Singing and drumming hope

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I feel a greater sense of hope and optimism these days for the future when I talk to many of our young First Nation people. There are still many hurdles and difficulties they have to overcome, but in many ways, they are becoming stronger, smarter and more confident. I’ve witnessed those changes through the annual Wabun Youth Gathering, which I have been fortunate enough to attend regularly over the past decade.

This annual event is hosted by Wabun Health Services, a branch of the Wabun Tribal Council based in Timmins. The youth gathering was born out of a wish by one of its community Elders, the late Thomas Saunders, of Brunswick House, who had a vision to see Wabun youth come together to learn about their culture, language and heritage. Wabun Health Director Jean Lemieux took Saunders’ dream of a youth gathering to heart and developed the youth gathering with the support of the Wabun Chiefs and management.

I’ve watched it grow from a small gathering to a major event that provides young people with access to workshop facilitators who teach them about drumming, singing, traditional crafts and Indigenous games. The gathering is not just fun and games. It brings youth and professionals together to discuss addictions, social issues, dealing with trauma, healing and bullying.

Every year, one or more Elders attend the event as a way to link the youth to their past through teachings and care from these grandmothers.

The youth can count on adults taking the time to care for them in a wilderness setting surrounded by friends. I did not have these types of gatherings to turn to when I was a boy in Attawapiskat. We had an event called Indian Days but it was a far cry from today’s healing and educational gatherings.

While attending the Mattagami First Nation Annual Pow Wow recently I realized how lucky the new generation is with traditional events being brought back to First Nations. The Mattagami gathering brings together drummers, singers and performers from the Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Cree and Algonquin communities.

The most important idea behind every Indigenous youth gathering, powwow or cultural event is the fact that it celebrates Indigenous culture and heritage. It helps foster a sense of pride and hope for young people to feel confident in where they come from and who they are.

Over the years I have witnessed young men like Nathan Naveau and Mark Carpenter become accomplished drummers, singers and performers who have become well known on the pow wow trail. I’ve watched boys become men as singers and drummers in groups like the Northern Spirit Singers of Brunswick House First Nation.

Belonging to these groups demands adhering to rules and sober lifestyles so the commitment these drummers and singers make is felt in their own community and beyond. It makes me so proud to see young girls and women from the Wabun communities form their own hand drumming and singing groups. In many cases they make their own regalia, construct their drums and learn traditional songs from the Elders.

We have come a long way but there is still much to be done to help our people. However, with every song, every dance and every beat of the heart of the drum, future generations find hope and strength.


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