'For my spiritual health': Mi'kmaq drum group connecting to heritage

Since April, a group has been meeting weekly to learn traditional Mi’kmaq hand drumming — and to connect with their heritage in the process.

During weekly meetings in Charlottetown, participants learn traditional Mi'kmaq hand drumming

A group gathers each week in Charlottetown to learn traditonal Mi'kmaq drumming. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Once a week the sound of drumming and singing fills the basement of the Native Council of P.E.I. office in Charlottetown.

Since April, a group has been meeting weekly to learn traditional Mi'kmaq hand drumming — and to connect with their heritage in the process.

"It just goes straight to your heart and makes you feel good," said participant Joyce Gallant.

What started with a small group of women from NCPEI has steadily grown and now includes men and children, and people from throughout the Island. In the spring, elder Junior Peter Paul offered to teach a few women how to drum, and it grew from there.

'I jumped on board'

Lynn Bradley, who works at NCPEI, said she'd been interested in drumming for years, but had never had the opportunity to learn.

"I was excited, I jumped on board. I'd had my drum for four years and I'd never used it," said Bradley.

The group sings songs in Mi'kmaq — a language many of the participants don't speak.

The group sings traditional Mi'kmaq songs. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Bradley said singing in a second language was "slow going at first," but the group has made a lot of progress. And she said after months of practice, she now feels a connection with her drum.

"The beat just sounded like it was exactly how I wanted it played," said Bradley.

Connecting with roots

For Wendy Drummond, learning to drum has been a way for her to connect with her heritage.

"I have more distant native roots, and that's something that I've always been drawn to, from the inside out, to that ancestry," said Drummond.

Wendy Drummond said learning hand drumming has offered her a chance to get in touch with her Indigenous roots. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Having moved to P.E.I. two years ago, the group has also offered Drummond a chance to get to know people. The social aspect of the group is a big part of the appeal for her.

"Sometimes some of us … we feel so energized we have a hard time sleeping," she said.

"Other times I just [feel] really just at peace," said Drummond.

'This is for my spiritual health'

Bradley said the drum group has been about more than just learning a new skill.

"I can access a lot of services that address my mental, my physical, and my emotional health. This is for my spiritual health," said Bradley.

"It just grounds me and makes me feel connected to who I am. So after a hectic day at work, I can haul out my drum or come to group, and it just, it gives me peace."

The group plans to continue to meet each week, as long as there's interest. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

While most members still consider themselves beginners, the group has performed a few times already.  There's no end date in sight for the group. Bradley said they plan to meet each week, as long as people continue to show up.

"We're gonna keep going till we can't drum no more."