Arts·Nat'l Aboriginal Day

This all-female Indigenous drumming circle is lifting up women in Newfoundland

It's not just the group's haunting drumbeats and soulful vocals that capture an audience — it's their empowering message around Indigenous issues.

It's not just the group's haunting drumbeats and soulful vocals that capture an audience — it's their message

Left to right: Kayla Stride, Natasha Blackwood, Jaime O'Leary, Stacey Howse, Danielle Benoit, Jenelle Duval and Rebecca Sharr. (Eastern Owl/Facebook)

There's an all-women Indigenous drumming circle bringing a new sound to St. John's, and they're turning plenty of heads.

Eastern Owl, a group consisting of seven young women with a passion for music, has created their own unique blend of folk music combined with traditional drumming. Their genre adapts the Mi'kmaq language and pairs it with violin, guitar and harmonies.

But it's not just their haunting drumbeats and soulful vocals that capture an audience — it's their message. Eastern Owl is devoted to bringing Indigenous issues to light, particularly those affecting communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the most poignant work they've done is performing for vigils and sunrise ceremonies held for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and their song "Baby" is all about honouring survivors of the residential school system. For Newfoundlanders, it's a topic not often discussed.

"It is so important that the Indigenous people of Newfoundland speak up about the injustices done against residential school survivors, because it's a part of our heritage," says Danielle Benoit, a vocalist, drummer and guitarist in the group. "So many people do not know about the impact that it has had on the Indigenous population and culture." Benoit, also a teacher, points out that the residential school history is not typically taught in our school's curriculum.

(Eastern Owl/Facebook)

The group first formed through the St. John's Native Friendship Centre, where the local Indigenous community and its friends are encouraged to gather and share their cultures. "All of us women would drum and sing our First Nations traditional music, learning from one another and teaching each other songs," says Benoit. As their sound progressed, so did their shared relationship. "We're a pretty strong group of friends, so it's easy for us all to sit down with each other and sing a few tunes."

We really give each other strength and lift each other up. That's what's so special.- Danielle Benoit, Eastern Owl

Many of Eastern Owl's members grew up together in the Miawpukek First Nation in central Newfoundland. Benoit is one of them, as well as her friends Stacey Howse and Kayla Stride. The women — including Jenelle Duval, Natasha Blackwood, Rebecca Sharr and Jaime O'Leary — come from all different backgrounds. They are teachers, musicians, volunteers, youth workers and strong advocates for Indigenous culture.

"We have a strong seven women group now, which is sacred to us and represents the seven directions in First Nations culture. We keep our group to seven members as it represents the seven generations that we look forward to and ensure that we leave the environment and culture intact for them," says Benoit.

Releasing their music video for "Baby" was a proud moment for the group. While the song's tone is sombre and haunting, the lyrics use three different Indigenous languages of Newfoundland for the word "baby." For the group, it's a way to pay homage to the children taken from their homes and forced to speak only English. Where once only one language was permitted, this music video celebrates three. "For Eastern Owl, with telling the story through song, we hope we can help heal and form closure to those who were affected by residential schools," says Benoit.

Having an all-women drumming circle is not typical of most tribes, either. "We truly love that we are a group of seven women; there's nothing like getting together to sing, and then afterward having a big chat and tea about our day or week," Benoit says.

"We really give each other strength and lift each other up. That's what's so special about Eastern Owl."


Candice Walsh


Candice Walsh is a freelance writer and travel blogger in St. John's.