Drum-making workshop brings Albertans together for craft, songs and community

Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants of this three-day workshop are hoping to not just learn traditional methods of drum and drumstick making — they will be singing songs, sharing stories and ending the weekend with a potluck feast.

The choice of hide, the weaving, it all has meaning, says participant

Chantal Chagnon of Cree8 demonstrates one of her drums at a drum-making workshop in Calgary on Saturday. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

First, there's a blessing ceremony and a smudge. Then, she soaks the elk hide and spreads it out on a table,setting a yellow cedar round on top. Her fingers duck and weave as she tugs the rawhide around the drum's frame, gracefully crafting it into a handhold so it can rest comfortably in her grasp.

Around the room in Arts Commons in Calgary on Saturday, others are following her steps, some more gracefully than others, and all with purpose and intent.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants of this three-day workshop are hoping to not just learn traditional methods of drum and drumstick making — they will be singing songs, sharing stories and ending the weekend with a potluck feast.

'It's the heartbeat of Mother Earth'

"When we make a drum, it's about our own healing journey it's about re-experiencing what we've gone through in our lives and really appreciating those moments so that we can move forward in a good way. So when we open up the workshops to not only Indigenous but non-Indigenous people it's so that we can come to a greater understanding," says Chantal Chagnon.

Chagnon is an Indigenous artist behind Cree8, which offers connection with traditional culture and art through performances, presentations and workshops.

Chagnon says drumming is woven into the fabric of Indigenous cultures around the world, and the oldest drum artifact archaeologists have found dates back thousands of years. 

"It's the heartbeat of Mother Earth," she said.

"We use it not only for celebration. We use it for ceremony. We use it for our own private way of praying."

Every detail from the choice of hide to the pattern of weaving holds significance in a drum. The traditional musical instruments have a variety of purposes dating back centuries. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Lorraine Janzen, an educational assistant from Airdrie, said she and her colleagues wanted to learn more about the culture in the region where they live.

She said she had no idea what went into making a drum, from the spiritual aspects to the designs.

"There is so much more to it … the choice of the hide, the meaning of the hides, and the weaving on the back," she said.

Janzen chose to do a Blackfoot weaving on her drum, to honour the land where she's making it. 

'It's such an honour'

Donalda Yellow Thigh said she didn't grow up on a First Nation and her family was re-instated under Bill C-31, so she's excited to learn more about her Blackfoot traditions. 

"I didn't know there was so much that went into drum-making. I'm from this territory, but I'm only really learning about my culture in the past 10 years or so," she said. "It's such an honour to learn anything about my culture."

Genevieve Bedard, an art therapy intern in Nelson, said she wanted to learn about the construction of the drum, as well as the history and traditions that go into the objects.

"I feel like it brings more of a spiritual presence to it … because it's something I'm labouring and constructing with my own two hands," she said.

Calgary-based Cree Ojibwe Metis artist Chantal Chagnon teaches participants the traditional craft of making drums. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

"It brings to the forefront the ability to understand some of the traditions of the land and how to deal with them with respect and understand[ing]."

Chagnon said part of the workshop is sharing songs, so when participants leave they'll carry a song with them as well as the drum they've made. 

She said she hopes to host more workshops in future to aid in the truth and reconciliation process so the community can move forward together in a positive way.

"When we say truth and reconciliation, you can't have the reconciliation piece without the truth. And it's not only the truth of our past, it's the truth that's going on inside us. It's reconciling all of the trauma that we've shared together as a community and as our history. And really coming together to heal," she said.

With files from Audrey Neveu


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