Tradition of drumming and community building help a depressed woman beat the blues

Brittany Callison hasn’t been sure what to do about dealing with crippling depression. She has no faith in the medicine she has been taking for years. She can’t find the structure of a faith tradition that would allow her to pray about what she needs.

But she can beat her struggles with her own hands — with a drum. Callison was awarded the grand prize in an international drumming competition, beating out more than 80 drummers in an Indigenous-themed contest in Spain.

To beat depression, Callison has to use the rhythms of her community to “stress out” her body and mind. “I guess it’s like a martial art.” Callison says. “Culture really comes to define you.”

A native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Callison is a member of the Nuxalk People. Her father was a Nuxalk, and her mother is from the Binational Friendship Centre First Nation. Her mother, Bev Goss, has been working with Callison to help find tools to help Nuxalk culture resonate with someone like her.

“I feel like my way to really dealing with those types of issues is to know my culture, understand my people and be a part of my community,” Callison says. “That’s the way that it is for all of us.”

The Nuxalk are among the nations that populate the First Nations territory in Northern Saskatchewan. Native Canadians are most commonly identified with a patchwork of cultures, but the Nuxalk feel that they are a third nation that has been subjected to some racist policies.

The Nuxalk living along the St. Lawrence River were forcibly relocated to a reservation in the 1940s when the railway was built into the Lower Churchill. That road provided a window of opportunity for non-native Canadians to experience the indigenous lands. Their journeys are inextricably linked to language, diet and spirituality.

The Nuxalk were also among the first to arrive in the Lower Churchill — a train from Vancouver down to Churchill, Man. — but there, like Callison, they have been searching for the time when they would be able to continue meeting with a meaningful partner with whom they could develop greater depth in their traditions and language.

She said the people who migrated from their homeland once had the tools to make sure their communities were safe and self-sufficient, but that their progress has been halted by the reversal of what they need to do to survive.

“Everybody has their own way to deal with it,” Callison says. “I guess it’s like a martial art. Culture really comes to define you.”

Leave a Comment