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Fire Nation lead singer shares the significance of drum songs

Fire Nation

If you’ve attended a Native American-hosted event or listened to a WXPR story about one of those events, you’re probably familiar with the sound of a drum circle.

A group of men sit around a large drum singing and beating out a song.

Like all forms of music, there’s a different song for a different occasion.

“There's birthday songs, memorial songs, honor songs, veteran songs, ceremonial songs,” said Nick Shepard. He’s the lead singer of Fire Nation, the Pow Wow drum group from the Potawatomi Nation in Wisconsin.

It’s been part of his life since he was a child.

“I think I started when I was probably younger than eight years old. I would say seeing my father and my uncle's older ones drumming. That kind of turned me on to it,” said Shepard.

The drums themselves are made of a wooden frame that’s steam bent into a circle. Then either deer, buffalo, elk, or moose hide is stretched over it and laced into place.

Shepard says the drum circle goes back to their Creator story.

“We all are part of the life circle. We're all connected, we're connected to the plants and animals, and they are to us. Wherever you go, there's a circle gathering. Then, with the different nations, they all believe that as long as we make our mocks and tracks in that circle, that the Creator looks down, and he favors us,” said Shepard. “He sees that we're still practicing our ways. Because within that circle, we're singing old songs that generations before us. We're speaking languages and having conversations in the language and making songs and just reliving a lot of the teachings that were handed down.”

Passing these traditions on to the next generation is one of Shepard’s favorite parts.

He’s been helping boys 13 and under learn the songs.

“In today's world, our native culture’s out there, it's mainstream due to social media and other outlets. It's a true calling to all the native tribes to continue their culture and their language. It's being seen on a broader scale. My favorite part is just seeing the vibrance of the culture and then being able to hand that down like it was handed down to me,” said Shepard.

Fire Nation travels to different Tribal Nations in the state and across the country to sing at different Pow Wows.

Shepard wants to encourage people from all backgrounds to experience them and learn more about indigenous culture.

“I would just like people to know that drumming and Pow Wow life is a great life. A lot of people travel year-round to different locations to celebrate life, and culture, language. They're all really good people,” said Shepard. “I just want to say blessings to all those people that are keeping our ways alive through teaching our, our youth and that that our youth can carry on the teachings and the ways that were taught to us. With that, I would say Miigwech.”

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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