam also welcomes diverse contributions. Morgan, a young Mi'kmaq man, offered a smudging ceremony and talking circle on the first morning. I found the talking circle to be very effective in a different way because he chose a “talking topic”— in this case courage. We all spoke of what courage means to us and how we show up courageously in our communities. The hybrid facilitation-ritual activities we did certainly brought the group to a deeper level of realization and sharing of the grief and hardships we all carry, especially in the Gaelic and Indigenous communities. The design of the Jam allowed us to move from these important conversations about deep heartaches and grief into laughter and delight and joy for being alive together. This showed up in our music making, dancing, creativity and in our very funny skits throughout the week!


Softening my idealism allowed me to recognize that, of the things available and ways to proceed in the Nova Scotian Gaelic community, the Jam is one of the best options for trying to tend to what is needed and experimenting with other ways of gathering. I do feel that I now have a community of 20 people I can call on to wonder more or dive deeper into certain topics or propose ideas with. This is a rich and bolstering thing!

I am left wondering how to track the impact of our Jam and how to share what we’ve learned with others who are also looking for ways to structure gatherings with groups of people holding different world-views. The Jam design helps frame questions and activities in a profound enough way, so that the work can be productive AND collective. After the Jam it appears that “the way forward” is a lot more simple; really focusing on community-building right where we live in our own neighbourhoods and shrinking down any grand efforts to span the province and connect with folks living far-away. Simplifying our focus to the people, place and land where we spend our day-to-day allows us to have greater and deeper impact in a sustainable way.

Read more about the 2019 Nova Scotia Gaels Jam. Learn about the origin of Jams.

Susan SzpakowskiComment