The power of the beat: Indigenous drum group helps Regina students build confidence

A group of Regina middle school students are building their confidence one beat at time. The foursome have formed a traditional drumming group around a hide they fleshed and tanned themselves.

'I can't wait until the end of the day, because I know we're going to be drumming' says Buffalo Boys member

The Buffalo Boys from left to right: Tayvian Maxie, Keanu Desnomie, Levi Kay, Colton O'Watch and Evan Whitestar. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Every Tuesday, four Grade 7 and 8 students at Mother Teresa Middle School proudly carry a buffalo-hide drum down the hallway.  

"I can't really wait until the end of the day, because I know we're going to be drumming," said 14-year-old Tayvian Maxie.

Mother Teresa students worked with the Regina-based Indigenous arts organization Bringing Back the Buffalo to flesh and tan the hide. (submitted by Curtis Kleisinger)

Maxie is one member of the Buffalo Boys, a traditional drumming group started by their teacher, and drum keeper, Evan Whitestar.

"Buffalo in the past has always served as a teaching tool to us First Nations people here on the Plains," said Whitestar, adding the situation at Mother Teresa is no different.

"It's teaching a distinct young group of boys here to be respectable, to be teachable, to be honourable, to carry these ways as First Nations individuals, and it gives me that opportunity to come here and grow and learn with the students."

'I want to get more into my culture'

The drum has an important history. The hide stretched over the frame came from a buffalo the students fleshed and tanned themselves during a workshop the school held last summer.

But the resulting drum is more than just an instrument; it's slowly transforming the confidence and self-assurance of each of the students sitting around it, they say.

"I was quiet at first, you could say, but then I started speaking up," said 12-year-old Colton O'Watch of joining the group.

O'Watch is now singing leads, and his confidence and enthusiasm is rubbing off.

"When Colton [O'Watch] leads, I feel like I should do that too. I want to be a leader when I grow up. I want to get more into my culture and learn more about it," said Maxie between songs.

The Buffalo Boys say drumming has helped them build confidence and become more connected to their culture. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

The changes are evident to Whitestar as well, who says he feels humbled and proud to be able to teach such a passionate group of young men.

"They've all grown that much, they all feel confident enough to take leads in the songs now.

"When we're out trying new things, I know I can depend on any … of these boys, because they don't have that fear in them no more. They've overcome it together."

Whitestar said the group's dedication is key to their success, and he hopes they'll pass on what they've learned to students at Mother Teresa for years to come.