FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — For First Nations people, drumming and singing represent their rich history of storytelling which is the foundation of Indigenous culture.
According to Doig River First Nation Elder Sam Acko, “drumming and singing are a form of praying.”
In her article Continuity and Innovation in the Dane-zaa Dreamers’ Song and Dance Tradition: A Forty-Year Perspective, Folklorist and Heritage Consultant Amber Ridington described the cultural context of Dane-zaa songs. The Dane-zaa songs are sacred songs given to a prophet (dreamer) by God to guide the Dane-zaa people.
Dreamers have a sacred place in the First Nations’ consciousness. For Acko, “drumming and singing guide us to follow our spiritual leaders.”
Every song has its unique history. Acko believes that as a drummer, it is his responsibility to portray the true identity of First Nations’ music.
“Our songs and drums are gifts from our dreamers,” said Acko.
George Desjarlais, a former West Moberly First Nations chief, feels privileged to be a drummer and a storyteller.
He said the purpose of the songs is the true essence of singing and drumming relies on the stories behind songs. For Desjarlais, drumming and singing are inseparable.
“Singing is incomplete without drumming and vice versa.”
For Acko, engaging with local Indigenous youth is vital to keep the First Nation traditions alive.
Trail Acko, 23, a drum apprentice and culture and heritage liaison at Doig River, feels blessed to share the cultural space with Elders.
Learning the traditional art forms is an organic process within First Nations. He acknowledges that drumming and singing must be understood like every other art form.
Trail said learning new songs and the different meanings of each song is an experience that he relishes as a learner.
“Learning from Elders motivates me and reminds me of my Indigenous roots.”
Trail’s goal is to maintain the First Nations’ traditional rituals alive through music.
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