Making a Drum: Healing and Wisdom from Metis Hands


She was right: Healing came, when I gave it away.

By Kisa MacDonald | Twitter: @kisamac

I forgot they were coming.  I could see them waiting for me at the curb outside, sitting in an old, blue Ford van. Two large dream catchers clashed against each other in the window.

I apologized across the chaotically dressed dashboard, fumbling around for my keys to the little gallery. Dang it.  How could I forget something like this?

Two wrinkly faces smiled back at me.  No need to apologize.  I had come–right on time.  Peace rippled from these smiling strangers as they climbed down and started unpacking supplies.

That was five years ago–the strangers in the old van were respected Métis elders who were hosting a drum-making workshop.  The little gallery was a non-profit, for-artists space I used to spend every waking moment running:  the Muir Gallery, in Courtenay, B.C.

I was there to let them in.  Then I had to go. My life was busy and my to-do list was longer than I wanted it to be. No worries, she said.

I flicked on the lights and flipped open the old tables and chairs. The walls were covered with artists’ work and a brief Métis history.

But you’re not going anywhere, she said.

As she laid out skins, sinews and wood frames, she explained that this was my time to do something I had never done before: make a drum.  My eyes filled up with tears. (I have always admired people who make extra room for that one left-out, not-committed person.)  So, I put away my list and let her teach me.

How could I miss something like this?

Her hands were fascinating to watch: tough, strong enough to pull hard on the sinews at the back. With grandmother finesse, she covered my littler, younger and weaker hands with hers and tugged hard.

“It is meant to heal, she said. You make a drum for someone else, not for yourself.  The person who receives your drum will receive healing. You have to wait to give it to the right person.”

I touched the soft hide, pulled tight and ran my fingers over the edges. I understood the need for healing. My marriage had fallen apart the year before. I wasn’t tough enough to handle my life, alone. She smiled at me.

Near the end of the workshop, she asked me:  have you ever thought about going into law?  I had been looking at the old photographs on the walls, reading the Métis history, remembering how I had once visited Louis Riel’s grave beside the flooding Red River.

The question surprised me. I had always thought about going to law school, but hadn’t written the entrance exam or filled out applications. My life was wrapped up in that little gallery, sitting quietly on the edge of the high-flowing Puntledge River.

Not sure, I said.

Her laugh came as an honest, gentle rebuke. She climbed back up, into the old, blue Ford with all her unused supplies. I began looking for the keys to lock up.

You will get in.  You will open the path for our kids.

That seems like a good dream.  I did not know what else to say. I locked the door of the gallery and watched the sun set behind the river.

I did get in. The law school published two of my papers on the kinship rights of Aboriginal and Métis families. And, she was right about my drum.

Healing came, when I gave it away.



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About Kisa:

Kisa completed her law degree earlier this year and is currently finishing her articling year at a non-profit that focuses on law reform, legal research and outreach.  She grew up on Vancouver Island but has lived all over: North America, Southeast Asia and Europe.  In this next season of life, she hopes to see creative community and access to justice established in Vancouver.