How drum making helps survivors on their journey to wellness
- NC Raine | December 27, 2019
To make a drum the proper, traditional way, it's a full day commitment. No skipped steps, no elaborate tools, no store-bought materials. From morning to evening, one puts themselves fully into the drum.
“You can't take shortcuts. The way the group is learning, it's the original way. They are cutting every lace by hand, steadily. There's no rush. It's patience. You have to have a fresh, focused mind,” said Ross Paskemin, drum-maker and educator, working with the Saskatoon Survivors' Circle.
“The way I'm teaching is passing along the tradition. The drum is a sacred tool to our people. This is not just an ornament, it's sacred.”
The drum-making is part of the Saskatoon Survivors' Circle program – which supports survivors on their wellness journey. The initiative was created by the City of Saskatoon and Saskatoon Tribal Council, who sought funding from the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund shortly after a national TRC event in Saskatoon.
“It really became apparent that we needed to step up as a municipal government and support the survivors,” said Gilles Dorval, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the City of Saskatoon.
“It's a recreational activity, but it also brings in culture and language. They talk about their experiences and it helps them heal,” said Dorval.
The drum-making workshop follows a Saskatoon Survivors' Circle doll-making workshop last week. Dorval said there will also be a physical exercise component, including and aqua-cise programs.
And, much like the doll-making, the drum represents an essential part of a history and culture that once taken away.
“There was a time when our government didn't want us to continue our culture. And I'm proud that we're now bringing it out,” said Paskemin. “It gives them a feeling of something they missed out on. It might stir up something within them in the past. This opportunity to make a drum is something they likely have never had before.”
The art of making the drums is something Paskemin, and his Survivors' Circle pupils, take very seriously. Nineteen members of the community spent an entire day focused on the drum, making each component by hand. The materials are all natural, including elk hide from Unity, Saskatchewan. Paskemin has been practicing the art of drum-making for 20 years, and is proud to continue the tradition that started here in Treaty 6.
The members of the Saskatoon Survivors' Circle even brought five dolls, placed at the front of the room, to represent the grandchildren watching this important tradition of making drums.
“A long time ago, women weren't allowed to hit the drum, or even sing,” said Maria Linklater, member of the Saskatoon Survivors' Circle. “I'm making this drum for my family, but also my lady-friends. Because now women have their own drums and ceremonies. It's changing.”
Linklater said that connecting with culture through drum-making and ceremony steers her and her family to the good life. Those she's lost, she said, would been around today had they lived in their culture.
“When I hear a drum in a powwow, my heart starts pumping. It brings me joy and happiness,” she said. “My whole heart and soul and spirit is in this drum. I can feel what we're doing is good here.”