It was 1982 when Darren Charlie made his first drum.
Then a young man in his early 20s, Charlie was introduced to the craft by his younger brother, who spent time learning about Sts’ailes traditions from their elders. But in the nearly 40 years since then, Charlie has turned his knowledge into a way to help others connect with Coast Salish culture.
“They say it’s a medicine for the people, because the songs are prayers,” 59-year-old Charlie said, sitting in the Observer office with one of his drums.
“Our elders tell us that we’re able to share more of our cultural teachings, just for awareness for mainstream society,” he added. “Because we are multi-cultural in Canada, it’s time to start sharing some of our gifts, our ways of life.”
Charlie has been doing that in both his personal and professional life, helping youth in care become connected to their First Nations roots through drum making and sharing his knowledge with the community.
For at least seven years, Charlie has also been bringing the art of drum making to the Harrison Festival of the Arts, giving attendees a chance to learn about Coast Salish traditions while making a drum of their own.
“They wanted to offer more things at the Festival of Arts, and drum making they thought would be a good fit for them,” Charlie explained. “It’s been very successful.”
Each year, Charlie opens the workshop with a song and a prayer “to bring down the spirit of the occasion, where we can enjoy our time together … to be part of each other’s lives for that day, and have a good time doing it.”
But the workshop, taking place on Saturday, July 20 this year in Memorial Hall, is more than just a chance to make a drum and enjoy some music. It’s also a chance to learn some of the teachings of the drum, and the teachings of the Coast Salish people.
“That was all taken away from us,” Charlie said, talking about the traditions and language that disappeared after colonization and the introduction of residential schools.
“But now, they say that when the time’s right, all those teachings (will start) to come back. And they are today.
“Some of our elders will call it miracles that are happening. Our songs are coming back. Our teachings are coming back. And there’s no laws against us anymore.”
(From 1884 to 1951, an amendment to the Indian Act made the potlatch illegal and stopped many communities from holding their traditional gatherings and ceremonies.)
“A lot of those ceremonies are what shows us who we are and where we come from,” Charlie continued. “That’s all tied to the drum.
“So you can see it’s not just a craft. It’s not just an event that we do. It’s not just a day. It’s not just an instrument,” he said. “But it’s all of those things, and it means a lot more that way.”
The goal of the workshop, Charlie said, is to give people a chance to get to know more about First Nations culture and traditions, in hopes that someday it will help dispel some of the stereotypes around Indigenous people.
“Our elders tell us that we’re allowed to share who we are, because that will stop all those things,” Charlie said. “That’s what stops all the stereotyping, the racism. Things like that.”
During Charlie’s workshop, being held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on July 20, registered participants will learn how to make a drum using traditional and modern materials, as well as some of the teachings associated with the drum.
Registration before the workshop is advised, as materials are limited and different drum sizes cost different amounts. (Seven inch drums are $35 while 20 inch drums are $180.)
To register, call the Festival office at 604-796-3664.
For more stories on the Harrison Festival of the Arts, visit agassizharrisonobserver.com/tag/harrison-festival-of-the-arts.