Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007
FORT GOOD HOPE - Drumming is not just about making music for Charlie Tobac and the men he drums with. For them, it's about spiritual healing.
Tobac said for years, while the people of his community were going through hard times, the drums he grew up playing were put away.
The Fort Good Hope Drummers who played at the Great Northern Arts Festival are, from left, Michel Lafferty, Angus Shae, Charlie Tobac, Jonathon Tobac, Carl Tobac, Mitchell Shae and Buddy Gully. - Laura Power/NNSL photo
"I used to drum with the elders when I was 13 years old and then I ended up in residential schools," he said. "In the 70s there was a lot of changes and people didn't know how to cope with the changes. There was a lot of drinking, so I think that's one of the reasons the drumming stopped for a while."
Tobac said that even during this time, a lot of the songs stayed with him. But things were tough for him and for many of the people around him.
"People were sort of lost - it's like everything fell apart, the way of life fell apart," he said. "Once you're on the rough road, you feel so alone. People sort of reject you... you want to go into the light and just be happy sometimes."
The late John Shae found a way to bring people who felt separated from one another back together. He got a group together in the 1980s to form the Fort Good Hope Drummers - a group which today is more than 20 people strong and includes his surviving brother, Angus.
Tobac joined the group in 1992. He said he feels the drumming brings people together, and that the group now plays at ceremonies, graduations and weddings.
"Nowadays we're learning to grieve together," he said.
The drummers have become widely recognized and often will travel for workshops and to play at ceremonies. They are planning on recording an album for the first time in the near future.
"I feel like this is a part of our history and these songs belong to Fort Good Hope," he said. "To me it's not right to sell it, but if the community is going to benefit then I don't mind."
The group plans on recording later this summer if all goes as planned.
Tobac, who since joining has become the president of the Fort Good Hope Drummers, can feel the difference drumming has made in his life and hopes to maintain it.
"It helps my thinking. It helps my emotions, my physical and my beliefs. So once I have that in balance, I'll be OK," he said. "'Cause without it, I'll be lost."