Manataka American Indian Council


Proudly Presents







By Shannon V. Thunderbird, M.A.




Traditional teaching is as relevant today as it was in the time of my Ancestors. It is a blueprint for human behavior - it connects us to the teachers of the natural and supernatural worlds, celestial beings, plants, animals, earth, air, fire, water -- respected equals, in other words, whose unique traits provide models for living in a "good way." There are lessons to be learned from both the seen and unseen worlds -- to be passed down from generation to generation through songs, drumming, stories, sharing, caring, medicine wheel teachings and ceremony."  --  


The magic of the Drum and its relation to Mother Earth's heartbeat moves one's consciousness into the inner worlds of vision, experience, and learning. It is often a time and place for Medicine Wheel teachings, of power animals and spirit guides of inner reflection and connection or re-connection to
those things that really matter.

The Drum takes us to that special place where we can reconnect to those things that truly matter to our spirits, minds, emotions and body.

In other words, Spiritual and Physical integrity follows nerve, blood flows according to deepest cell needs, our spirits are fed, we are in rhythm with the Earth Mother.


For Native people, the drum represents the universal heartbeat of Noo Halidzoks (Mother Earth) - the universal goddess and mother to us all. Her heartbeat on the drum can be done in a variety of ways, here are two suggestions:

Tsimshian: Four steady beats, followed for two quick beats - one, two three, four, one/two, two three four, one/two, two, three, four.....)

Anishinabe - two rhythmic beats - one/two - one/two - one/two.....

The first sound that was heard in the world was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Native people manifest this heart beat through playing a special rhythm on the drum. This rhythm facilitates healing and realignment of the four realms of human existence (Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical) because the Creator revolves around the rhythm. The drum when combined with the voice, creates a hum that rests between the voice and the drum and is thought to be the spirits of the Ancestors.

Therefore, Native hand drums are not percussion instruments per se or a toy, they are considered female and human because of their direct tie to the earth.

When playing a drum, it should never be hammered in an aggressive way, this suggests giving it a 'beating' and one must never 'hit' a woman in this manner! The teaching goes even further by stating that the drum mallet should not be referred to as a 'beater' because of the suggestion of aggression contained in the word. Ms Thunderbird refers to all her drum mallets as 'Feather Joe'.

The Big Drum was a gift from the women to the men a very long time ago, so that men could experience a resonant connection to the Earth Mother that naturally occurs with women. Therefore, it has been tribal custom for the most part, that women not sit at the big drum or play it. As Native history has evolved, this practice has changed from tribe to tribe, and there are more and more instances where women are taking back the big drum, and raising their voices in joy. Also, this in some part has been borne out of the fact that many families who had only girl children, continued to pass down the important teachings.


One of the reasons that the earth is being destroyed at such an alarming rate, is the disconnect that humans have with her. We no longer hear her heartbeat. We lose ourselves in our quest for security through the acquisition of material possessions, paying little heed to the devastating cost to the environment in our zeal to have stuff, and look good. The drum is a constant reminder of the responsibility humans have toward the preservation and health of the Earth Mother




In the twenty-first century, as Indigenous cultures continued to adapt, evolve and move forward, and given the fact that women are taking back the drum which is their right to do because of the lack of leadership shown by Native men, it is becoming more common to see women big drum groups at
powwows. This is a slow evolution because of the fierce patrilineal protection of turf (unfortunately learned behavior by Native Men).

There has been much animosity and outright refusal to allow women drum groups to participate at certain powwows and other events.  If women think they are "offending" men by playing the big drum, Thunderbird suggests that those men who are offended are hanging onto territory which they do not own and, therefore, have no right to claim ownership, for the simple reason that the drum (no matter the size) is a universal symbol of healing, harmony, dignity, honor and wisdom.

Wherein, it is true that women, a long time ago, gave the big drum to men so they could feel the resonant connection to the Earth Mother that women, naturally feel, the gift did come with some strings attached.

That is, men were to respect women, and women's leadership role in the community; they were never to raise their voices or hands against women or children, they were to protect the "giver of life" at all costs.

Alas, this has not come to pass, and the prophecy that states, "when the maple trees start dying from the top, women will take back the drum" is starting to happen. Men have not fulfilled their promises, and women must now re-assert themselves in order to save themselves, their children and the
Earth Mother.

"Get with it, times have changed, women's voices must be heard by whatever means if Mother Earth has any chance of survival."


The drum is the exclusive property of the person who made it; or purchased it; or traded for it; or had it given to them as a gift OR prayed for it. It is not community property unless that is its purpose. If the drum belongs to an individual, then permission must be given by that individual for anyone else to even touch it much less play it. In other words, look but do not touch unless permission has been given. Keep reminding yourself that the drum is human and one does not fondle other humans without
permission! Accord the drum the same respect.


Just like humans, each drum has its own very unique voice and vibration. Each animal from which the drum is made has its own unique medicine; its spirit is part of the drum. In order to give a drum its voice it needs to woken' in sacred ceremony. Until the ceremony takes place the drum should not be played.  

During ceremony the drum is first dedicated to the Original Creator.  The drum is a sacred object, therefore, when not in use it should be shrouded in its own bag made of natural materials, i.e. 100% cotton, animal hide). Hanging the drum on a wall as an art piece diminishes its voice and purpose. You wouldn't hang a human on a wall to be admired, and as the drum is human, it should not be put there either. The drum should always be placed skin-side up as a sign of respect.


"The drum is the Great Spirit's favorite instrument. That's why we were all given a heartbeat." --Mano, Navajo Elder


*    Prayers are said each time the drum is used.

*    Prayers that ask Original Creator for the ability to sing in a good way.

*    Prayers that thank the Creator for the animal that gave it's life to become the hide for the drum.

*    Prayers for the people who hear, that they would be blessed and feel good when they hear the songs played.

*    In other words the drum is prayed for before it comes to the person, dedicated in prayer before it is used and prayed for

     before each use.



People from many different backgrounds are getting together to create connections through the sheer joy of drum rhythms. Drumming circles are the ultimate stress reducer, the Prozac of the natural world if you will. It is a time for everyone to get together and just be. Natural bio-chemicals in the body are released which help boost the immune system, among other things Inner chatter is instantly quieted, and a peaceful meditative state is often the result, as the drum connects with your own heartbeat. Adults re-learn how to play and have fun because remember, the drum is the ear of the Great Mystery. Peace on earth becomes a reality.



*    I am Mother Earth's heartbeat and the sacred gift of Creation.

*    I am the universal heartbeat of the seen and unseen worlds.

*    I put the drummer in touch with creation itself.

*    I speak to all people equally and peacefully.

*    I fulfill and create spiritual, mental, emotional and physical balance.

*    I am a powerful non-verbal form of peaceful communication.

*    I am the practice of peace.

*    I am renewal, re-growth and fulfillment.

*    I am the pulse of the Universe.

*    I am alert, alive and ready to move the drummer to another state of consciousness.

*    My top represents the sky.

*    My bottom represents the earth. 

*    My stitching represents the warriors for peace who play me.

*    I am the ancient wisdom of the Ancestors.

*    The hand of the drummer is never raised in anger.

*    The hand of the drummer should not be raised above the heart, for I am peace, I release tension, emotional stress and

      mental fatigue.

*    I reconnect with the natural rhythms of the drummer.

*    I remind you that Creation is alive and sacred.

*    I take you to the dream world to let your unconscious speak with your conscious in safety and harmony.

*    When you play with me there is a synchronization of energy, a unity and a common purpose.

*    When you hear the rhythm of the group drumming and contribute your beat, you are listening and playing, receptive and '

      creative at the same time.


By Shannon V. Thunderbird, M.A.