Edmonton hand drum group performs at local homeless shelters

Chubby Cree performs at the Edmonton Women's Anniversary March in January 2018. Lindsay Catherine Photography

A local women’s powwow and hand drum group is using its music to heal.

Chubby Cree has performed at prominent events like the Edmonton Women’s March and Take Back the Night and has even performed for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

But the place you’re most likely to see them beating their drums is at homeless shelters across the city.

The group was created by Carol Powder and named after her late brother, who passed away in 2016 and was affectionately called “Chubby Cree.”

She hopes that by performing at homeless shelters, the group’s music can touch those who are going through a hard time.

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“While we’re singing at the homeless shelters, I think to myself, ‘I might plant a seed or I might remind them of something in their past,'” said Powder.

“A lot of our people are at homeless shelters. I think it’s a cry for help. They need to hear the singing; it heals.”

“That’s why we go sing for the homeless, hoping we can help them heal,” she continued. “Because I really, truly believe women heal when they’re singing with a drum.”

While the group sings, audience members can feel overwhelmed by emotion.

“People come up to us, and they just fall to their knees and start crying. They’re holding their hearts or they’re holding their head and they’re just crying,” she explained. “I feel sad but, at the same time, I have a sense of relief because I know this person is healing. Crying is one of the signs of healing.”

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Powder is Cree and part Nakoda. She hopes to continue her traditions by teaching her grandchildren how to sing and drum.

“I do it mainly because of our people thinking we can’t continue our culture. I show them it can be done,” she said.

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And she’s proved it by showing her eight-year-old grandson Noah Simon how to sing and drum. Simon is a powwow traditional dancer along with a hand drummer and singer.

He often tags along when the group performs at shelters.

“He’s been humming tunes since he was eight months old. He had his first drum when he was nine months old,” she said.

“While he sings, everybody knows… he has no fear of audiences. He loves singing.”

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Powder says her grandson has told her that he loves to perform with her. She says he once said to her: “No matter where you go, I’m following you.”

Though they perform at homeless shelters quite often, the group doesn’t get paid. But that’s not why they share their music with those facing adversity.

“This old man came wheeling in a wheelchair. He was sober. He didn’t talk one bit. He held his hand out to me and Noah and he wanted a hug so we gave him a hug,” said Powder. “He just burst out in tears and cried. He held his head and cried. I don’t expect pay. My payment is to see them healing in some way.”

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Powder hopes to continue to bring joy and healing through her music and also hopes to inspire women to take up the art. It was her great-grandfather who predicted she would be a performer.

“At five years old, my great-grandfather… he was 99 years old,” she explained. “He said: ‘You’re going to sing in the future. You’re going to help bring women back to the drum. We need women back at the drum in order to heal.’”

LISTEN: Carol’s story



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