Indigenous youth 'keep our songs, so they're never lost,' says champion powwow singer

A Tsuut'ina youth drum group are learning traditional songs and protocols as they prepare to compete at international powwow competition in Lethbridge

Youth group aims to compete in Lethbridge powwow

A group of Indigenous youth drummers (Livia Manywounds/CBC News)

Some First Nation youth are drumming up a tune and ready to compete.

A Tsuut'ina youth drum group is aiming to sing and drum in a powwow singing competition next month.

As they gather for a practice, students trickle into the circular cultural room at the Tsuut'ina High School.

Most have traditional drum sticks in hand, with one carrying a big drum and the instructor giving out directions.

Champion powwow singer Leo Wells is the Cultural Music Instructor here at the Tsuut'ina Jr./Sr. High School.

He teaches students about traditional protocols, songs, drumming and singing.

"Most reserves have a youth drum group and it's to keep our songs so they're never lost," said Wells.

Leo Wells, the Cultural Music Instructor at the Tsuut'ina Jr./Sr. Highschool, teaches students about traditional protocols, songs, drumming and singing. (Livia Manywounds/CBC News)


The group is preparing to showcase their talent at the upcoming International Peace Powwow in Lethbridge next month.

"We practice just about every day," Wells said. "We try to learn new songs because we can be called upon to sing any different type of song."

The drum group not only consists of Tsuut'ina youth but other First Nations that attend the school as well, according to the instructor.

Student Dayton Memnook sits alongside his fellow drummers, trying to stay in tune with the rhythm of the beat.

Dayton Memnook says competing in powwows makes everyone in his community proud, including grandparents, family members and the community in general. (Livia Manywounds)

Ready to learn

The Tsuut'ina student says he looks forward to singing for the people in the competition next month.

"There's other drums that are louder, better, on beat — and we're just learning," said Memnook.

The singer aims to compete in other Powwow singing competitions this year with his friends. 

The student says "the singing achievement makes everyone proud — our grandparents, our family members and our community."

The student credits his music instructor for not only teaching him about traditional music but also teaching about loyalty and humility.


Stanley Bigplume says learning traditional music from teacher Leo Wells teaches not only music, but loyalty and humility as well (Livia Manywounds/CBC News)

Drum group member Stanley Bigplume has been singing with Wells for a few years now, and said he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

"As a youth drum group, we have a slight chance of winning some powwows singing against some champion top drum groups," said Bigplume.

Students earn credits toward a diploma for taking the class, serving in the place of a typical high school music course.

The youth drum group will be working on fundraising efforts to attend the event next month.

About the Author

Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.