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Drum Across BC: unifying Indigenous voices… virtually 

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Imagine people from all over BC drumming together, singing together, and learning together – sharing their voices collectively, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is what happened on Friday, June 19 to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. 

Nearly 300 school staff, administrators and students from across the province connected online to spend an hour hearing from knowledge keepers and learning about drumming – and another hour singing and witnessing songs from territories around BC. 

Chas Desjarlais, a nehiyaw/Métis iskwew, district principal of Indigenous Education at the Vancouver School District says drumming has taken off in the District in the last five years, led by Indigenous Education teacher Davita Marsden, an Anishinaabe kwe. In this role, Marsden teaches drum-making and protocols. 

“We have more than 1,000 drums in the District because of her work. At a recent Indigenous leads with the Ministry of Education – Indigenous Education department meeting, the idea grew out of discussion with colleagues. And so, I like big ideas, so I thought, why not?” Desjarlais explains. “And I just said, ‘Let’s do a drum across BC. I want to bring everybody together.’ So, the vision was a virtual vision of a collective energy of bringing as many school districts and/or classrooms together to learn alongside knowledge keepers.” 

The event began with an address from Joe Heslip, provincial Equity in Action Project lead and Kaleb Child, provincial director of Indigenous Education as well as Vivian Searwar, acting district principal of Indigenous Education with Mission Public Schools. Knowledge keepers, elders and chiefs shared their teachings, and schools then had the opportunity to sing a song from their territory.

It was all about witnessing, gathering and connecting – coming together in a time when global circumstances make that difficult to do in person. In years past, there were gatherings all over the city -- and beyond -- to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day. Desjarlais figured this year, technology could be put to no better use than by unifying Indigenous voices and creating a sense of togetherness. She believes the event was the first of its kind in the province.

And there are plans to continue with “Drum Across BC” when COVID-19 no longer requires us to think about alternative, virtual plans. Only, Desjarlais envisions it as “Drum Across Canada” next year – and taking it beyond Canada’s borders in 2022. 

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