Drum-making Workshop 2021

The following post is contributed by Friends of Murphys Point student Lazar Stevanovic.

This year, the Friends of Murphys Point Park was honoured to have Helena Neveu host a drum-making workshop series online and in the park.  Helena, Walksfar Woman, Waasabiidaasome of the Batchewana First Nation, shared her wisdom for two virtual and two in-person sessions.  Helena is a drum maker with 30 years of experience in the building of Indigenous drums.  Helena’s drum-making story began when a woman named Norma would bring her to drum circles.  Although she did not have very much experience drumming, one day, Norma told her, “I want you to have that drum.” Helena explained, “so I called [that drum] my Norma Norma drum and I loved it and I had it for years because after that, you know, you move and stuff like that and I didn’t see her after that. I had that drum.” Helena explained that every culture has storytelling and in Ojibwe Culture, the drum has a central role in storytelling. One such story is of the little boy drum who gained seven grandfather teachings. She went on to say that the drum has a spiritual significance as well.  She explained that the beating of the drum signifies the beating of the heart of the animal used to make it.  In this way, the animal lives on.

Helena helping a participant at the drum-making workshop © Ontario Parks

Making a drum starts with the procurement of the materials.  For an Ojibwe drum, this means cedar and deer skin.  Helena explained that cedar is heavily sought after for medicinal properties.  “Cedar is a powerful medicine,” she explained. Ash may also be used in the drum hoops.  At this workshop, however, the cedar was used along with deer skin.  Procuring the deer skin was difficult due to the pandemic, she explained.  They were procured all the way from Six Nations, which is six hours away. 

The skins must be soaked to retain their elasticity.  The soaked skins are used as the base of the drum.  The drum hoops were prepared from cedar by Helena before the workshop.  Participants each received a soaked deer skin and a cedar hoop prior to the workshop.  The first step was to trace a circular section of the deer skin for cutting. 

Peter tracing a drumskin using the cedar hoop © Ontario Parks

This piece was then cut to produce the drumskin.

Peter cutting the drum skin © Ontario Parks

Next, holes were punched into the drumskin approximately ¾ of an inch from the edge to anchor the drumskin to the hoop.

Mark punching holes to anchor the drumskin to the hoop © Ontario Parks

The next step was to cut out lace from the hide to hold the drumskin to the hoop. A total of 10 metres of lace was required for one drum! 

Mark cutting lace from the leftover hide © Ontario Parks

Once the holes were punched, the next step was to lace the drum.  This was done by alternating and crossing over the lace between two people.  The lace was put through all the holes and then tied off in the middle, using seven knots to symbolize the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

Discovery Team lacing a drum © Ontario Parks

Once lacing the drum was complete, the next step was to tie string around the outside rim of the drum to hold the folds of deer hide flat.

Laki and Peter tying off a drum © Ontario Parks

The final step was to tie a handle to the drum.

Peter tying the handle to the drum © Ontario Parks

Following completion of the drum, participants were given the chance to create a rattle using cedar and excess deerskin. Participants could make a rattle into any shape they liked.  Several made rattles resembling animals.

Sarah painting a turtle rattle © Ontario Parks

After this part of the drum-making workshop, Helena took the drums back with her to let them dry.  Two weeks later, the drums were birthed at the birthing ceremony.  Here, participants made drumsticks and finished off the rattles that had been started previously. 

A drumstick produced on the day of the birthing ceremony. © Ontario Parks

The birthing ceremony consisted of a drum circle where everyone unwrapped their drums and played songs with their new drums. Ceremonial tobacco was rubbed on the drums before playing.  There was also a ceremonial fire to help birth the new drums.

The birthed drums. © Friends of Murphys Point Park

Helena believes that the drum can be a tool for reconciliation.  She went to a protest recently where the drum inspired raw emotion in all people and brought them together.  We all experienced how drums can help bring people together.  The Friends of Murphys Point Park would like to thank Helena for sharing her wisdom with all of us. Chi-Miigwech!

The following video is contributed by Friends of Murphys Point student Claire Alarcon-Belanger.


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