The St. Joseph’s Indian School gym is typically one of the last places described as quiet. It is home to bouncing basketballs, cheering crowds and blaring buzzers. But early on Saturday mornings, when the balls are put away, the cheering crowds have gone home and the buzzers cease, there is a stillness – a quiet.
If you pause and listen closely, the only sound you might hear is your own heartbeat drumming within your chest.
But then, enter the St. Joseph’s Chalk Hills Singers, and that drumming from within escapes boldly through the beating of the drum and singing of Lakota songs.
“It’s nice and quiet in there so we can make as much noise as we want,” said Mark, the leader of the drum group.
There is a deeper meaning behind the drum practice – one that helps students connect with the other members, but also with their ancestors.
“The drum group is important for these boys,” said Mark. “The drum is the center of the community. When you are a part of the drum, you are part of your community.”
And it’s what Mark has been helping young men at St. Joseph’s, grades 4th and up, learn since the group was first created nearly a decade ago.
Knowing not every young man at St. Joseph’s has access to learn how to drum and sing Lakota songs in their homes, the Chalk Hills Singers fill a very important need to teach Lakota boys this valuable skill.
The Chalk Hills Singers perform multiple times throughout the year. Some of those venues include the St. Joseph’s annual powwow, the Chamberlain High School powwow and at memorial services. They also sing the Flag Song every morning over the school announcement speaker and at home sporting events.
Performing for others is an honor, said Wally, a member of the Chalk Hills Singers.
“We sing for our ancestors and our school,” he said. “It makes me feel really good.”
Opportunities like this build confidence in the young men, like Wally, who participate.
“I feel comfortable and I can get my voice out,” said Wally. “I don’t have to worry about being shy or anything in front of others.”
It’s Mark’s – and St. Joseph’s Indian School’s – hope that as the boys grow-up and choose their own paths as adults, they’ll take these lessons with them. We hope they will teach others the drum is more than a musical instrument, but the heartbeat of their Native American people – a heartbeat that must continue.