Drum for Peace

Thursday, 29 December 2011


When the Poor Handmaids gathered and created a musical CD, they did not know the ripple effect that effort would create. Sales of those songs purchase elk hides. The elk hides are used by creative youth in Chicago to make their own handmade drums. The drums bring a message of PEACE to a Chicago neighborhood steeped in violence. A small stone makes many ripples.

“Over 300 youth under the age of 20 perished in Chicago in the past three years, three in the last two months,” said Father Bruce Wellems to the crowd gathered outside the Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. He challenges parish members to make their own wood drums in the way of Native Americans who believe “If 100 drums beat as one, you can move the earth toward peace.” The drum is central to the Native American community and ceremony and considered to be the heartbeat of the Earth.

Home Made DrumsFather Bruce needs help starting a drum-making program, an intercultural exchange between the Latino community of the “Back of the Yards” neighborhood and Native Americans. Sister Joellen Tumas, PHJC tells him of Sister Mary Baird, PHJC and the elders of MoonTree who made a large ceremonial drum for their community. Poor Handmaids listen to Father’s request and respond with donated wood and elk hides purchased from Cedar Mountain Drums in Oregon using funds from the music CD sales. Urban Native Americans agree to teach the students.

Twenty-five sign up to make drums. They select a chunk of maple, the size dictates how long a commitment to hollow the wood. Hot coals scorch, the workers chip and chisel. The process takes days. It is not easy. Drummers learn patience and perseverance. They stretch hides, secure with leather lacing, add words of “Peace” and “Education,” beautiful patterns, beads and feathers. They learn a secan or drum chant. They practice together to become one sound.

Dusk, a dangerous time of day in the neighborhood. Hundreds gather, a diverse crowd of many races and nations including Ottawa, Chippewa, Pokagon, Lakota and Micmac. Father Bruce speaks passionately calling for an end to gang violence. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents bundle up against the Chicago wind, but there is no protection from the cold pain of loss.

Sister Mary Baird and Sister Nancy Raboin bring the PHJC ceremonial drum and join the rhythm. They march to the local library, closed due to lack of funding. People chant “No more guns, we want books!”

The intense sound of the secan pierces the darkness and vibrates the soul. Candles light up faces. Dancers join in. Michael Terronez from the American Indian Movement gives a traditional blessing. A young boy stands by the Sisters’ big drum. He wants to try; his brother killed just one month before. His beat melds into the cry for peace.

In Los Angeles, 2000 miles away, others drum simultaneously with Chicago. Hope soars as citizens take back their neighborhoods. With fierce determination of spirit, they pray for an end to the slaughter. The experience deeply affects the crowd; more ask to make drums.