“Head, heart, feet move me,
Beautiful, sacred prayers,
Drum danced till late night.”
#DeneHaiku by R. Lomen
Today I got thinking about the Dene drums and dancing and how proud, strong and happy I feel when I dance, especially when it’s alongside my family. I believe dancing to the Dene drums heals us; it is our medicine.
Then I got to thinking about other things, such as why don’t our members dance, or drum? Some do but very few do. Why is that? Why do some communities have many drummers and dancers while others do not? What’s different about the communities?
I remember when I was a child, unsure of my age at the time, but drummers from Alberta came to our community and we celebrated Treaty Days with tea dances at Old Reserve. The only memory I have dancing in those early years was when an Alberta Elder drummed on my grandparent’s lawn for a few of us kids. I’m not even sure who the other kids were but we danced around in a circle as he drummed, having innocent fun, no cares in the world.
Fast-forward to my early teens when we still had Treaty Days Princess pageants and girls vied for the title… remember those? I recall dancing but it wasn’t something that I felt comfortable doing. I didn’t grow up around the drums until those early years so it wasn’t something that I was born around. I guess I felt insecure and unsure of my footing, shy, fearful of judgment or criticism.
Later on, I became involved in drugs and alcohol and Treaty Days became something else to me; a party, the weekend to hang out at the drum dance and then go party afterward, usually missing days two and three. All those years of participating in our traditions wasted.
Now, going on nine years of sobriety, I’ve danced at most community dances and traveled with my family to other drum dances and gatherings just to dance and be surrounded with others that like to dance, too. I can’t imagine not having the drums in our lives. Even in the last two or three years, I’ve been witness to my husband picking up the drum more often to help drum and had the blessing of dancing while both my husband and son drummed. My heart overflowed with pride in that moment.
So, back to my question: why don’t people dance? I guess it’s a culmination of many things, both internal and external. We pay to bring drummers in for special events and pay thousands of dollars to have 20-40 people dance while at other communities there’s 100s of people dancing together, celebrating, having fun, showing pride in the ways of our people. They often dance until the wee hours of the morning and still the dances could go on if the drummers didn’t need their rest. There is something to be said about Elders out dancing people our age. They’re still trying to teach us the ways, yet some of us don’t see the lessons. It’s such a beautiful thing to be a part of. I wish more of our own people danced but in time, with healing, that will come.
Nothing is more healing than dancing alongside your family, kids and friends to drums so powerful that you can feel them deep inside your soul. I missed out on so many years of that because of the choices I made when I had the opportunity. I’m thankful my kids grew up around the drums at an earlier age than I, and that they get up and dance with and without me. They know they don’t need drugs or alcohol to dance and participate in their traditions and that makes me proud. They respect the drum and the dance.
With summer coming, there will be more chances to get those feet moving. I hope more people get up; show their pride and DANCE to the drums. It’s healing. Don’t worry what others may think or say, dance for you, dance to heal your heart, dance for the pride you feel, dance because you can! Dance because your future generations are watching you, waiting for you to lead them.
Close your eyes and imagine the day when all of our community dances together.
Check out my “Live from DTFN Assembly” Youtube video of a drum dance in Chateh, AB!