Sitting down with a drum can be a spiritual experience, says Darcy Turning Robe, who teaches the drumming circle every Tuesday as part of Closer to Home’s Ee-Des-Spoom- Ooh-Soop program.
“The drum itself has its own spirit,” he continues. “Every drum speaks to a person.”
That was undoubtedly true for Asha*, who first came to the program last fall.
“She could feel herself in the drum,” says Marsha Hanson, Indigenous program facilitator and Elder of Pekewe House, Closer to Home’s space for Indigenous programs and ceremonies. “She picked the same drum every week, because she told me the drum spoke to her.”
As Asha continued drumming, Marsha says she started to notice a wall coming down.
“She came into the program very tight,” she says. “She didn’t trust anybody. But as she kept coming, we started to see a healing process happen. She was slowly coming to a place where she was starting to talk and let us in. She was drumming harder, she was singing louder, and she was engaging with other people. We started to see her smile. We started to see her laugh.”
Marsha and Darcy smile as they remember the first time Asha came into the program without the ball cap that often kept her face hidden.
“I did not recognize her,” says Darcy. “And we’re talking about a lady that came here every Tuesday. She never missed a class. Even on one of the coldest days we had in the winter, she was here.”
Before Christmas, Asha came to a drum-making event at Pekewe House. She brought a friend with her and made drums for herself, her kids and all her grandkids. “There was something I saw in her that day,” recalls Marsha.
“She still wouldn’t let anybody take pictures of her, and she still didn’t want to be out front where anybody knew who she was. But I saw that day that she was starting to release some of her pain.”
“She started to share stories with me that she’d never shared before,” Marsha smiles.
After the holidays, Asha came back and started participating in other programs, like the Indigenous healing program. And she continued coming every week to drumming.
Darcy, who is well-known in the Indigenous community as a Knowledge Keeper and often speaks to classrooms full of students through his partnership with the Calgary Board of Education, says that the way Closer to Home’s programs are set up helps them feel more accessible.
“The way that we teach is more understandable in [Asha’s] way,” he says. “What we do here in the house is a more intimate type of feeling. We always lead with our heart. We’re doing this for our people. We love our people.”
Marsha adds that they try to never promise anything they can’t deliver on. She remembers when Asha told her, “You followed through on what you said you were going to do. That’s how I’m learning to trust.”
“People are looking for a safe and trusting place to be,” Marsha continues. “That’s all we can do is be that – a safe place for them to heal.”
Marsha and Darcy are blown away by the changes they’ve seen in Asha over the past six months. They’ve watched her grow from a shy, closed off individual to one who doesn’t hesitate to wave hello when she sees them out in the community.
“Six months ago, she never would have done that,” Darcy says. “She would have ducked and disappeared.” He shakes his head as he talks about her journey, clearly proud of the person she is becoming. “She’s still going through changes and battles,”he says, “but we’re here to support her. And we know things are going to keep getting better for her as long as she keeps doing what she’s doing. I have faith in what’s she’s doing.”
Darcy looks down at his drum, acknowledging its healing power. The drum helps people get through trying times, he says, noting that he’s seen it work its medicine with Asha. “It’ll come alive when you need it.”
Marsha, too, beams with pride when she talks about how far Asha has come. She’s starting to give back and encouraging others to continue coming to the program, Marsha says. “She’s saying to others: keep coming.
This changes you. This helps you. These people care.” “She was someone I did not expect to see come back,” Marsha says.
“And now she’s part of our family.”
* Name changed to protect privacy