Paul W. Kaeser High School to create 200 Dene drums

Project called Jech'anı, meaning “Walking the Path”

FORT SMITH, NT – By June 2017, every student and staff member at Paul W. Kaeser High School in Fort Smith, NT, will have designed and built their own Dene drum from start to finish.

The project, led by Aboriginal Language Instructor Paul Boucher, is called Jech'anı, which means “Walking the Path” in Chıpewyan. The name was chosen to describe the importance of learning about the paths that the students’ ancestors walked, and the values they adhered to that led to long and fulfilling lives. These lessons, Boucher hopes, will teach students what they need to do to continue down the path to success today.

“The drum making process is a collaborative and holistic approach to assisting students in learning about the drum,” explained Boucher. As students cut and soak hides, stretch hides around the frames, and harvest drum beaters from the bush, they are also learning important life lessons from Dene history and wisdom.

Boucher has witnessed firsthand the changes in students as they work on their instruments. They practice patience, respect, and creativity; and gain confidence, trust, and leadership skills. Students become excited and engaged in their learning, and their passion for the project stretches beyond the classroom.

“When their eyes light up you know you have touched their hearts,” Boucher said, explaining that students are building stronger relationships with their parents as they talk about the project, and feel an increased sense of belonging as they become part of drumming groups that perform at community events. At the school level, the process has led students to create a school drum song, which speaks of ancestors and angels watching over the students.

The project also integrates other subjects to provide a well-rounded educational experience, including English Language Arts, Aboriginal language, art, music, and history.

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