Indigenous youth 'keep our songs, so they're never lost,' says champion powwow singer

Some First Nation youth are drumming up a tune and ready to compete.

A Tsuut'ina youth drum group is aiming to sing and drum in a powwow singing competition next month.

As they gather for a practice, students trickle into the circular cultural room at the Tsuut'ina High School.

Most have traditional drum sticks in hand, with one carrying a big drum and the instructor giving out directions.

Champion powwow singer Leo Wells is the Cultural Music Instructor here at the Tsuut'ina Jr./Sr. High School.

He teaches students about traditional protocols, songs, drumming and singing.

"Most reserves have a youth drum group and it's to keep our songs so they're never lost," said Wells.

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The group is preparing to showcase their talent at the upcoming International Peace Powwow in Lethbridge next month.

"We practice just about every day," Wells said. "We try to learn new songs because we can be called upon to sing any different type of song."

The drum group not only consists of Tsuut'ina youth but other First Nations that attend the school as well, according to the instructor.

Student Dayton Memnook sits alongside his fellow drummers, trying to stay in tune with the rhythm of the beat.

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Ready to learn

The Tsuut'ina student says he looks forward to singing for the people in the competition next month.

"There's other drums that are louder, better, on beat — and we're just learning," said Memnook.

The singer aims to compete in other Powwow singing competitions this year with his friends. 

The student says "the singing achievement makes everyone proud — our grandparents, our family members and our community."

The student credits his music instructor for not only teaching him about traditional music but also teaching about loyalty and humility.


Livia Manywounds

Drum group member Stanley Bigplume has been singing with Wells for a few years now, and said he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

"As a youth drum group, we have a slight chance of winning some powwows singing against some champion top drum groups," said Bigplume.

Students earn credits toward a diploma for taking the class, serving in the place of a typical high school music course.

The youth drum group will be working on fundraising efforts to attend the event next month.