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Bang the Drum

Prior to the end of the school year, George Harris Jr. of Stz’uminus shared with me that the school children of the Nation gather every Friday afternoon to drum, sing, and dance, and offered me an invitation to come and sit with him to watch. Drumming and dancing provides a way to close the week connecting the children with culture, and sends them into their weekend carrying good feelings. George feels strongly that it is of great importance to invite non-Indigenous professional partners to witness these happenings, as he believes that the act of witnessing children thriving in culture illuminates the importance of providing them with opportunities to engage in cultural events and practices. I was grateful to be invited.

As soon as I walked into the school gym, I started recognizing many faces. As a provider who has served Stz’uminus for the past nine years, I’ve known many of the children since they were infants. A large drum sat in the center of the gym, with two men and two women seated around it, preparing to start their work.

As the drumming began, the children began to move. Like a slow current, they began swirling around the center drum, holding invisible paddles, and stroking them into unseen waters. It was obvious that some of the children had been brought up doing these dances, and they moved with an assuredness that demonstrated their familiarity. I saw a cluster of older boys moving and dancing together in total unison, followed closely behind by a group of small boys, watching wide-eyed with admiration, mimicking the actions of their teenaged role-models.

As the song shifted, George leaned over to me and shared that the next song was the Iron Man song. He explained that this song is traditionally used as a test of endurance: the drummers would sing and drum, and when the verse was approaching, they would point to one person in the group who would need to sing the verse alone, alternating between boys and girls. In the final two verses, all the boys compete against all the girls, striving to have the biggest, loudest voices. George explained that this act provided an opportunity for the children to grow in their confidence and find their voice.

As the I witnessed this event, I noticed a young lady that I’d previously encountered on several occasions. I’d attempted many times to connect and engage her in conversation, but she rarely offered a verbal response, choosing instead to politely nod yes or shake her head no. Outside of this setting I had perceived her to be extremely shy, but on Friday I was witnessing her in an entirely different light. The young woman was fully engrossed in the events of the afternoon, and as the gathering went on, I saw her in complete animation – singing, dancing, and glowing from within.

Suddenly, I saw the drummer gesture towards the young lady, indicating that she was to be the next to sing. I was on the edge of my seat as the other singers went silent…and watched in utter amazement as she opened her open her mouth and her song came pouring out. Her voice was SO powerful. Everything about her in that moment was powerful. I was stunned and deeply moved.

For me, witnessing these songs and dances reinforces George’s assertion that children NEED the opportunity to connect with their culture. These interactions provide a space for children to practice their dances, to learn their songs, to be role models to younger children, and to discover who they are as Stz’uminus People. It also marked as a reminder to me that my perceptions of others are not always accurate: when the children are provided a place to step into themselves, we are creating a safe atmosphere wherein they can blossom and flourish.

As the children left the gym that afternoon, they were exuberant. Small children with dewy, shining faces, rosy cheeked, broad smiled, excitedly chattering away. They were radiating joy.

How fortunate I am to share in these moments.

In learning,

Kim at Culturally Committed

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