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VIDEO: With good intentions, Nelson school builds Métis drum

The St. Joseph School project is directed by parent Christopher Yates

One by one, the students approached the drum and gingerly took hold on a string of soft cow hide.

Before fitting the string through a small hole, Christopher Yates asked the students to think of something positive. A memory, perhaps, or something they enjoy doing. Whatever made them feel good inside. Only then should they add their contribution to St. Joseph School’s new drum.

“Every time this drum is played, it will have each of the children’s good intentions in it, and it’s going to sing for the children with their own intent,” said Yates. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Yates, who has four children attending the school, had previously taught drum making and spoke with staff about Métis teachings. But working on individual drums with students, he found, took too much time.

Instead he decided on a bigger project that would include every student. Yates used his own cows from his Vallican farm for the drum’s batter head, as well as for the hides students would use to make their own sticks. Cedar for the drum’s shell meanwhile was donated by the West Kootenay Métis Society.

St. Joseph principal Michael Carere said the drum’s construction adds to the school’s 124-year history while also prioritizing Indigenous knowledge. “Passing that along to the students,” he said, “and the legacy will continue through this drum.”

On Friday, Yates had students from each class help string the drum in St. Joseph’s gymnasium. They held the long hide string and gave it a little tug at the end to make the drum taut.

When the drum is ready, the school will hold an awakening ceremony for it with students using their own drums and sticks.

“It’s an opportunity for them to have something that they physically touch,” said Yates. “They made this drum. They put their good intentions into it, and I wanted them to have something that they could come back and see after they’re out of the school.

“This drum will still be here, and it’ll still be being played 10, 20, 30 years from now.”

@tyler_harper |
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St. Joseph School Grade 2 student Zoey Kenny watches as Christopher Yates shows her how to string a new drum using hide from his own cows. Photo: Tyler Harper
Christopher Yates speaks to St. Joseph School students about the importance of the drum, and how it will be made. Photo: Tyler Harper
L-R: Christopher Yates, Father Neil Lustado, West Kootenay Métis Society president Don Courson and St. Joseph School principal Michael Carere standing in front of the school’s new drum. Photo: Tyler Harper

Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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