NETT LAKE- The empty halls of Nett Lake School reverberated with the sounds of drums and singing Monday as a drum circle of five Bois Forte Ojibwe men shared songs of healing and protection with more …
NETT LAKE- The empty halls of Nett Lake School reverberated with the sounds of drums and singing Monday as a drum circle of five Bois Forte Ojibwe men shared songs of healing and protection with more than 1,000 viewers on social media.
Charles “Chaz” Wagner, legacy project coordinator for tribal radio station KBFT, said he was inspired to put the performance together by a multitude of posts from Native performers who have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This virus has gotten to us in our native communities and there have been a lot of posts on Facebook sharing cultural traditions,” Wagner said. “If they’re dancers, they’ll share a video of dancing; it they’re singers, they’re sharing singing. It’s drawing huge inspiration in our native communities to share these things.”
When he proposed the idea to fellow drummers and singers Darren Landgren, David Morrison Jr., Lance Kingbird, and Brandon Benner, they eagerly agreed, Wagner said.
“They wanted to help any way they could,” he said. “They’re thinking about the people and their families. We know how powerful our culture is and our traditions, and this is a positive way to overcome these obstacles. It doesn’t matter if you’re native or not. We’re not just singing for protection of native people, we’re singing for all the people.”
Wagner noted that sharing the songs was meant to do more than address the physical aspects of the virus and the illness it causes.
“There are many levels of sickness going on with this, with people cooped up inside,” he said. “It’s taxing on their mental and spiritual health, as well as their physical health. We wanted to do what we do to help the healing that people need.”
The quintet’s 30-minute performance included four songs – a traditional song associated with a respected tribal elder, an Ojibwe healing song, a protection song for people and communities, and an eagle song to honor both the spirits and people who are helping others.
The choice to perform four songs was intentional.
“Everything in our culture is in four,” Wagner said. “It’s a sacred number. There are the four seasons. There are four directions. These four songs are very sacred songs in the Nett Lake community. They’re like prayers.”
Wagner was uncertain how the broadcast of the performance would be received, as sharing of these songs is not recommended, he said.
“In this time of social distancing I felt it was necessary,” Wagner said. “I didn’t receive any negative feedback. I think people appreciated what we did.”
One of Wagner’s friends from New Orleans, Kenny Bellau, not only tuned in to the Facebook broadcast but shared the live stream with his friends.
“I watched the whole way through because it was something I’d never seen before,” Bellau said. “I feel if strangers are going to pray for me or for the rest of the country, in whatever way they do, I think it would be respectful for me to at least listen. if someone wants to pray for you, or as these Ojibwe men did, sing, you should never find that as an offense, but you should respect this act of concern for your well-being.”
Bellau said he has been interested in Native American cultures but hasn’t had much access to any living in New Orleans. He finds a bit of common ground in the challenges New Orleans culture has faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what native cultures have experienced.
“Chaz’s culture is my and your culture, too,” Bellau said. “Like New Orleans, everyone should respect it and do their part to protect it. I’m thankful Bois Forte did this. I hope they do this again.”