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The first time I heard the Drums

June 19, 2017


The first time I heard the drums was in my second year of University.


It was lunch time, and I had walked into the Student Union Building to meet up with friends and eat. In the centre space of the building, members of the Shubenacadie Mi’Kmaq First Nation were set up in a circle around their drums. I knew immediately who they were as my friend Rob Johnson was seated amongst them. Rob was the only person of indigenous descent that I had met up until that time in University. It was 1992. I had not yet heard of the cultural genocide that affected the First Peoples of this land through residential schooling. In fact, up until that point, I had never actually experienced any part of their culture either, other than what I may have seen in museums (spear heads, moccasins, and a Tee Pee/Wig Wam here or there) or on TV.


They began to drum and I stopped in my tracks and took a seat on the outside of the circle. As I listened to the drummers beating in unison, my own heart beat felt like it was beating in sync – slow, rhythmic and connected with them. As the tempo of their beat increased so did mine; as it slowed, my heart beat slowed too. Their singing voices rising above also resonated with me. I could feel the vibration in my chest, and it spread, releasing my shoulders, neck, and stress I held in my body. There was an overwhelming sensation of peace in my mind. It was obvious that those around me in the crowd experienced the same calming energy. No one said a word. Many had their eyes closed listening, while others watched entranced.


Dancers dressed in traditional attire took their steps around the men playing - their circular motion adding to the musical meditation that was happening around us.


They played for over an hour. I did not want it to end, but like all things, it did.


When it was over, I wondered how it was possible, having grown up and travelled around Canada, that I had never experienced anything like this before. I also remember being so grateful that they took the time to come to our school to share with us their tradition of drumming.


That moment is one of the highlights of my university experience.


Since then, I have attended a few more Pow-Wows, and every time I hear those drums it, I feel a release. It pulls me back into that state of calm. I can only imagine how it makes them feel.


If you have never experienced the drums, I encourage you to seek out a local Pow Wow this summer. In fact, this week and month, there are many celebrations in honour of Aboriginal Day (soon to be INDIGENOUS Day – as there is nothing “Ab”Original about any country’s First Peoples).


In fact, let us all mark 150 years of our country by honouring the cultural traditions of the Indigenous peoples of this land. They are so worthy of celebration.


(BTW – In 1998, Dr. Rob Johnson was the first person of Mi’Kmaq descent to graduate from Dalhousie Medical School. If you are reading this Rob, please thank your Band for sharing that moment with us).


For those in Toronto: the Na-Me-Res Annual Pow Wow will be held at Fort York on Saturday June 23. For more info: http://www.nameres.org/annual-traditional-pow-wow/

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