On June 21 — National Aboriginal Day in Canada — a group of Desert Sands Community School (DSCS) students will be a part of the Drum Across North & South America event, which features students, elders, and drum and dance groups from two continents.
The Huleme (pronounced “huh-loom”) Rams Drummers, which is made up of nearly 30 students from Grades 1 to 6, will be performing the Secwepemc Welcome Song, which is also known by the St’at’imc as the Women’s Warrior Song. Huleme means “proud” in nle?kepmxcin, the language of the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) people.
Violet Cowley, an Aboriginal Student Support Worker at DSCS, has been teaching drumming at the school as a way to incorporate First Nations culture into the school curriculum, and it’s been embraced by the students.
“It’s fun for the kids,” she says. “The younger kids practice in their free time in the afternoon, and they don’t want to go out and play: they want to drum. They were very keen to get back together when COVID restrictions were lifted.”
The group’s drums were made by Norman Retasket, and Cowley says that the first batch of 20 were purchased in spring 2020, after schools shut down because of COVID-19.
“We had financial resources left that we’d normally use to have people come in to the school, so we asked Norman to make 20 drums, and he made 20 more for us two weeks ago, because we have so many kids who want to drum.”
While more than half of the students involved are First Nations, Cowley says they welcome any students who want to take part. “We don’t say ‘You’re not native so you can’t do it.’ But a lot of the kids have First Nations ancestry, and their parents want them to be in touch with that.”
In addition to the drumming, Cowley says students at the school make ribbon skirts and do beading on looms. “We also have people come in to teach how to make jams and medicines, and do smudging. Julie Antoine has taken a lot of courses, and teaches them about the eagle.
“We all have our parts. For me it’s drumming and ribbon skirts, and Ann Condin and Michelle Antoine work with the high school students.”
Cowley says that the school only found out about the Drum Across North & South America event a week before the deadline for video submissions.
“We were drumming anyway, so I asked the kids if they would be up for this. They were very enthusiastic, and said yes, so we decided to do the Secwepemc Welcome Song, which is known all over the world.”
The group had already been working on the piece, but a few newcomers didn’t know it, and they had very little time to practice before the video had to be submitted on June 1. The students were divided into three groups for the video, and Cowley says several of the girls were wearing ribbon skirts that they had made: “Some of the girls have been making them since they were in Grade 2.”
The Huleme Rams performed the Welcome Song at the graduation ceremony on June 9, and Cowley says they perform the Honour Song for the veterans at Remembrance Day. “We have different songs that we do. The kids are very keen, and they were very enthusiastic about the grads, and happy to perform for them.”
Cowley says that they’re now looking forward to June 21.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, what they’re part of. It won’t until they see all the drums from the two continents.”