Desiree Mathews connects to the land and Creator through singing, drumming

·4 min read

Drumming and singing for Desiree Mathews is like praying and a way to connect to the land and the Creator.

Mathews, 37, is from Weenusk First Nation (Peawanuck) and living and working in Kapuskasing.

Last year, she started a drum group in Kapuskasing.

"It's something good to share with the community. There's been a lot of interest," she says.

The group of about 20 members meets virtually once a week. Mathews sets up a Zoom account and sends an invite through her private Facebook group called Kapuskasing Smudge Group.

She created this group last year during the first lockdown as she was looking for a way to connect with people. When the lockdown was lifted, the members would meet and sing together in person.

She's been around drumming all her life but she didn’t start doing it until she moved back to Northern Ontario from Toronto about eight years ago. That’s when she started participating in ceremonies more and attending drum groups in Timmins.

She has also been singing, on and off throughout her life. She likes to think she’s a good singer, Mathews says jesting.

“It’s like praying. There are all kinds of songs, different songs that anyone can use to feel positive or release any negativity,” she says.

Currently, her passion is helping Indigenous men reconnect to their heritage and learn about their ancestry, culture and traditions.

Mathews works at the Kapuskasing Indian Friendship Centre as the Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin (I Am A Kind Man) program co-ordinator where she educates men to end violence against women, children, their families and themselves.

She moved to Kapuskasing from Peawanuck for work and hopes to stay in the area for a while. There seems to be a lot of need in the work she does, Mathews says, and she likes being a helper to other people.

“I’m enjoying it. I’m learning also with the clients. The reason I like it is because we can have an Indigenous, culturally based approach,” she says.

A lot of the clients are court referrals whose charges include domestic violence. Currently, the program has about 20 clients, according to Mathews.

It takes about 12 sessions before the clients can graduate, Mathews explains. Prior to the lockdown, they would gather in small groups and now, they meet virtually one-on-one.

They talk about colonization, residential schools, the seven Grandfather teachings and traditional medicines. They smudge and do land-based activities like putting up a teepee, sweat lodges or building other structures for the community. The success rate to get people out on the land than into the office is much higher, Mathews says adding there’s an increased interest whenever there's an activity planned on the land.

“I try to always bring them out on the land … when they’re out on the land, it’s more calming and they feel more comfortable and they share more intimate details of their life with me,” Mathews says.

She was approached by people needing a traditional tool to help them with relapse prevention and maintenance for sobriety, so Mathews recommended learning songs and drumming as an approach to their healing and recovery.

When the job gets emotionally draining, Mathews practises her culture on a daily basis, smudges a lot, goes out on the land, participates in ceremonies and sharing circles, sings and hand drums.

“It’s helped me alleviate some of the draining,” she says.

Mathews also likes making Indigenous crafts like traditional ribbon shirts, skirts, moccasins, beadwork, hand drums or rattles. She also likes taking walks in the bush gathering traditional medicine. Usually, she films her activities and shares them in her Facebook group.

“I try to put in educational information for a client or anyone who is interested in searching information such as services that provide grants for school, educational resources. I try to support any other Indigenous organization that’s promoting anything for mental health, addictions, all these resources for people to live a better life," she says.

Mathews also helps several agencies in the community with cultural awareness training and she's been teaching some women how to bead their high school graduation caps.

"There's a lot going on," she says.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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