Ceremony celebrates inclusivity

Vanessa McCourt explains the cultural significance of hand-drumming

All Queen’s students are welcome to participate in Thursday hand drumming workshops at the Aboriginal Centre.
All Queen’s students are welcome to participate in Thursday hand drumming workshops at the Aboriginal Centre.

The sound of a drum is not unlike that of a heartbeat.

“Most Indigenous cultures say that the beat of the drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” Vanessa McCourt, Four Directions advisor, said. “So when we bang the drum that’s a reminder of our connection to Mother Earth.”

Every Thursday, the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, located near Bagot and Barrie Streets, holds a hand drumming program. The Centre welcomes both inexperienced and experienced, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

“Every week we have somebody who has never come before. You can tell if they’re kind of shy and nervous but we all recognize that we were there at one point too,” McCourt said.

Talent, McCourt said, isn’t an object of focus at the hand-drumming ceremonies. It’s about celebrating humanity and embracing difference.

“Even the experienced singers, the ones who know the song, may not have an amazing voice but that’s what makes us all different, unique and human,” she said. “We don’t have to have an amazing singing voice to sing.”

Traditionally, there are various drums with different meanings, played by certain people and on certain occasions, depending on the nation and the style of drum.

Students participate in Anishinaabe-style hand drumming.

The hand drum, about the size of a dinner plate and often beautifully painted by the owner, reverberates with the sound of a heartbeat, from a soothing at-rest rhythm to an exhilarating dancing rhythm.

“We sing different songs and the songs usually depend on the person who has brought the song,” McCourt said. “A lot of the time the songs are chants or vocables [with no words] … but it’s about the meaning behind the song and how the song came to be.”

One song of significance is the “Strong Woman Song.” It was made to give hope to those in the women’s prison here in Kingston, as well as pave the way for positive reformations of penitentiaries across Canada.

Not only does hand drumming have cultural significance, it’s a way to have a voice.

“We’ve been quiet; we’ve been told to be quiet,” McCourt said. “We’ve sort of had to step back and let the men lead and I feel like this is one way we can get our voices back and be heard.”

Drumming can also work to promote holistic health. The medicine wheel, a symbol of Indigenous culture and religion, represents health as a balance between one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual states.

“I feel like having that sense of purpose, of connection, of community and relationship is so vitally important to everybody and that’s what I feel like this Centre does,” McCourt said.

Hand drumming takes place every Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. For more information on additional programs, visit: http://www.queensu.ca/fdasc/Programs.html.

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