Burnaby Central Secondary drum circle credited with keeping students in school

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WATCH: First Nations high school students in Burnaby are reviving a sacred ritual. As Sonia Deol reports, it's one designed to encourage the teens to keep coming back to class.

Students in Burnaby are taking part in a special drum circle that gives kids the chance to connect with their culture.

The idea came after Corrina Chase, an Indigenous youth engagement worker with the Burnaby School District, noticed many students at risk of dropping out of school were lacking a sense of identity.

“We struggled a lot with absenteeism and lots of kids, they don’t feel like they connect and belong at the school,” Chase said. “So I brought the drum in, encouraged them, supported them, and they would show up to drum circle and then they had more buy-in.”

READ MORE: First Nations students from remote B.C. community find voice through music

Chase hopes the initiative will lead to better graduation rates for Indigenous students, who are currently lagging behind the B.C.’s general student population.

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According to Burnaby district principal Brandon Curr, “Interventions and programs like the drum circle here [are] promoting engagement and success for our Indigenous learners in this district.”

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Knowledge keeper John Sam, who leads the drum circle at Burnaby Central Secondary, says he missed out on this kind of learning as a kid.

“I was brought up in foster homes so I didn’t know what the culture was or where it came from or the identity of being First Nations,” Sam said.

READ MORE: ‘We want to be a healthy community’: B.C. First Nation youth sing about life on the reserve

For many, learning the songs can be challenging.

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“The drumming part in itself is easy, because you play a steady beat, but the vocals are pretty hard to learn because you have to be loud but you also have to sound good,” said Grade 9 student Rachel Groening.

Pow-wow dances are all part of their performances.

“You can really feel the power,” said Grade 11 student Jaden Narcisse. “It’s all your ancestors, all the people you love are with you and can just really feel it in your heart.”