February is Indigenous story telling month. To honour this month, paNOW will speak with First Nations Elders and leaders, and share their stories with you. To read our first installment, click here.
Around 150 students and teachers linked hands and sidesteped their way around a group of singers playing hand drums in the gymnasium of the Muskoday First Nation Community School on Friday.
The singers were some of the best of the best in Saskatchewan. Included in the drum circle was Brad Crain, the only powwow drummer and singer from the Muskoday First Nation.
From afar, Crain appeared only slightly taller than his fellow singers, but as he approached, his size was almost overwhelming.
“This guy used to be a hoop dancer,” laughed Principal Andrew DeBray as he introduced Crain.
“I’m proud to be from here, and I’m glad that they’re doing ceremonies like this to let the youth know that it’s there, and that’s who we are as Indian people,” Crain said. “Back when I was younger, we didn’t have that here on the reserve.”
As he shook DeBray’s hand, Crain stood a full head and shoulders above him.
Crain said the feeling he gets from singing and drumming is almost impossible to describe.
“No words can explain it; you just have to do it. If you love it, and you do it for the right reasons then good things happen to you, and that’s what happened to me,” Crain said.
While Crain isn’t a resident of Muskoday currently, he’s a member of the Muskoday First Nation. Crain has called the Red Pheasant Cree Nation home for 14 years.
Crain said he started drumming in 1995, when he attended the Joe Duquette High School (now Oskãyak). Crain was given the opportunity to learn drumming and singing, or beading and sewing for a cultural credit. He chose the former, he said, and hasn’t looked back since.
“To be honest it was all natural, right from the get-go,” Crain said. “The drumbeat and the voice was there, therefore I realized as a young drug and alcohol-free native urban man that I had a gift from the Creator.”
Three years later, Crain found himself at the world’s largest powwow, the Gathering of Nations (GoN) as part of the drumming group Wild Horse.
“We were there by accident,” Crain said. “We went down the weekend to California for our first ever host drum duty at the University of Eureka California.”
Crain explained his group’s van had broken down; as young men with work and family commitments, they had to make a choice to turn back or try and make things work. When they learned the van part they needed wouldn’t arrive for three to five days, the group took a gamble and headed off to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where GoN is held.
According to Crain, his drum group had all but left the building when an exciting announcement was broadcast.
“There was 73 groups there. This was our first time there, and it came down to first place,” Crain said. “We were already walking out of there with our drum and they said, ‘and your 1999 world class singing champions, from North Battleford, Saskatchewan…’ and we knew it was us.”
After a pause, Crain said it was, “one of the greatest moments of his life.”
“I was only 17 years old at the time. I was on top of the world at 17,” Crain said. “Being an urban boy, that was something I was proud of.”
Since then, Crain has drummed for the Queen of England in centennial celebrations for Saskatchewan and Alberta respectively.
For 10 months a year, Crain drums with the up-and-coming group Battle Hill.
(Video courtesy Powwow times)
Crain said the group will be making many stops along the Red Road this year. July and August will be filled with American stops along with visits to Canadian powwows, he said, adding the group ended up taking many host drum jobs at the powwows they attended last year.
When he isn’t drumming, Crain said he likes to try and make as many stops in Muskoday as he can. The traditional local powwow, which celebrated 25 years in 2016, holds a special place in Crain’s heart.
“My granny is one of the oldest women out here, and she was the original Elder for the powwow,” Crain said.
Crain’s grandmother wasn’t able to attend this year because she’s been sick in the hospital, but it didn’t stop Crain from honouring her.
“I came home, and I came and sang for her. That was one of my greatest gifts, greatest feelings I’ve ever gotten was to come home,” Crain said.
Crain said he is also teaching his six-year-old son about the drum; his son started singing at the age of nine months, and Crain said his son was his main influence for starting Battle Hill.
“If my son ever chose that way of life, around the drum, I’m not saying that I’m pushing it on him,” Crain said. “If he wants to go be a policeman or a doctor or if he wants to have his culture, the drum, the songs, at least he knows his dad left a foundation for him to have the songs and the experience in the drum group.”
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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