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The drum has deep spiritual meaning for Anishinaabe

Artist Daniel Neisen left, helps Stephanie Wiliams of White earth finish her drum at a class held by the DEBWE group Saturday in DL. Brian Basham/Tribune1 / 2
Chuck Thompson of Ponsford strings his drum, made of elk hide, poplar wood and rawhide strings, at the drum class Saturday. Brian Basham/Tribune2 / 2

To the Anishinaabe, the drum has always been more than a simple musical instrument.

It has a spirit of its own, and is to be kept warm, protected and treated with respect.

The drum is the heartbeat of the spirit, the leader of the people, and its vibrations connect people to each other and to every living thing, backward and forward in time, and out into the universe.

“It’s the beginning of your life — when you’re still in the belly, the first thing you connect with is that heartbeat — boom, boom — coming out of your mother,” said Terry Temper, a drumkeeper from  White Earth.

He was at the Depot in Detroit Lakes on Saturday, a guest of the DEBWE group, helping people create their own drums of elk hide and poplar rims, stitched together with rawhide bands. The White Earth Donation Committee provided funds for the materials.

The purpose of Detroit Lakes-based DEBWE is to help natives rediscover — and non-natives learn about — traditional Anishinaabe culture, language and spirituality.

Drum making was traditionally a winter project, said Roxanne Fairbanks, one of the DEBWE group leaders, so it was only fitting to make it a winter class.

The group held maple syruping classes last spring and organized a community powwow earlier this winter.

DEBWE hopes to reach out to natives in the Detroit Lakes area interested in learning about traditional ways.

“We know there are a lot of Native Americans who aren’t on the reservation, so this is kind of an outreach to them,” said Laurie Vilas of White Earth. “It’s available for people to learn about the traditions, language and culture of the Anishinaabe.”

The spirituality of the drum is about love, about healing and about helping all races come together, said Temper.

“A lot of people are coming back to their identity, finding out who they are as Anishinaabe,” he said.

After the group finished making their drums, Temper held a baptism of sorts using a larger drum. He directed them to lift up the new drums. “The vibration that lives with us is our spirit,” he said. “When you hold your drum, the vibration from this drum will go through those drums,” he said. The vibration “connects you to the universe, to everything — it will help you out,” he said.

Noticing that someone had laid down a drum with the elk hide down, he gently admonished them.

“Always leave your drum face up so they can speak,” he said. “Would you want to be laid face down? Every little wind that goes by will vibrate that drum, that’s part of the universe, part of life that these drums hold.”

Along with the drum has always gone song, he added. “It’s about love, healing, song,” he said. “There are honor songs, love songs, women songs, warrior songs — so many things that can be taught on that drum.”

A drum group then joined him in singing the Grandmother Song, created by a man whose grandmother died while he was in prison. He wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral, but sang it at her grave when he was released.

Those at the workshop had different plans for their drums. “I’m going to learn how to play it,” said Rob Fairbanks of Detroit Lakes. “I’m going to wake my neighbors this summer,” he joked.

Vilas said “I’m going to give it to my grandson — he’s only 18 months old, but he still picks his little hand drum up and tries to sing songs, so this is going to him.”