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Drum making as medicine

15/12/2018

Members of the Aboriginal Health team working on their drums.

The Aboriginal Health team, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, brought in Elder Aline LaFlamme to lead us in the ceremonial process of drum making. Our team frequently uses drums as part of our healing work with clients, our trainings and within our team.


The drum is central to Indigenous cultures, but there is great diversity within those cultures and the teachings. The relationship one has with their drum is based on the teachings they receive and where they're from. Elder Aline shared teachings to help us understand the importance of the drum across the diversity of Indigenous people and build our connection to it.

Drumming can be a form of medicine and is a central feature in celebrations for singing, to use in ceremonies, to grieve and to build community through drumming groups. Our Aboriginal Wellness Program uses drums with clients to teach them songs and it is often their introduction to a culture they have been disconnected from.

The making of the drums was a three day process with the first day dedicated to sitting in ceremony to learn the teachings from the Elder. The second day was a full day of work to sew the hide on the drum sticks and assemble the drums. The base of each drum is made from birch which allows it to be lightweight yet strong and pliable. Each drum was inscribed with words of well-being and inspiration for the client's use in clinical settings as a way of connection to the drum.


The covering is elk hide which is a thicker hide that gives it a deep rich tone. The hide is completely soaked in water and then attached to the frame, using only medium tension. Strips are cut from the hide for laces which are used to tie the hide to the base. As the hide dries, it shrinks and pulls tight. 


The third day involved a ceremony to awaken the drums beginning with a smudge to cleanse the drums. The first beats on the new drums were done lightly in the rhythm of the heartbeat bringing it to life and then moving into the Four Directions song as the team drummed and sang facing each of the four directions to honour the drums. The 12 new drums are now ready to be used in our work and bring forward this important cultural connection a millennium in the making. 


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