7th Generation Cheyenne Drum Keeper

Last night I had the pleasure of holding the mic for a 7th generation Cheyenne drum keeper.

I was the emcee for a benefit concert for Standing Rock, so my experience of the evening was from the stage. I had already deepened into the event by Dan Wahpaeah’s opening, Tasker Crow’s traditional grass dance exhibition, and Ed Little Crow’s powerful long-language prayer. The evening was an interesting and wonderful balance of native insights and drumming, reports from those who had gone and come back from N.Dakota, and nationally-known local singer/songwriter bands and hip hop.

The Cheyenne man was not on the agenda and was added all of a sudden while the band onstage was setting up. Because the other microphones were being used by them, a hand-held mic was all that was available. He sat on a chair and spoke, but then handed the mic to me to hold for him while he played.

Kneeling on the floor next to this elder while he drummed and sang gave me a close up view of the nuances of this gift he was offering to us all. I continue to play it back in my mind so that I won’t forget it.

The many creases within his golden-dark smooth and tight skin told the story of a handsome and strong lineage of people. I was taken back in time, imagining what being in their village may have been like 200 years ago. I realized I knew nothing at all about the Cheyenne and vowed to learn more.

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I was intrigued by his approach to the drum. He started out softly with the stick part of his mallet, tapping it against the edge of his hand-held instrument and then eventually got to the place in his chant that required forceful pounding on the drawn animal skin. Was it buffalo? Deer? (I assume buffalo – very thick). Not even for art sake had I ever learned how to identify the difference. I felt slightly bad that this part was being wasted on me, rather than someone who could really appreciate the fineness of his drum. However, I will say, it looked like it was made to last, with its various shades of yellowing indicating that this event was not this piece’s first rodeo, but still in beautiful condition. I could see that this drum was well-cared for. I could also see that this drum held many stories that had been told over and over again through song and ceremony. How many people had been treated to this man’s medicine, as well as the 6 generations of drum keepers before him?

It’s a deeply humbling thought for me. One that I feel honored to now carry in my own medicine pouch as something to go back to at times of self-care and personal healing.

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