Drum Dancing Story

A long time ago, the people of a small community now known as Inuvik asked Martha Harry and her husband, well-respected Elders, to teach them traditional drum dancing. In the early days, Martha and her husband had to practise beating time on a piece of cardboard. After a few years, however, people started making their own drums using ivory, caribou skin, wood and sinew. Everyone, including children, wanted to learn traditional dancing. It took them some time to learn the "Hunting Seal Song" and its special moves. This song is about the people of Inuvik, who had to hunt because they were starving.

Drum dancing and a feast are still part of special celebrations and events in Inuvik. At feasts, the community shows its respect for its Elders by waiting for them to be seated and to be served first. When the drum dancing begins, the Elders start off the first dance.

Members of the Inuvik community, both young and old, have formed a group called The Inuvik Drummers and Dancers. The group has performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and in the Western Arctic.

The Inuvik Drummers and Dancers

Like all other peoples of the world, the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic have a form of song and dance. Prior to the arrival of the Tan'ngit (Europeans) on our traditional lands, the Inuvialuit used songs and chants to recount legends, stories and prehistory at gatherings. In traditional times, they would hold festivals and gatherings where many of our people would dance to act out songs and chants.

After the arrival of the Tan'ngit, Inuvialuit culture began to change. Among the changes was a decline in the transmission of our traditional form of dance. The need to pass on this form of dance, as well as our songs, to younger generations was of great concern to our Elders. They recognized that an integral part of our culture could be lost and forgotten. As a result of their concern, many young determined individuals began to learn the art of drum dancing, guided by our Elders. Today, after only four years of instruction, there are four prominent groups of drummers and dancers, both young and old. One of these groups is The Inuvik Drummers and Dancers.

CMC IV-D-2203 - CD98-59-014

Shaman's Drum
Caribou hide, antler
Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories

L2248.1 - Collection: Tammy Beaulieu

Drum Dancer 1995
Green soapstone
Made by Angela Tammy Beaulieu
Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Since The Inuvik Drummers and Dancers was formed in the spring of 1990, we have learned many of our traditional songs and dances with the help of our Elders. George and Martha Harry have put a lot of time and effort into teaching us, along with Sara Tingmiak, Emma Dick and Tom Kimiksana. We are very grateful for this. Debbie Gordon-Ruben has also provided invaluable help by transcribing songs recorded on tape into Inuvialuktun. Billy Day has been travelling with us to interpret songs. His association with the original Delta Drummers and his guidance are very appreciated.

We have been very fortunate to be invited to special functions outside of Inuvik. In November 1990, nine members of our group, along with Billy Day, came to Hull for a performance at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. We have also been to Yellowknife, along with the Drummers and Dancers from Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk. Trips to Holman, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk have also been very rewarding.

When we perform at community events, the Elders and the rest of the Inuvialuit are always impressed and are very happy that we are trying hard to carry on our tradition. We enjoy what we are doing and really appreciate the positive response we get from our audiences.