Indigenous employee shares her talent with New Brunswickers
June 21 2022, 10:02 AM
What started as curiosity about traditional First Nations drumming and singing has led Krista Paul to adventures she never expected.
Krista has been a member of the Corporate Communications team since spring 2021 and is a proud member of the St. Mary’s First Nation.
Her traditional Maliseet name is Mehkwekek Wissekonosotowi-ehpit, which means Red Shawl Woman. And in 2016, she founded Pokəholakənəl Witsehkehsolticik - Sisters of the Drum, an all women Maliseet drumming group.
“When I saw older women passionately singing and drumming for the first time, I was in awe,” Krista said. “I knew I wanted to be part of that, but I was definitely not a singer!”
After spending some time looking for a group to join, in 2016 Krista put out a call on Facebook to see if other local women were interested in starting a group. She was surprised when 27 women of all ages showed up. Some knew Maliseet well, and others only knew a few phrases.
They began to meet weekly and teaching themselves songs with the help of CDs and lots of patience. They would listen to songs by artists like Elder Dr. Maggie Paul and the Negootgook Drummers from Tobique over and over, replicating the sounds and rhythm.
The drum represents the heartbeat of a mother. Krista says that’s why you feel so connected and emotional when you hear it – you’re brought back to your mother’s womb. The circular shape of the drum represents interconnectedness to one another, and the cedar hoop and animal skin is indicative of First Nations connection to the land and animals. Krista now owns four drums, including one made by her sister in a cultural course. The material used creates different sounds based on thickness – from elk to deer and moose.
The group kept practicing, growing more confident and connected. The first time they performed in public was 2017 at the Take Back the Night event in Fredericton. The event is part of a global movement to stand up against sexual violence – a cause that Krista is particularly passionate about.
“Violence against women, especially Aboriginal women, is something that we cannot allow to continue,” said Krista. “Marching in the streets with other women, singing our hearts out with our drums, was a magical experience.”
From there, word quickly spread about Pokəholakənəl Witsehkehsolticik, leading them to many performance opportunities, from funerals to large scale events.
Since the group started performing, they’ve had some major highlights, including
- opening the 2017 State of the Province Address
- being nominated for the Indigenous Artist of the Year at the Music NB Awards in 2022
- participating in Drums Across Canada 2021, which was live streamed from five communities
- performing at the Wolastoq Treaty Day 2022 event
- singing with Jeremy Dutcher at the Atlantic Ballet’s celebration of 20 years of dance
Krista said the support and fanfare has been surprising and thrilling. She especially loves interacting with children to share her culture and excite them about music. She never expected when the group started that she and her sister would become role models and community leaders.
“Our group is proof that when a group of women put their minds together, they can achieve anything,” said Krista. “We’ve become sisters and are more connected to our culture - from language and history to tradition and song. Drumming has given me the opportunity to find a place where I belong. It’s humbling and so rewarding.”