Four years ago, a group of women began meeting at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre for a women’s drum group. With time, an unexpected fellowship formed amongst some of the women.
And so what started as a personal journey amongst some friends has grown in to a project with a broader mission to bring change and awareness amongst indigenous and non-indigenous circles, while celebrating the music and culture of the Mi’kmaq people.
Today, they call themselves Eastern Owl and are recognized as Newfoundland’s seminal all-women all-nations drum group who perform a mix of traditional and contemporary First Nations music.
I spoke with group members Jenelle Duval and Danielle Benoit.
“We wanted to be a strong voice in our community and speak up for our Nation,” says Duval and Benoit. “We also wanted to educate our community, show them the beauty of our culture and break down some of the stereotypes people have regarding First Nations people. It is so important to share our traditional music because it was something that was repressed for so long.”
Group members have come and gone over the years, but in keeping with traditional First Nations teachings there have always been seven drum carriers in the band representing the seven directions. Currently, Eastern Owl consists of Stacey Howse, Rebecca Sharr, Danielle Benoit, Jenelle Duval, Natasha Blackwood, Kayla Stride and Jaime O’Leary.
Eastern Owl is an all-nations ensemble — they consist of indigenous and non-indigenous women. The idea of all-nations is another traditional First Nations teaching that encourages equal and inclusive spaces for all people who approach Indigenous heritage with respect.
It’s been a busy few years for Eastern Owl. They’ve been invited as guests and performers at community events in St. John’s and across the province and recently they travelled to Goose Bay as featured performers at ArtsNL’s, Light The Fire Symposium.
I asked Jenelle and Danielle to tell us about what it means to be a drum carrier.
“The drums and songs we carry are not just a form of entertainment. First Nations music is used as prayer and a source of healing. When we gather in drum circles or we are in public and singing for people, our drum represents the heartbeat of our Nation, it represents our purpose. The drum we carry is alive, it has a spirit and as we grow as individuals, our relationship with our drum also grows.”
“We love singing for people and we love sharing our culture… As women, we lift each other up and bring out the best in one another…I think we all inspire each other.”
Eastern Owl is working towards recording their debut album. You can keep up to date on progress towards the record, as well as their upcoming events, by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
“Our relationship with our drums strengthen our character and helps guide us on our journey. When Eastern Owl sings, we sing for the health of our Nation, so that we can begin to heal.”