The first time I heard about University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) drummer group was at the peak of the pandemic in 2020, when I came across pictures of them on my Facebook feed. Indigenous drummers gathered in front of the UNHBC, to show their support to healthcare staff and pray for the sick. Drummers Ivan Paquette and Wesley Mitchell have led drumming circles at UNHBC every Monday at 6 o’clock for the past 20 months. Mitchell
Frequently explains that drumming symbolizes the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth for
First Nations, and this primal sound continues to uplift everyone who hears it. Anyone is welcome to take part in it. “The folks within the hospital enjoy those moments of comfort, love, and support and the worry is gone for that moment,” “I adore doing that and am honoured.” Mitchell says. Regarding the drumming circle, I wanted to understand their intention, meaning and significance of them. Thus I decided to join them for a night of drumming.
The Drumming Experience
I went to the UNHBC hospital, and I met Paquette and Mitchell at the spot that they had advertised. They welcomed me into their circle of friends and asked about me and my background. At first, I was hesitant to participate, unsure if it would be appropriate, but they offered me a drum and encouraged me to join them, As I played, I observed those around me. I heard the caregiver of a woman in a wheelchair explain to Wesley that she had been recently unwell and came to the event to feel better. I spoke to someone who I later found out was homeless but never missed a session, calling the people present in his community. I recognized one of my previous clients at AimHi who seemed happy to be there. I even witnessed a man speak up about his fight against addiction and how his involvement in the group facilitated his recovery. These cases showed me that the drum brought everyone together, allowing many to freely exchange the ritual’s potent healing effects. I understood why cultural events and activities such as these are important for the spiritual needs of Indigenous people. These events strengthen the relationships of the community and empowers the Indigenous community, especially the vulnerable, in a powerful way.
Wesley Mitchell and Ivan Paquette, Empowering Their Community
Wesley drove me home. On the drive, I asked him what drumming meant to him. “The drum saved my life,” Mitchell said. As a child, he experienced traumatic loss of loved ones and disconnection from his paternal First Nations culture. As a result, Mitchell unfortunately grew addicted to alcohol and spent most of his young adult life coping through that. He overdosed three times, but it was not enough to get him out. “The key to being successful in recovery for me was to provide service to others and I take that very seriously,” Mitchell said. “I know that sharing my story could maybe help someone and I wanted to show that miracles happen every day.” Thus, his message he sends through his drum outside the hospital is of powerful meaning.
I later searched about Ivan Paquette. He came from a large supportive family who encouraged his artistic endeavors. At 18, he mentored Indigenous youth and had a popular VLA programme, spoke extensively on First Nations issues at schools, and sought to lift those in need. After relocating to Vancouver in the mid-1990s, he became involved in the entertainment industry. However, his spirit called him back to Prince George. “It was something bigger than myself pulling me,” Paquette explained. He assisted in gathering information from Indigenous youth to inform the public of Indigenous people’s conditions in the North. He developed a framework based on the principles outlined in the Medicine Wheel. He contributed to forming Metis Youth BC, which is now called BC “United Metis Youth Circle”, which serves as a model for youth circles across the nation. “It was the healing piece; it was engaging the youth to help them see for themselves their future. Residential school education fostered a philosophy of ‘eradicating the Indian in every child,’ and it had to be wiped away”. Paquette states that community brings people together, and drumming circles at UHNBC are an extension of that. According to Paquette “And what unites us all is our love for the Creator and for one another”.
These activities bring people together and strengthen the community, providing the resources for these activities to occur is pivotal for a healthy community. In my future profession, I can use this information to prioritize cultural competence and safety while working with Indigenous families. Indigenous youth can’t continue to be hurt by neo colonial oppression of the child welfare system. Events like this not only provide a pathway to healing, but a clear blueprint for reconciliation, empowering the community for generations to come.
At the end, I wanted to highlight Drew Thomas’s story that I met in the drumming circle and I found his passionate drumming and singing, and his involvement with the drumming group to be inspirational.
“Hello everyone, my name is Drew Thomas and I am a proud and honorable member of the UHNBC Prince George Traditional Drummers. I am currently over-coming 20 years of addiction, and this group is one of my main supports and outlets for healing. I was incarcerated last year for the span of 5.5 months, leading me to Therapeutic Treatment Facility called Guthrie Therapeutic Community (GTC) in Nanaimo in which changed my whole perspective on life.
During my time at Guthrie, I told myself that this was going to be a pivitol point of my life where I was going to make the changes necessary for the best head start I needed to be the person I knew I had in me, so I began working very hard at changing my thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. This being done, I knew everything else would fall into place as I began to continuously make the next right decision in my recovery.
In doing this I developed myself a very strong support system, knowing that I had tried to change on my own and failed several times, and knew that I had to start learning from this, or use it to my advantage somehow, even if it was simply to know what not to do. If anyone is curious about anymore detail, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact me to learn more about my history and the things that have got me to where I am today. I am also willing to help support anyone else who may be struggling through hard times.
So now lets talk about the drum group and the impact it has had on my recovery. I was very early in my release from incarceration/treatment and heard about the group from a local elder in which I had as part of my support group. I had no idea what it meant to be a drummer, or how it could ever be of any help in any way whatsoever, but knew I had nothing to loose and have been open-minded and willing to try anything to strengthen my recovery and build my support group that much stronger. He mentioned the drum group being at the hospital every Monday at 6:00 p.m. and also mentioned a name of an individual that I had spent a lot of time on the streets that meant a lot to me and it peeked my curiosity as I felt I had something to learn from this group.
I went into this with an open mind and a positive attitude, and I feel it was felt by many and a lot of member reached out right away. My mom also wanted to come and see what it was all about and also attends every week with me and is something we have a lot of fun doing together as it is something we have lacked a lot through all the time I spent in addiction, something to bring us closer together. I cannot speak enough in words to describe the power of this group. Each individual adding their own dynamic and coming from their own journey in life. It is filled full of passion, emotion, healing, love, happiness, friendship, connection, inclusion, and so much more. There is such an over-whelming sense of joy and fulfillment that comes from each and every drum session and continuously gain supports and friends from the group.
Out of all of this, my message to you is, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new that you wouldn’t normally try. This was one of those times for me, and it has had one of the biggest impacts and brought more joy than I could have ever imagined. This group is very special to me and always will be, along with each and every member as well.”