With permission from the Shuswap Indian Band and the Akisqnuk First Nation administrations to modernize traditional content for the Rocky Mountain School District #6 students, the David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) Aboriginal Education Support Workers have recently introduced lessons about the importance of drumming for Indigenous communities for the first time ever this fall.
DTSS Aboriginal Education Support Workers Monica Fisher and Sasha Taylor met outdoors with eight students who volunteered to participate in learning local Indigenous traditions and protocols on Wednesday, Oct. 7, where an overview about how the idea was born.
“Unfortunately, I attended a (Secwepemc) funeral this summer. Due to some of the (safety and cultural) protocols, there weren’t enough drummers and people who knew the honour song,” Fisher told the students. “I really wanted to support the family, but I realized that I didn’t know any of the honour songs to be able to sing and show my support for the family.”
From there, Fisher decided to learn about the drum and how it is viewed by Indigenous communities from local knowledge keepers to deepen her understanding of the ancient tradition and to help support the Akisqnuk and Secwepemc people share knowledge.
Canim Indian Band former chief Michael Archie, who currently serves the Shuswap Indian Band, was unable to attend the introductory discussion with students on Oct. 7, but plans to attend all subsequent discussions with the participants each Wednesday as long as the weather permits.
Honour songs can be heard at culturally significant events such as funerals, powwows and sundances.
“I found it really neat that it’s the first year where we are actually making drums at school,” Devin Capilo, 13, told his peers. “I know lots of other schools have expressed interest in making drums, but I’m really glad that we’re the first to do it and I’m glad it’s finally happening.”
Madiah Bodry, 16, added, “I wanted to learn about drumming because I don’t know my culture and I feel like a lot of it was lost through cultural genocide, so I think this is a really great way to learn more about it.”
Fisher read a statement entitled “The Drum” provided through the Northern College Indigenous Council on Education’s learning resources to prepare the participants for the first session.
“The beating of the drum helps us listen to our soul so we can understand our purpose and our connection to each other in the Circle of Life. The drum is female and human,” Fisher read aloud to the class, asking for participants to jump in and share any knowledge they also had on the subject.
“The big drum was a gift from the women to the men a very long time ago, so that men could experience a resonant connection to the Earth Mother that naturally occurs with women. This is why it has been a tribal custom (in most tribes) that women not sit at the drum or play it.”
With the support of the local bands, the content on drumming is being made available to everyone participating to be inclusive.
However, Fisher explained that the voice of the drum can be healing, or even meditative for some participants.
She continued to state that the Northern College indicates, “For First Nations Peoples, the drum represents the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth, the Universal Goddess and mother to us all. The first sound that was heard in the world was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. First Nations Peoples manifest this heartbeat through playing a special rhythm on the drum. This rhythm facilitates healing and realignment of the four realms of human existence (mental, spiritual, emotional and physical) because the Creator revolves around the rhythm. The drum, when combined with the voice, creates a hum that rests between the voice and the drum and is thought to be the spirits of the Ancestors. Therefore, First Nations drums are not percussion instruments per se or a toy, they are considered female and human because of their ties to the earth. When playing drum, it should never be hammered in an aggressive way as this suggests it’s a ‘beating’, and one may never hit a woman.”
Fisher read that each drum has its own unique voice and vibration, but in order to have a voice, drums must be ‘birthed’ in a sacred ceremony before being played.
In addition, the participants learned about the ownership and etiquette of the drum and the magic of drumming circles.
Fisher concluded by reading a letter from the drum to the participants before providing instructions on how to make their own drum sticks with modernized techniques, thanks to the support of the local Indigenous communities.
This week, the students will complete the process of making their own custom drumsticks and will begin to learn the process of making a drum-kit.
Fisher and Taylor indicated that the participants will be required to learn traditional songs and cultural protocols in the coming weeks.