A dozen youth clutch hand-made drums to their chests.
The Shoreline Community Middle School students, each representing one of the 12 divisions at the school, embrace the instruments, hugging them against their hearts, signifying the embracing of tradition and ancestors.
Elders holding candles slowly march around them, blessing them, their drums and the students crowded into the gymnasium during the Songhees drum awakening ceremony.
“This is my second year at Shoreline community school and when I arrived last year, realizing 30 per cent of our school was Lekwungen, Esquimalt nations, Songhees nation, drums become my number one priority,” school principal Nadine Naughton said later in an interview. “After today’s ceremony, those drums are a part of our school community.”
Organized by school staff members in partnership with elders and members of the Tsartlip First Nation community, the ceremony continues with traditional hymns, followed by a performance by drummers and dancers in traditional First Nations clothing. The students drum alongside for the first time.
“When we think about where we come from, sense of place and home, anything that represents homes to us makes us feel safe and connected. Drums within our First Nations community are a part of daily life,” Naughton said. “In an effort to make school and community less different, I am hoping the presence of drums in the building will increase the sense of connectedness and belonging.”
Tsartlip elder Sandy Morris, whose grandson and granddaughter attend the school, said he was extremely proud to be asked to come in and help make 14 drums with the students. He and his son, Sandy Jr., went from class to class with pre-soaked hides to spread out over the rims and stitch by hand.
The school’s drum project organizers wanted to wait to use the instruments until after they were blessed.
“That makes us feel good that they want to go through proper protocol before they use it, and I feel very good,” Morris Sr. said. “It’s wonderful to know (my grandchildren) are going to be a part of this, not only now but in the future … It’s a very sacred part of our culture and I’m glad to see it is going to be carried on.”
The drums will be used to open assemblies and special school functions by any and all students and staff. Knowing that the celebration of Shaker traditions would continue at the school, Morris reflected on his mother, who decades ago spent time behind bars for practising their cultural traditions.
“When she got out, she carried on, even though she spent two to three weeks in jail … she said not to ever give up practising our culture,” he said. “I know the strength of my elders, my mom and the previous elders before us who were outlawed but never gave up on it. I am glad to see it coming back strong.”