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Online 24-Hour Drum amplifies Indigenous voices in Squamish

The school district annual event saw Elders, Squamish Nation and Lil'Wat Nation school leaders and youth, share, sing and drum.
Indigenous support worker John Hamill at Howe Sound Secondary during the 24-Hour Drum.

It was a powerful and sometimes emotional first. 

School district 48's 24-Drum went virtual for the first time in its 11-year history on Friday, May 14.

Last year, as planning was ramping up, the Indigenous-focused event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. 

This year, with more than 100 logged on to watch, Elders, Squamish Nation and Lil'Wat Nation school leaders and youth, and others, shared, sang, and drummed. 

There was also a film where community members told personal stories. 

The Sea to Sky Corridor-wide event also, for the first time, included Indigenous youth and their 

teachers in other communities outside the corridor. 

Classes from other school districts included Lillooet Secondary School, Silverthorne Elementary School located in Houston B.C., and Vancouver. 

"It was just great to be able to gather together like that," said Squamish's Charlene Williams. Indigenous culture and language worker at SD48. 

Williams, who works out of Stawamus School-Cultural Journeys and Learning Expeditions, noted that Squamish's Indigenous Leadership groups are the largest they have ever been. 

"Our group at our school is the largest it has ever been; Don Ross's group is the largest it has ever been," she said. "The movement is growing and Indigenous youth are feeling more confident to stand up and say 'I am Indigenous, and I am proud of that.'" 

Williams said that those from her generation were made to feel ashamed for being Indigenous. 

"That's changing, and I can see that changing in today's youth where they are proud to wear their regalia, they are proud to speak their language. They are proud to sing their songs. That is just a powerful place to come to in such a short time. That is one generation."

She said for the Indigenous students who participated, the 24-Drum gives them space to be heard and the confidence to take up that space. 

"I know that each time we have a chance to participate in leadership, they get an opportunity to strengthen their voice.... and look at whatever issues are around their school, " she said. "Just having the opportunity to sit down and think about what message they want to share, and how they want to do that, is such a powerful way to learn how to collaborate, to gather the voices together for one strong statement." 

The younger students have an opportunity to learn from watching the older kids, she added.

For folks who are non-Indigenous, Williams said she hopes they come away from the event with a little better understanding of what is important to their Indigenous neighbours. 

"We are still here. Our culture is a living culture, and we are growing and healing and moving forward with our youth, for a stronger community and a stronger future," she said. "It is important to have those stories of our youth showing strength...Our communities are hurting so much still, in so many ways, but there is hope and that hope is in the youth." 

From Lil’wat Nation, with pride

Indigenous support worker, Tanina Williams from the Lil’wat Nation, who gave the opening welcome to the event, said she was very proud of the kids involved and how the event brought so many together. 

"We are strong and sharing our thoughts and opinions on racism and what that looks like, how that feels to us and how sharing our culture so that we are honouring ourselves," she said. "Along with that message, what gives us that strength is sharing about our lives and our place and what we love — drumming and singing." 

She calls the youth "transformers" who are changing the world. 

"We have transformers in our cultural stories," she explained. "It is beautiful." 

But as the students spoke of, there is still racism in our communities. 

"One of the things we have to remember is that we have only really been on the path of truth and reconciliation... when the apology was done in 2008, and then the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission] came out in 2009. We have only been on that path for that many years and we have 500 years [worth] of reconciliation [ to do] in Canada. My thought is, we keep working," she said. 

For Allies

In addition to amplifying the voices of Indigenous youth in the corridor, Tanina Williams said she tries to help non-Indigenous folks be effective allies.

"It is your job to listen. That is your only job. To listen from your heart.... You listen and when you have the opportunity to stand up for Indigenous people, with your own peers or with people of your own skin colour, that is when you become a true ally."