Klemtu artist teaches traditional drum making in Hope

Harvey Robinson has made over 1,000 drums

Harvey Robinson has made more than 1,000 drums with his own two hands and has inspired countless others to make their own.

The carver, teacher and hereditary chief from Klemtu in the Great Bear Rainforest said he leads students, youth and fellow teachers to assemble a drum, but more importantly teaches focus on the here and now.

“It grounds them, because you’ve got to be focused when you’re working with something,” Robinson said.

“He’s making a drum now and if he misses out on one little thing in there, then you’re not focused. You have got to untangle it again and start over. You always have to have an open mind.”

Robinson works with students in Hope during the school year.

In the summers he is back in his Northern community teaching children of the Kitasoo Xai’xais nation. He passes on life skills and sometimes a song to his students.

“I always tell the kids, we’re all in one canoe together. I’m here to help support you. Then I go to sing the paddle song, kids like it,” he laughed.

On Jan. 18 a dozen teachers got to experience firsthand the focus, work and fun that goes into making a drum.


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April Carlson, special education assistant at Coquihalla Elementary School, begins to bring string made from elk hide through the hide which will cover the top of her drum.

Robinson displays the tools needed to make a drum; a round piece of elk hide, hide cut into string and a round base made from yellow cedar. Normally drums are made from red cedar, this time Robinson said he wanted to try something new. Emelie Peacock photo

Hide, in this case elk hide, is placed in water before the construction of the drum begins. Once the drum is finished, the hide dries and becomes taught, giving the drum its unique sound.

“It’s a long process when you do this. You’ve got to stretch the hide, you’ve got to stretch the sinew before you start tying it,” Robinson says. By stretching the thin piece of hide, another 100 centimetres can be gained and weak spot can be found before the work of threading begins. Emelie Peacock photo

Once the elk hide string is threaded through holes in the hide drum top, the string is criss-crossed in a star shape across the bottom side of the drum to tighten the hide.

Robinson tests out Sharlene Harrison-Hinds’ drum mallet, made from cotton balls wrapped in hide attached to a wood handle. Emelie Peacock photo

Teachers spend a day in Harvey Robinson’s drum-making class at Hope Secondary School. Emelie Peacock photo

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