Drum Beat

The sounds of the drum are among my earliest memories. As a young one, we would visit my grandparents’ home for the ceremonies, and the drums would be present at all of the dances. Sometimes when my grandfather told us stories, he would use the drum to highlight parts of the telling. From hand drums to eagle drums, the heartbeat of our Mother was often in my thoughts.

As a child growing up, I dreamed that someday I would play with a drum group. I listened very carefully to the songs my uncles would sing, and watched every movement very carefully as well. In my mind I would dance, my feet tracing out the steps of the rhythm. And I always knew that someday I would be sitting around that drum, that someday it would be my time.

Well, that day has come and gone, and I can’t honestly say I remember the time or the place; I will always remember the feeling that it left with me. I was very nervous at first, and didn’t think I could do it. But, I closed my eyes and listened, and pretty soon my hand started moving on its own and a voice came from deep within my soul. It was one of the most amazing moments in my life.

We used to practice a lot, and played at powwows and dances and things. One day this man came up to us and said he’d pay us a lot of money to come and play at a party he was having. We had a lot of talks about it, about selling our drum, our ways like that; it just didn’t seem right. Finally it was decided that we could use the money for some good cause, and that would make it all right.

We were all a bit nervous at first, but the people there all seemed to like our songs and it made us feel pretty good inside too. That man gave us our money and said he knew some other people who would probably like to hire us as well. Before we could really think about it much, we were signed up to play at parties, weddings, barmitzvahs, and a bunch of other places. At first we would all say that it was for a good cause, but after a while we stopped saying that – even to ourselves. Sometimes I felt like we were just a sideshow, a bunch of Indians doing ‘Indian’ things. But, the money kept coming in and I tried not to think about it much.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of any of those things, but something shook me up yesterday. We were taking a break, sitting around the drum talking and having a cigarette, when this stranger walked up to the drum and stood beside me. He had long hair, a white headband and wore a long red coat. He didn’t say anything, but when I looked up at him he opened his left hand and offered some tobacco to me. I took it from him and he nodded quietly and turned and walked away.

I held that tobacco in my hand for a minute, then reached out and placed it on the drum. As the leaves fell on the surface of the drum, I heard the echoes of my grandfather, of the drum he played, and I remembered. I remember still.


Mike  Pedde 09/02/91