Letter from an unrepentant Elder regarding Women at the Big Drum

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 9:33am

DATE: January 3, 2018

FROM: Shannon Thunderbird, B.A. (Hon.), M.A. Coast Tsimshian First Nations Unrepentant Elder



Read the story here: www.windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/men-only-by-tradition-women-cant-hit-the-big-drum/

TO: Bert Crowfoot, Publisher and Founder, Windspeaker

In this article I am quoted at some length. One correction, my last name is Thunderbird not Thunderchild. The article speaks to the Chubby Cree Women’s big drum group experience at the 2017 Samson Cree powwow.  What is particularly galling, it appears that the group was setup in the arena and ready to play. Just before it was their turn they were ordered to “stand down”. Not only were they embarrassed in front of everyone, it appears there was no prior consultation with the Chubby Cree drum regarding this decision. This violates Indigenous Culture 101: we are egalitarian societies, everyone is entitled to have a voice. The excuse given – “it is just tradition”.  This phrase is troublesome. (a) ‘Just’ means a lawful, rightful, equitable impartial decision. ‘Traditions’ are long, established systems of handing down from generation to generation oral stories, beliefs, customs and practices.  None of this is in play when banning women from celebrating their culture however and whenever they please and yet, some elders demand that we respect their traditions. Not possible when the issue is clearly discriminatory against women.

Unfortunately, lack of knowledge gives naysayers fuel for opinions that are not only based on faulty logic but dishonours thousands of years of Indigenous living. REMINDER: Women created stories, songs, prayers and ceremony in a time when there was no written language for Indigenous people. We sang and drummed on our "female relatives" to remember language, to teach our children, to heal hearts, to honour nature, our communities, notwithstanding both women and men. Men respected us in our role as cultural guardians, and our world view was sustained for a millenia. No one had the time, in other words, to wallow in false ideologies.
Only as post-European contact belief systems began to insinuate their patrilineal influence into Native communities, clearly placing the male above the female, that things drastically changed for women. Example: No one has the right to claim ownership of the drums, for the simple reason that the drum is a universal (global) female symbol of healing, life-giving, harmony, dignity, honour, respect, humility, love, trust, courage and wisdom. Moreover, since before recorded time, global women play drums, keep drums, create songs and celebrate feminine power by playing drums of all shapes and sizes.
There is nothing in any Native culture that speaks to female voice removal unless we are referring to post-European oppressive tactics such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Indian Act of 1876, Residential schools, and the imposition of non-Native religions. They all contributed to the loss of the feminine voice, but never in the tribes. In the case of the prohibition against women playing big drums, the ban only began to insinuate itself into Native cultures in the 1970s, as more false prophets set themselves up as elders to rewrite history in a desperate effort to keep women subjugated and to retain misplaced masculine power. The 1970s does not make for an immutable time-honoured tradition!  

Does it really make any sense for women to be forced to shut down their voices at any time, never mind during important events or ceremonies?  Absolutely not. We are simply taking back the drum, we ask no permission to do so, as it is our right, no less, no more than our right to breath. We are taking back what has always been ours to share, and we deny no one else the right to play the drums. It is not a matter of men vs. women, we all have the same right to the drums of our culture. It Simply IS.    
So, Chubby Cree, and all other women’s big drum groups, I and my enlightened sisters look forward to sitting with you at our big drums and playing in honour of all women. Stand Tall, Sing Loud, Drum Proud. See you at the big drums.  Wilwilaask, All My Relations.  Nii’sabbat, it is finished.

Shannon Thunderbird
Coast Tsimshian First Nations.