Planting the seed of good: Residential school survivors set to drum in St. John's Heart Garden

·4 min read
A group of elders and adults in Cartwright are learning to drum together so they can perform at the Heart Garden and reclaim a part of their culture.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
A group of elders and adults in Cartwright are learning to drum together so they can perform at the Heart Garden and reclaim a part of their culture. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

A group of residential school survivors and those impacted by the schools are preparing for a special performance in St. John's.

The elders and adults were brought together by the Sandwich Bay 50 Plus Club.

"My mom was a residential school survivor," drummer Sandra Mugford said. "It was a lot of bad, and I think personally it's really time to replace the bad with good. We need to start planning a seed of good."

The Sandwich Bay 50-plus club was preparing for the 50-plus Federation Conference in Marystown when they saw Prince Charles visit Newfoundland and see the Heart Garden in St. John's in May.

The garden was opened in June 2019 in memory of all Indigenous children who were lost to the residential school system and those who survived, and their families.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

The 2022 royal visit was the first time the Cartwright women had heard about the Heart Garden according to Sandwich Bay 50-Plus club secretary Judy Pardy.

After learning more about it, she had the dream to see survivors drumming in the sacred space.

"The meaning behind the Heart Garden is for reconciliation, hope, just to recognize that this happened and for them to feel that," Mugford said.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

The women were planning to travel for the convention, so the trip made sense, according to Pardy. With help from their MP Yvonne Jones and MHA Lisa Dempster, she said, the group and performance were arranged.

The group now has five members who are either survivors or have family members who are: Susan Curl, Edna Blake, Margaret Toomashie, Florence Holwell and Mugford. The Cartwright area had two residential schools.

"As a community, and we've often heard it, Cartwright is one of the most hurt communities by the residential school. There's a lot of survivors here," Mugford said.

One school was located in Muddy Bay, 10 kilometres south of Cartwright. It was built in 1919 and burned down on Feb. 19, 1928. As a result, Cartwright's Lockwood School was built in the 30s.

It operated for decades and was torn down with little ceremony in 2020.

Sandra Mugford/Submitted by Tyler Mugford
Sandra Mugford/Submitted by Tyler Mugford

"Some kids went in, sure, they were delighted that they got a bit of an education out of it, but it doesn't alter the fact that there are so many families that were destroyed and so many lives that were destroyed in the process," Pardy said.

"They have suffered so much through residential schools."

The group first practised at the Treaty Celebrations in Cartwright in August. The NunatuKavut Indigenous Services Centre in Labrador West runs a youth drumming group, so the two instructors brought their drums and taught the elders.

Curl said she loved it after getting to try it.

"When I went home that night, the whole thing was in my head and all I could see was beats of the drum and go and dancing in my bed," she said. "I really enjoyed it. I do, still do enjoy it."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

The group is performing for the lieutenant-governor, Seniors N.L. and family and friends in the Heart Garden on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

The group is also set to perform at the final banquet at the Newfoundland and Labrador 50-Plus Federation Conference for an estimated 400 people.

Drummers encouraging others to join Cartwright group or start their own 

There are a lot more survivors in Cartwright than the few women in the group, said Toomashie.

She said the experiences are on her mind a lot and are going "to be there forever." Even still, she smiles when she drums and hopes other survivors will join the group.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Mugford said she hopes it brings joy to the members and audience and that other communities may consider creating a similar program opportunity. She said NunatuKavut is a great resource for information on drum makers and instructors.

Edna Blake said anyone thinking about learning should give it a try. She had family members attend residential school.

"If you are thinking about doing it, go ahead and do it, because it actually makes you feel so good," Blake said. "Go ahead and do it. You learn a lot from it, you really will."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

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