A drum group at Pleasant Hill Community School has brought people together in celebration and in ceremony during the past two years and reminded students, staff and families of the importance of life and community.
And when the school decided that it wanted to make its own drum — right from processing a moose hide to make the rawhide drum cover — it was an experience that expanded the learning for both students and staff.
"This learning experience allowed us as a school community to respond to the Truth and Reconciliations Commission of Canada's Calls to Action No. 62 and No. 63. These two calls to action ask that schools utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms as well as build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect," said Vice-Principal Julienne Buckle.
"We were able to share our learning not just within our school community, but with others as well. We had classes who were visiting the (Brightwater) site come down to see what we were doing and to lend a hand. This was an authentic, Indigenous land-based learning experience that built our capacity of intercultural understanding and naturally developed a deep respect for the teachings."
The dream to build a drum became a reality in the fall of 2018 when the school's community coordinator, Carolynn Arcand, received a moose hide from a friend. It was stored in a freezer over winter, waiting for spring and an opportunity to begin processing the hide.
"Through conversations during the winter we gathered some partners who wanted to help," Buckle explained. "Royal West Campus was one of these partners, as they were keen to learn the science of processing a hide as well as deepen their connections to Indigenous knowledge. Our school Elder, Kathy Wahpepah, and her husband, Tim Eashappie, became our guides and facilitators. As a team, we set a date to process the hide in May. We had no idea what we were getting into, but it was an unforgettable experience that changed us all."
To begin, a team from Pleasant Hill and Royal West visited the school division's Brightwater Science, Environmental and Indigenous Learning Centre. There the hide was submerged in the creek to loosen the hair and anything left of the animal. A ceremony was held, with smudge and tobacco offerings made to the water for protection of the hide while it thawed in the creek.
After a few days, a frame was constructed and the hide was removed from the creek, ready to be stretched. Some of the school's students, along with staff and division colleagues, went out to Brightwater on a Sunday morning to begin the process. It was trial and error as the team members learned how best to build a frame and lace the hide onto it.
The following day began the work of scraping the hide alongside students from Royal West Campus, a process that turned out to be more work than anticipated.
"You know it's going to be a lot of work, but you don't realize the immensity of it until you begin," Buckle said. "We had our bone scrapers to scrape the meat side of the hide. We found keeping it wet consistently helped with this process. Using our muscles to their fullest was also crucial, as you really have to get in there to get it done. The Royal West crew were able to finish the one side by the end of the day."
From there, students from Pleasant Hill picked up the task by using axe-blade scrapers and their hands to remove all of the hair. The hide was given another dunk in the creek and, following a final stretching, was left to dry before being stored until fall when the drum will be built.
"We could have purchased a rawhide to make a drum but being part of the activity of processing of a hide is so much richer in learning," Buckle said.
"We learned from the land, asking the water to protect our hide while she held it for us; thanking the moose for giving its life so that we could use its hide; having our Elders share ceremony with us; getting dirty, being exhausted, but walking away with a deeper connection to the land and to Indigenous teachings."